Memphis has a big game against a Big East opponent upcoming, but first has to avoid the temptation of overlooking another foe from that conference.
The second-ranked Tigers play their first true road game of the season Wednesday night when they meet their former Conference USA rivals, struggling Cincinnati.
Memphis (8-0) has a much-anticipated matchup with No. 5 Georgetown set for Saturday. The Hoyas are 8-0 one season after reaching the Final Four - a destination the Tigers have fallen one game short of each of the last two seasons.
Before Memphis can worry about Georgetown, it will try to win nine straight to open a season for the first time since its school-record 20-0 start in 1985-86. The Tigers are also looking to extend their nine-game road winning streak from last season.
Winning at Cincinnati (4-5) shouldn’t be the daunting task it once was when the Bearcats were a national power under former coach Bob Huggins. Cincinnati is one of only two Big East teams with losing records, along with DePaul, and has already suffered home losses to Belmont and Bowling Green.
While Memphis added freshman star Derrick Rose to a roster that returned all five starters from last season, Cincinnati continues to rebuild under second-year coach Mick Cronin. Last season, the Tigers scored the game’s first 11 points and led by 31 at halftime in an 88-55 home win over the Bearcats on Jan. 4.
Memphis enters after two strong defensive performances. It limited then-No. 24 Southern California to 28.8 percent shooting in a 62-58 overtime win on Dec. 4, and held Middle Tennessee State to 27.1 percent shooting in a 65-41 victory on Saturday.
While the defense has been outstanding, Memphis has failed to make perimeter shots against opponents’ zone defenses. The Tigers are shooting just under 22 percent (9-for-41) on 3-pointers in the last two games.
“They did what a lot of teams are trying to do to us, which is pack it in, junk it up, hold the ball, try to make shots at the buzzer, try to keep it close, try to get fouled,” coach John Calipari said after Saturday’s win. “And you know, the only thing I keep telling my team is we have to see if they can do that for 40 minutes.
“Let’s make it very difficult.”
The Tigers never trailed Saturday, although Rose managed just four points and took a season-low five shots. Joey Dorsey was one of three Memphis players with a team-high 11 points and made all four shots - Dorsey has made 13 straight and is 21-for-23 (91.3 percent) from the field for the season.
Although Cincinnati has lost three straight, it played fairly well in a 64-59 loss to then-No. 17 and city rival Xavier on Wednesday. Cronin was encouraged that his team held a 43-38 rebounding edge in a game that it led with just over three minutes to go.
“I was proud of our guys’ effort,” he said. “That being said, we are disappointed we lost the game. We played 37 minutes of good basketball.”
Bearcats forward Marvin Gentry was taken off the court on a neck board as a precaution after he ran into teammate Deonta Vaughn’s knee while going for a loose ball in the second half. Gentry, fourth on the team with 7.8 points per game, is expected to play Wednesday.