Memphis awaits the Scarlett Knights

On Monday afternoon, the Memphis Tigers (16-5, 6-3 AAC) received news that they had dropped out of the coaches poll but remained in the AP poll falling two spots to No. 24. Their rankings took a slight hit on after Saturday’s 87-72 loss to the SMU Mustangs.

Memphis can’t afford to get distracted now as the regular season is coming down to the wire. The Tigers are now in a fight in the American Athletic Conference as they are in fourth place behind the No. 7 Cincinnati Bearcats, No. 14 Louisville Cardinals, and SMU.

They had a chance to go ahead of Louisville for second place, but failed to capitalize on the opportunity in the game against SMU.

Hopefully, this team can turn things around with a win over the Rutgers (9-13, 3-6 AAC). Rutgers are coming off a 93-70 win at home against the Houston Cougars. Senior forward J.J. Moore scored a career-high 27 points to lead the Scarlett Knights to the win over Houston on Saturday night. In their first meeting, Moore scored only five points in the Knights’ 77-55 loss to Houston on Jan. 19. Rutgers’ defense showed a lot of effort as they were able to force Houston into bad shot decisions.

Moore wasn’t the only player for Rutgers to score in double-figures. Junior guard Myles Mack finished the game with 25 points, six assists and three rebounds. Junior center Kadeem Jack added 16 points.

With the effort on defense from the Knights, Houston shot 42.9 percent (27-of-63) from the field and 17.6 percent (3-of-17) from deep. Before the win over Houston, the Scarlett Knights were in a four-game slump losing each game by double figures. Prior to the four-game losing streak, their last win came on Jan. 15 against UCF with an 85-75 outing at home.

Rutgers are not a great defensive basketball team. For the season, they are averaging 75 points a game, but is allowing their opponents to score 75.6 points a game. Rutgers can’t afford to give up points and expect to win games against any team in the NCAA. They aren’t a good shooting team either. As a team, the Knights are shooting 43.8 percent (576-of-1314) for the season. The best stat for this team is their free throw shooting. The Knights are shooting 71.2 percent (354-of-497) from the line. By these stats, there’s a slight chance the Knights will pull off a victory over Memphis in front of Tiger Nation.

As for Memphis, the three ball will have to fall at a constant rate for the remainder of the regular season. The long ball is one of the essential parts of the Tigers’ offense. In their loss to SMU, Memphis shot 25 percent (6-of-24) from long range. In their previous two games, Memphis shot over 45 percent from deep.

The leader for Memphis when it comes to shooting three’s is senior guard Chris Crawford. In the Tigers’ two victories over USF and UCF, Crawford shot 52.9 percent (9-of-17) from long range. Crawford didn’t have the hot hand against the Mustangs as he finished the game with five points shooting 25 percent (2-of-8) from the field.

Crawford will have to find a way to get hot from long range for Memphis before their season turns into a disaster. He has proven in the past that he’s capable of knocking down key shots when his team needs one. Crawford is not the only one who has went into a slump for Memphis. Sophomore forward Shaq Goodwin hasn’t scored in double-figures in the last two games. Goodwin has combined for 12 points and eight rebounds. Crawford and Goodwin are two key pieces to the Tigers’ success.

Joe Jackson, Michael Dixon Jr., and Geron Johnson have to play at a high level as well. This year’s Memphis squad will go as far as the senior guards will take them. There’ not one guard on the team that has been consistent. They will have to find a way to co-exist to avoid another embarrassing loss like the one they suffered to SMU. They simply have to perform well and winning at home can be a start.

The game between Memphis and Rutgers is slated for Tuesday at 6 p.m. CST in Memphis, TN at the FedEx Forum. This game will be televised on CBSS.