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December 30, 2013

Memphis-South Florida Preview

The No. 17/18 Memphis Tigers (9-2) are coming off one of their worst performances shooting the basketball so far into the season. They shot 19 percent (4-of-21) from the three-point line and 59.4 percent (19-of-32) from the free throw line in their win over Jackson State on Saturday at the FedEx Forum. The final score of the game was 75-61.

The shooting woes for the Tigers can't continue as they now step into conference play on New Year's Eve on the road against South Florida (9-4). This is the first time each team will play in the new American Athletic Conference, which is filled with tough competition from top to bottom.

South Florida is used to heavy competition as they were once a member of the Big East Conference that featured heavyweights like Syracuse, Connecticut, Marquette, West Virginia, and others. For Memphis, this is hands down the strongest league they have been in since before Cincinnati, Louisville and others left the old Conference USA.

The Bulls are coming off a win on the road against Bradley by the final score of 61-57. Freshman center Chris Perry scored 18 points and Victor Rudd added 16 points to help the Bulls pull out the victory. It wasn't an easy win as USF trailed by five points with less than five minutes to go in the contest.

South Florida would take the lead for good at the 1:15 mark when junior guard Corey Allen made two free throws. Allen finished the game with 11 points, six assists, two rebounds and two steals in 37 minutes of play.

Memphis will have to do a great job defending Rudd and Perry in the paint. Rudd is South Florida's leading scorer with 16.2 points a game. Perry is third on the team in scoring (10.2 ppg). Both of these big men for South Florida are also good at hitting the boards; Rudd is first on the team in rebounding (7.2 rpg) and Perry is second (6.2 rpg).

That means Shaq Goodwin (13.5 ppg, team-leading 6.5 rpg), freshman phenom Austin Nichols (9.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg) and now-healed David Pellom (6.0 ppg and 3.5 rpg) will have their hands full and must play with energy for 40 minutes to give the visiting Tigers their best chance at winning.

The Tigers do have a big advantage at the guard position. Joe Jackson and Michael Dixon are leading the way Memphis in scoring. Jackson is at the very top of the roster, averaging a team-high 14.9 points a game. Dixon is third on the team in scoring (10.7 ppg). The other two of the self-styled "Four Kings," Chris Crawford (9.4 ppg) and Geron Johnson are also capable of inflicting damage on the offensive end.

As for the Bulls, Perry is the only legit scorer for South Florida among their guards with 12.4 points a game. Junior Anthony Collins is having a subpar season on the stats sheet. He's averaged 6.9 points, 5.9 assists and 1.6 rebounds in only eight games this season; he's overdue for a break-out but the Tigers hope it doesn't come at their expense.

South Florida is not a team that is going to score a lot of points. For the season, the Bulls are averaging 69.5 points per game compared to Memphis' 82.3 ppg. USF will have to slow the game down and force Memphis to become a half-court offensive team.

Trying to run with Memphis should not be in the plans. It can easily turn ugly for South Florida if they allow Memphis to get out in the open court and score easy points in transition. Memphis is one of the most dangerous teams in the country when they are able to get out in the open floor and get easy layups or dunks.

Memphis' big men will have to play well and get off to a good start against South Florida. Waiting until the second half to get things going will not sit well with head coach Josh Pastner. Goodwin, Nichols and Pellom will have to set the tone for Memphis. This game could come down to which team's big men can dictate the pace of the game.

This game is slated for Tuesday at 6 p.m. CST on ESPN2 and ESPN3 at USF Sun Dome in Tampa, Florida.

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