No. 22 Memphis, Cincinnati set for defensive battle

NCAA Men's Basketball
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Grinding defensive styles take center stage Thursday at FedExForum, where No. 22 Memphis hosts Cincinnati in an American Athletic Conference game.

The Tigers (13-3, 2-1 AAC) buckled down on the defensive end in the second half of Sunday’s 68-64 win over South Florida, snapping a two-game skid.

Memphis trailed virtually throughout after sluggish offensive performances in losses to Georgia and at Wichita State.

Sunday’s offensive showing was not markedly better — the Tigers committed 22 turnovers and shot 5 of 15 from behind the 3-point line — but Memphis combined its defensive prowess with a more rim-attacking style offensively to rally from 14 points down.

“Guys haven’t been themselves. We really needed that win,” Memphis center Precious Achiuwa told reporters afterward.

Achiuwa comes into Thursday’s contest averaging a double-double at 15.6 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. He has been a steadying influence for the Tigers, who have faced a variety of roster changes throughout the season.

Potential No. 1 overall NBA draft pick James Wiseman was suspended just three games into the season, and he left the program before his suspension elapsed. Lester Quinones missed a month due to a hand injury, and the Tigers were without starter D.J. Jeffries against Georgia due to illness.

Jeffries has been slow to regain his pre-illness form, scoring three points against both Wichita State and South Florida. Jeffries regaining his touch will be key to “building for March,” as Memphis coach Penny Hardaway described after Sunday’s win.

Memphis must also avoid another slow start, which was an issue at Wichita State and nearly cost the Tigers against South Florida.

As of Tuesday night, Memphis was 20th in adjusted defensive efficiency per KenPom.com, while Cincinnati (10-6, 3-1) ranked No. 38 nationally. The Bearcats are built to take advantage of anemic opponent offensive performances.

In wins, they give up 60.7 points per game — 49.7 points per game in their three conference victories. In six losses, opponents averaged 74.7 points per game.

In its most recent win, a 68-54 defeat of UCF on Saturday, Cincinnati held the Knights to 19-of-45 shooting and forced 14 turnovers.

Cincinnati also struggled offensively, which has been a recurring theme for this team. But its defensive performance afforded it the opportunity to get clicking in the second half.

“It wasn’t great basketball in the first half,” said Cincinnati first-year coach John Brannen. “Things got moving a little bit in the second half in terms of offensive flow of the game.”

The Bearcats shot 56.7 percent from the floor after intermission.

Under Brannen, Cincinnati relies on attacking the interior on offense through 7-foot-1 center Chris Vogt. Vogt averages a team-best 13.5 points per game, shooting an astounding 70.5 percent.

The Bearcats play inside-out to free up the backcourt trio of Keith Williams and Jarron and Jaevin Cumberland. Each averages in double-figures scoring, with Jarron Cumberland at 13.3, along with a team-best 3.9 assists per game.

Vogt also keys the defense as a rim protector. His matchup with Achiuwa on the interior figures to help shape this contest.

–Field Level Media

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