GAME NOTES: Bragging rights in the Volunteer State are up for grabs, as the Skyhawks of UT-Martin hit the road to challenge the Memphis Tigers.
UT-Martin has lost twice as many games as it has won through the first few weeks of the season. Its two triumphs have come against little known schools in Fontbonne and Lyons College, while its losses have been inflicted by the likes of Arkansas-Little Rock, Cincinnati, Arkansas State and Bradley. The Skyhawks are hoping to build up a head of steam as they look ahead to the start of Ohio Valley Conference play, which for them, begins on Dec. 29 at Southeast Missouri.
Memphis was ranked in the Top-25 earlier this season, but a pair of losses to VCU (78-65) and Minnesota (84-75) in the Battle 4 Atlantis dropped the team out of the rankings. The Tigers responded by slipping past Northern Iowa in a 52-47 final to stop the brief slide, but they clearly have their work cut out for them if this is going to be another successful campaign for the club in Conference USA. Memphis kicks off league play at home against East Carolina on Jan. 9, 2013, but not before taking on nationally-ranked Louisville as well as intrastate rival Tennessee.
Memphis has never lost to UTM in five previous meetings, with each taking place since 2000, and all on the Tigers' home court.
The Skyhawks are averaging nearly what they allow on the season (71.8-72.8 ppg), and they have very similar shooting efforts as well -- .393 overall, .328 from three-point range, compared to .390 overall and .303 from three- point distance for the opposition. They are nearly even in rebounding (+0.3), and they are guilty of 16.3 turnovers per tilt while goading the opposition into a tad more at 17.7 tpg. One of the primary reasons the team has lost four times while winning only twice is due to the results at the free throw line, as foes have nearly as many points from the stripe as UTM has attempts (117-119). Myles Taylor (16.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg) heads a list of five double-digit scorers for the Skyhawks, and he leads the team's effort on the glass as well. The other four guys net between 10.0 and 12.8 ppg. Taylor generated 17 points and nine boards in the recent loss to Bradley, while Mike Liabo tallied 15 points and Justin Childs had a dozen. A 32.8 percent shooting effort doomed the visitors, as did a 45-35 rebounding deficit and a 23-13 disadvantage in points from the foul line.
Like their counterpart tonight, the Tigers too are virtually dead even in most statistical categories, the team scoring 67.6 ppg while permitting 65.8 ppg. A +5.0 rebounding margin has helped, but the opposition is draining just shy of 40 percent of their three-point attempts (.394). Memphis lacks a guy capable of putting up big-time scoring numbers, instead relying on steady contributions from several guys. Adonis Thomas leads the team in scoring, but he nets just 12.0 ppg, and he has made only 1-of-13 three-point attempts on the year. Tarik Black (10.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg) and Joe Jackson (10.0 ppg) are the only other double-digit scorers at the moment, although Chris Crawford (9.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg) is close to joining the ranks. The Tigers had trouble finding their shooting stroke against Northern Iowa last Saturday, hitting a meager 36.7 percent of their field goal attempts, but they held the Panthers to 31.4 percent and they claimed a 40-30 edge in rebounding as well. Due in large part to his four treys, Crawford logged a double-double consisting of 18 points and 12 boards, while Jackson poured in 15 points as he hit a pair of long-range bombs.
Memphis has talent, but has yet to really put in all together against a quality opponent. The Tigers will win this game, but they have work to do if they're going to reign supreme in C-USA once again this year.