No. 21 Memphis (11-2) hasn’t had to venture away from the friendly confines of the FedEx Forum to play a road game, but that will change tonight when the Tigers travel across the state to face in-state rival Tennessee. The Tigers, who will open CUSA play on Saturday when they host East Carolina, are extremely young–the roster features just a single senior and three juniors– and still attempting to find their stride under second-year coach Josh Pastner. Their only losses were against No. 4 Kansas (81-68) and No. 9 Georgetown (86-69), but they have been involved in several close calls such as their 91-86 victory over Tennessee State on Sunday. Pastner’s club also had narrow wins over Austin Peay and Texas A&M Corpus-Christi.
Memphis has ten players that average 12 minutes or more and eight of those log over 18. Will Barton, a 6’6″ freshman, leads the team with his 12.8 points per game mark. He also pulls down five boards per contest. Junior Wesley Witherspoon produces 12.5 points and 5.2 rebounds. Freshman guard Joe Jackson also scores in double figures at 10.8. Frosh guards Chris Crawford and Antonio Barton are the team’s top three-point threats. Crawford, who averages nine points, has hit a team-high 26 trifectas. Meanwhile, Barton, who has made 16 three-pointers, shoots 57.1 percent from behind the arc. Pastner has some powerful bodies down low with Tarik Black (6’8″, 252) and Will Coleman (6’9″, 245) have are tied for the team lead with 17 blocks. They each produce just over seven points and four boards per game.
Bruce Pearl’s Volunteers have had an up and down season to date. Tennessee (9-4) started 7-0 and captured quality victories over VCU, Villanova and Pitt. However, the Vols have since dropped four of six and suffered a 91-78 home loss to College of Charleston the last time out. Three of those defeats came at Thompson-Boling Arena.
UT is led by junior Scotty Hopson. Hopson, who is the team’s top three-point threat at 32.7 percent, scores over 16 points per game. Freshman Tobias Harris and junior Cameron Tatum are also scoring in double figures for the Vols. Harris is posting 15 points and 6.6 boards while Tatum is tallying 10.5 points. Tennessee is outrebounding its opponents by nearly six boards per game. Senior Brian Williams paces the team with his 7.9 mark. Veteran point guard Melvin Goins leads the team in assists (34) and steals (21).
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It’s going to be a dogfight when these in-state foes meet. The Tigers have played with a little more consistency and offensive potency to date, but how will they respond when faced with a rivalry match-up in their first game? Tennessee struggles shooting the basketball, as they are just 43 percent from the floor and 30 percent from three. Therefore, take Memphis to pull out a competitive contest and collect a quality non-conference win before starting league play this weekend.