The Memphis Tigers (19-12) rolled into the 2019 American Athletic Conference tournament as the fifth seed. After a season full of highs and lows, the Tigers will need to win the AAC tournament to earn a NCAA tournament bid and have a few games go in their favor.
Memphis will play in game two of the first-round against the Tulane Green Wave (4-26). Tulane enters the tournament as the 12th seed swept by the Tigers in the regular season as Jeremiah Martin combined for 70 points in two games against the Green Wave. As long as Martin has the rock, Tulane stands little chance of putting up much of a fight.
The Tigers will then move on to game six in the quarterfinals against the No. 25 ranked UCF Knights (23-7), with whom Memphis split their two matchups. Memphis handed UCF a 20-point loss at home 77-57 but fell short on the road 79-72. The difference between the games was rebounding. The Tigers out-rebounded the Knights 46-28 in their victory, but were out-rebounded 38-36 in their loss. For the Tigers to make it to the semi-finals, they will need to be dominant on the paint and secure boards at all costs, as giving the Knights more opportunities will prove costly.
In the semifinals, Memphis will more than likely face the top seed and No. 11 ranked Houston Cougars (29-2), as USF (eighth seed) and UConn (ninth seed) pose no real threat to the Cougars. The Tigers fell to Houston early on in conference play, 90-77. The Cougars’ defense accounted for 14 steals and forced Memphis to turn the ball over 17 times compared to Houston’s 11.
Memphis must guard the perimeter and prevent guards Armoni Brooks and Corey Davis Jr. from knocking down threes, as the pair accounted for nine of the 12 three-pointers made in the previous matchup. Brooks and Davis have combined for a total of 197 threes made during the season, shooting 40.7 percent and 38.5 percent respectively from beyond the arc. Keeping them in check will be crucial for the Tigers to move on.
The best-case scenario for the Tigers in the championship round would be to face the three seed, Temple Owls (23-8). As the semifinals will more than likely be a matchup between Temple and the two seed, No 24 ranked Cincinnati Bearcats (25-6).
Temple did lose at home to Cincinnati earlier in the season, 68-72, as the Bearcats’ guard Jarron Cumberland tallied 25 points, and the Owls were out-rebounded 46-22. With a neutral court and a tournament bid on the line, Temple will give Cincinnati a hard-fought battle, which would swing in the favor of Memphis, who lost both games to the Bearcats but split with the Owls.
The first matchup between Temple and Memphis was an 85-76 victory for the Owls that can be summed up with the Tigers’ horrific shot selection. Memphis shot 1-23 from deep and was able to keep the game within nine points. This proved true when the rematch showed how much Memphis had improved with their shots, connecting on 7-19 from deep and shooting a collective 50 percent from the field.
Martin will be the X factor in how far the Tigers can go because he has shown to be a leader both on and off the court. He was the lead scorer in both games against Temple, scoring 28 points in the first game along with 30 in the second. Playing the Owls in the championship will give Memphis and Penny Hardaway the easiest path to an AAC title and the NCAA tournament.