With two recent wins that looked fairly routine, the University of Memphis Tigers now have a 9-3 record, but have yet to showcase the team's true potential.
Memphis' conquests last week included Oral Roberts (72-57) and Loyola (78-64).
Head coach Josh Pastner has made a couple of changes to the starting lineup. Transfer Geron Johnson, who has been a spark off the bench so far this season, has replaced Chris Crawford as a starter. Also, Stan Simpson's lack of productivity and Tarik Black's personal struggles have allowed crowd-favorite D.J. Stephens to earn a starting role.
With Joe Jackson, Shaq Goodwin, and Adonis Thomas, Memphis has a very strong starting "5." Beginning games with intensity has been a problem with the Tigers this year and this tweak to the lineup seems to have corrected that problem, thus far.
During Memphis' last game (Dec. 30), Loyola took the lead on the opening possession. The Tigers answered quickly to tie the game and then took the lead in the next minute. Memphis never looked back and Loyola never regained the lead or even a share of it.
It is not very often that a game has one tie and one lead change throughout the course of 40minutes, but that's what happened last Sunday as the Tigers cruised to their ninth victory. Perhaps, the change to the starting lineup is the jolt that Memphis has needed.
But, that was last year. Now that the New Years revelry has come and gone, the Tigers have to face their toughest road test to date. Tough for two reasons: Memphis hasn't played a true road game this season (12 games: 9 home, 3 neutral court), and the Tigers are scheduled to play in-state rival Tennessee.
The Volunteers will welcome the Tigers to Knoxville this Friday night (Jan. 4). The Vols enter the contest with an 8-3 record. It hasn't been a stellar campaign thus far for Tennessee, but be most assured they will bring their "A" game when Coach Pastner and Memphis roll into town.
More is on the line than bragging rights. Looking at the remainder of their schedule, this is the last game that could be deemed a "quality" win for the Tigers. And being that it's on the road, a win would carry more weight in the minds of the selection committees come March.
Either way, this match up promises to be a heart-pounding thriller. More importantly, this game is Memphis' only game this year on a major network. So True Blue Nation, be sure to tune into ESPN 2 at 7 p.m. to catch the Tigers in the primetime spotlight.