Having sat courtside at FedExForum for the Tigers’ 16-point loss to Cincinnati in their first home game in the American Athletic Conference, I was impressed with No. 24 Memphis beating No. 12 Louisville 73-67 on the road.
Impressed, but not really all that surprised.
The Cardinals play a fast tempo that suits the Tigers. They also are getting too much credit for being the defending national champions. Their current team, though still talented and coached by Rick Pitino, should not be confused with the superior version from last season.
Put simply: Memphis was good enough to beat Louisville and did. By the way, they’re also 2-2 vs. ranked teams. They split their two games with Oklahoma State, lost a well-played game to Florida and, of course, beat Louisville. The Cardinals take their shot at revenge at FedExForum on March 1.
I’m also impressed with the follow-up win at Temple two days after beating Louisville in prime time. This was a perfect set-up for a letdown. And yes, the Tigers allowed the Owls to stay close before grabbing a 79-69 victory. But they found another gear when they needed it and they looked a lot like a team that realizes they have as good a chance to win the AAC league title as anyone else.
Now 3-1 in league play – 3-0 on the road and 0-1 at home – the Tigers can take another step this Thursday by defending their home court when Connecticut comes calling. UConn is a legit team but already has dropped two AAC games. In other words, the Huskies aren’t quite living up to their brand.
All this bodes well for the Tigers. Coach Josh Pastner said before the season the Tigers are not a “smashmouth” team and that remains true. Still, they took a punch from Cincinnati and have come back with victories in two games that offered very different physical, mental and emotional challenges.
I predicted the Tigers would go 14-4 in the AAC.
Four games in, they’ve shown they just might be capable of better.