Tampa, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - American Athletic Conference play opens up on New Year's Eve at the USF Sun Dome, as the 18th-ranked Memphis Tigers take on the South Florida Bulls.
Other than a couple of losses to nationally-ranked squads Oklahoma State (101-80) and Florida (77-75), Memphis has been strong this season, opening up at 9-2. The Tigers' highlight in non-conference action came in a championship run at the Old Spice Classic, where they exacted revenge on Oklahoma State (73-68) in the title bout. They most recently took care of business at home versus Jackson State on Saturday, 75-61.
USF has also been impressive through the first two months of the campaign, winning nine of its 13 matchups, which includes a solid 6-2 record at the Sun Dome. After dropping back-to-back contests in the Las Vegas Classic to Mississippi State (71-66) and Santa Clara (66-65), the Bulls returned to their winning ways with a road victory over Bradley on Saturday, 61-57.
These newly-formed AAC rivals haven't met since the 2004-05 season. Memphis has a firm handle on the all-time series, winning 18 of 21 matchups.
Memphis impressed on both ends of the floor in its most recent 14-point victory, as it shot 45.6 percent from the field while forcing Jackson State into 20 turnovers, which directly resulted in 31 points. Michael Dixon, Jr. paced the effort with 14 points despite missing on all six of his 3-point attempts. Shaq Goodwin tallied 13 points, seven rebounds and three blocks, David Pellom shot 5-of-5 from the field for 12 points off the bench, Joe Jackson netted 11 points, and Chris Crawford added eight points, seven boards and seven steals.
Typically, the Tigers are even more proficient on offense, as they shoot 48.1 percent from the field this season for 82.3 ppg. Their effort on the defensive end of the floor has been stellar as well, allowing just 69.5 ppg while boasting an outstanding +5.1 turnover margin. Jackson paces the squad in scoring with 14.9 ppg, impressing most from the free-throw line (.875). Goodwin (13.5 ppg) shoots a lofty 67.9 percent from the field and is a factor in the paint with 6.5 rpg and 2.0 bpg. Dixon, Jr. brings 10.7 ppg to the table, while five others pour in between 9.4 and 6.0 ppg on a nightly basis.
USF was tied with Bradley at 57 with under two minutes remaining in its latest bout, and it managed to outlast the Braves in the low-scoring, back-and-forth battle by draining 4-of-6 from the foul line down the stretch. The team shot a strong 48.9 percent from the field in the victory, which helped mask a game- high 15 turnovers and a poor showing from 3-point range (3-of-15). Chris Perry was outstanding, shooting 7-of-8 from the field for 18 points. Victor Rudd was hot on his heels with 17 points, while Corey Allen Jr. tallied 11 points and six assists.
The Bulls have gotten used to falling on the positive side of low-scoring affairs, as they net 69.5 ppg per game while allowing 66.8. They are aided by owning slight advantages in the rebounding (+0.2) and turnover (+0.1) battles, although they shoot 3-pointers at a lowly 27.6 percent success rate. Rudd is the catalyst, both in terms of scoring (16.2 ppg) and rebounding (7.2 rpg). Allen, Jr. (12.4 ppg) is strong on the perimeter with 3.4 apg and 1.7 spg, and Perry adds 10.2 ppg on nearly 59 percent field goal shooting.