Even with an injury to one of its key reserves, Memphis has a good chance to remain one of the hottest teams in the country.
Back in the Top 25 and looking to remain undefeated in Conference USA, the No. 22 Tigers try to extend their winning streak to 15 games by continuing their home dominance of Central Florida on Wednesday night.
Geron Johnson had a career-high 25 points as Memphis (20-3, 9-0) shot 55.9 percent during an 89-76 win at Southern Mississippi on Saturday. The Tigers’ 14-game winning streak is tied for the second-longest in the nation and has propelled them into the Top 25 for the first time since they were ranked 19th on Nov. 19.
Since an 87-78 home defeat to then-No. 6 Louisville, the Tigers have won by an average of 12.5 points during their longest run of success since going undefeated in 27 straight games during 2008-09.
The Tigers, however, likely can’t afford to get caught up in their recent success, especially since learning junior guard Antonio Barton will be lost four to six weeks with a foot injury suffered Saturday. Though Barton averages 6.2 points, he’s averaging almost 19 minutes and is a key part of Memphis’ eight-man rotation.
With him out, fellow reserve guard Chris Crawford could continue to see his minutes increase. The junior scored 16 against Southern Miss and has averaged 11.9 points in the last seven games after averaging 2.7 in the previous seven.
Johnson, meanwhile, has totaled 44 points on 14-of-24 shooting (58.3 percent), 15 rebounds and nine assists in the last two games - both on the road.
“This is a player’s game and players make plays,” coach Josh Pastner said of Crawford and Johnson.
Despite Johnson’s recent surge, the junior guard has averaged 7.1 points in the last seven at home since entering the starting lineup.
He’ll have a chance to improve on that average while trying to help Memphis improve to 10-0 versus Central Florida (17-6, 7-2) at home. Though the Knights are tied for second in the conference, they’ve dropped their last six at the FedEx Forum by an average of 22.7 points.
“We haven’t won there. A lot of people have won there,” UCF coach Donnie Jones said. “We’ll put all of our energy into this. It’s good for us.”
The Knights are 1-12 all-time versus Memphis, but that victory came last season at home, 68-67. However, they lost the next two meetings - both at the FedEx Forum - by a combined 60 points.
Guard Isaiah Sykes, who averaged 9.7 points but went 11 of 20 from the field in three games versus Memphis last season, recorded his second triple-double of 2012-13 with 20 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists in Saturday’s 83-73 win over East Carolina.
Sykes, who has scored at least 20 in five of the last seven contests, understands the challenge that faces his team. Memphis has allowed 38.2 percent shooting while giving up more than 64 points once during its eight-game home winning streak.
“We have to get them out of their rhythm and play smart,” Sykes said.
UCF senior forward Keith Clanton averages a team-leading 16.0 points and shoots a league-high 58.9 percent. He’s averaged 7.8 on 10-of-28 (35.7 percent) shooting in four games at Memphis.