Three blowout wins in Conference USA don’t seem to be helping Memphis reach the level of play it’s seeking.
Nevertheless, the second-ranked Tigers have a chance to extend the nation’s longest home winning streak to 42 games and remain one of three unbeaten teams in Division I when they take on Southern Mississippi on Saturday.
Memphis (16-0, 3-0) has won its first three conference games by an average of nearly 30 points, extending its winning streak in the league to 26 games. The Tigers, who join top-ranked North Carolina and No. 3 Kansas as the only undefeated teams, are off to their best start since going 20-0 to begin 1985-86.
Still, the easy wins in mediocre Conference USA have not been enough to satisfy coach John Calipari, who was critical of his team after a 77-50 win over Rice on Wednesday.
The coach was unhappy that Memphis shot 7-of-31 from 3-point range (23 percent) and barely outrebounded the smaller Owls 42-41.
“We’re supposed to be this monster team,” said Calipari, whose squad has won 35 consecutive regular-season games. “If you ask me, they outscrapped us, they outhustled us.”
Calipari may have reason for concern. Not counting matchups against Memphis, C-USA teams are 0-8 against ranked opponents this season, lending support to the perception that the league won’t provide strong enough competition for the Tigers.
Freshman star Derrick Rose looks to bounce back from his poor effort Wednesday. Rose had just six points on 2-of-8 shooting after back-to-back 19-point performances.
“What happens with every team we play, they play to a level they haven’t played all year,” Calipari said. “If you don’t come out and make them match your intensity, they outscrap you. That’s what aggravated me today.”
Memphis does have two non-conference games left - both at home - against Gonzaga on Jan. 26 and No. 6 Tennessee on Feb. 23.
Before the Tigers can worry about those matchups, they’ll have to focus on winning their eighth straight over Southern Mississippi. Memphis took both meetings last season, but by total of just 16 points, including a 67-64 home win Jan. 27.
Chris Douglas-Roberts finished with 15 points in that game as Memphis rallied from a six-point deficit with 6:25 to play. The Tigers survived despite Jeremy Wise’s 28 points for Southern Mississippi.
That Golden Eagles team won 20 games, but this season’s edition doesn’t appear to be as strong. Southern Miss (9-8, 1-2) has lost five of its last six, including an embarrassing 61-56 defeat at Savannah State on Jan. 4.
Southern Miss fell to 0-5 on the road with a 72-65 loss to UAB on Wednesday. The Golden Eagles shot 30.8 percent (8-of-26) in the first half as they fell into a 30-18 hole.
Wise ranks fifth in Conference USA with 18.8 points per game, but is averaging just 16.4 points and shooting under 34 percent on the road.