Two teams battling for first place in the American Athletic Conference meet Wednesday at the Reynolds Center, where Tulsa hosts No. 20 Memphis.
Memphis (14-3, 3-1) rebounded from back-to-back losses to Georgia and Wichita State earlier this month when it rallied from down double digits to win atSouth Florida on Jan. 12. The Tigers then rode a stingy defensive effort to defeat visiting Cincinnati on Thursday.
D.J. Jeffries was central to the defeat of Cincinnati, scoring 18 points and knocking down four 3-pointers. Jeffries scored just three points in each of the previous two games after returning from an illness.
"When I came back for Wichita State, I knew I wasn't at 100 percent," Jeffries said in the postgame news conference. "This week I came back and felt 100 percent."
Although Memphis is notably without potential No. 1 NBA draft pick James Wiseman, who withdrew from the university last month amid a 12-game NCAA suspension, the remaining Tigers roster is nearing full strength.
In addition to a healthy Jeffries, Lester Quinones recently returned from a hand injury that sidelined him for a month. Since rejoining the Tigers on Dec. 28, Quinones has four double-figure scoring efforts, including 13 in each of the last two games.
Establishing a consistent offensive identity with a roster still taking shape will be central to Memphis' push for an AAC championship. In particular, the Tigers need to cut down on turnovers -- they rank No. 342 in the nation, averaging 17.2 per game.
Defense has bolstered Memphis, however. The Tigers lead the nation defending opponents inside the 3-point arc, holding them to 37.8 percent shooting. Eighteen percent of Memphis' defensive possession result in a blocked shot, which ranks second in the country per KenPom.com.
Big man Precious Achiuwa, who averages a double-double (15.4 points, 10.4 rebounds), anchors the defense at two blocks per game.
Behind its defensive intensity, Memphis is one of three American teams embarking on the week with just one conference loss. The other two are Houston, which entered the AP Top 25 this week at No. 25, and Tulsa.
The Golden Hurricane (12-6, 4-1) accounted for Houston's sole conference loss with a 63-61 win on Jan. 11, the first in an ongoing, three-game winning streak.
Tulsa extended that streak on Saturday with a 67-54 defeat of Tulane.
"Our guys really performed well. Tulane is one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the league, and they shot only 24-percent from three and 38-percent from the floor," said Tulsa coach Frank Haith following the win, per the official university athletic website. "We will take those numbers on the road anytime."
Defense translates on the road as well as at home, and Tulsa has held the last three teams to visit the Reynolds Center to 61, 44 and 56 points.
The Golden Hurricane have the nation's 31st-best 3-point defense at 29.1 percent allowed per game, and average 7.9 steals. Brandon Rachal and Darien Jackson come in averaging two and 1.6 steals per game, poised to face a Memphis offense struggling with giveaways.
--Field Level Media