No. 21 Memphis aims to snap a two-game skid on Sunday when it opposes American Athletic Conference counterpart South Florida in Tampa.
Memphis (12-3, 1-1 American) began the 2020 calendar year on a 10-game winning streak, having last lost on Nov. 12 to then-No. 14 Oregon. But a sluggish offensive finish on Jan. 4 doomed the Tigers in a 65-62 nonconference loss to Georgia, and then a slow start left them playing catch-up through in a 76-67 loss at No. 23 Wichita State on Thursday.
“We can’t keep getting off to slow starts,” Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said in his postgame press conference following the conference defeat on Thursday.
The Tigers fell behind 17-4 early in the game at Wichita State, and they never escaped that hole. The Shockers’ lead swelled to as many as 19 points in the second half before a late Memphis rally fell short.
Precious Achiuwa, the lone player in the American averaging a double-double per game at 15.1 points and 10.3 rebounds, posted another strong effort in the loss, finishing with 22 points and 12 boards.
Beyond Tyler Harris scoring 17 points off the bench, however, the Memphis offense was lackluster. Hardaway said that the Tigers needed to share the ball more effectively, as they had just four assists as a team until the final 10 minutes.
The Tigers’ inconsistency on that end of the floor over the past two games dropped them below the top 100 nationally for adjusted offensive efficiency, per KenPom.com. Their most vexing issue has been committing turnovers.
With an average of 16.9 giveaways per game, Memphis ranks No. 339 among the 350 Division I programs. That has also served to offset some of the good the Tigers have done on the defensive end, where they typically thrive.
Memphis has the country’s best opponent 2-point field-goal percentage defense at just 38.4 allowed. The interior rim protection provided by Achiuwa and D.J. Jeffries, who missed the Georgia loss but returned at Wichita State, has bolstered Memphis in that category.
Against South Florida (8-8, 1-2), Memphis can expect another defensive battle similar to the one it faced on Thursday.
The Bulls rank among the nation’s best in generating steals, taking the ball away 8.9 times per game. Laquincy Rideau and David Collins both average more than two steals per game for South Florida.
The duo also double as the Bulls’ leading scorers. They are the only two on the team averaging double figures, with Collins at 14.5 points per game and Rideau at 13.5.
Offensive woes have surfaced more frequently for the Bulls than for Memphis, and that includes turnovers. South Florida is averaging 15.2 turnovers per game, coupled with a poor 2-point field-goal shooting rate of 47.1 percent.
Bad offensive possessions down the stretch cost the Bulls their last time out in a 62-59 loss at East Carolina on Tuesday.
“We talk about winning plays, and those last three possessions were three really bad decisions,” South Florida coach Brian Gregory said following the game. “I liked our fight in the second half much more than I did in the first half, especially the first four minutes, but they were the better team today, and give them credit for beating us.”
–Field Level Media