American Athletic Conference play begins Monday at FedExForum for No. 9 Memphis and visiting Tulane.
The Tigers (11-1) blasted New Orleans 97-55 on Saturday in a sometimes-sloppy game that featured 55 combined turnovers. Memphis committed 27 of those.
“Even though we had a lot of turnovers this game, we came out the way we were supposed to (and) turned them over,” Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said in his postgame press conference. “We jumped on top of them right away and got the game under control.”
Saturday’s blowout continued the standout defensive play that has been the Memphis hallmark through the first two months of the season. The Tigers are holding opponents to 26.5 percent shooting from behind the 3-point line, 10th-best in the nation through Saturday’s games, and 38.8 percent from inside the arc. That ranks second nationally.
Three Tigers rank in the top 100 for the percentage of opponent possessions generating steals, per KenPom.com: Boogie Ellis, Alex Lomax and Damion Baugh, who made seven steals against New Orleans.
Memphis also features Precious Achiuwa, a tenacious rim protector averaging 1.6 blocks per game. Achiuwa is posting just below a double-double per game at 14.3 points and 9.8 rebounds.
Achiuwa has emerged as the focal point for a deep and balanced Memphis team, playing without blue-chip freshman James Wiseman. The NCAA suspended Wiseman for 12 games last month, but the potential No. 1 overall pick in June’s NBA draft opted to withdraw from school and focus on preparation for his pro career.
Saturday’s game featured a welcomed return. Freshman guard Lester Quinones saw his first action since sustaining a broken hand in late November.
Quinones scored 13 points and grabbed five rebounds off the bench against New Orleans.
“Being on the sidelines for those four to five weeks helped me see the game differently, seeing all the little stuff, all the talk and communication, all the things we need improvement with,” Quinones said in the postgame press conference.
Tulane (8-4) makes its return to competition for the first time since Dec. 21. The Green Wave dropped an 86-82 overtime decision to Towson, one day after a 62-61 loss to Akron in the D.C. Holiday Hoops Fest Tournament.
A good 3-point shooting team at 36.5 percent on the season, Tulane went 14 of 30 against Towson. However, 18-of-28 shooting at the free throw line doomed the Green Wave.
Like Memphis, Tulane played much of the first nearly two months of the season with a depleted roster. Green Wave coach Ron Hunter told NOLA.com he expects forwards Ibrahim Ali and Tylan Pope to be in action for AAC play, however.
Ali, a redshirt freshman transfer from Arkansas, has played in just two minutes this season because of a foot injury. Pope, a true freshman, has been ineligible.
“It’s the first time since I’ve been here that we’ve had our whole roster,” Hunter said.
While down a few players, Tulane has been paced by Teshaun Hightower at 17.8 points per game and K.J. Lawson with an average of 14.0 points.
Lawson, a Memphis native, spent two seasons with the Tigers in 2015-16 and 2016-17. He transferred to Kansas before landing at Tulane.
–Field Level Media