Cincinnati heads into its regular season finale tonight in Memphis knowing they have, at very worst, a first round bye wrapped up in the Conference USA tournament. However, the Bearcats want nothing more than a victory against a classic rival they will never again play as a member of the same conference.
Starting next season, it will be the first time in a couple of decades these two teams will not be members in the same league. Memphis and Cincinnati have been joined at the hip in the entire existence of the Conference USA, and before that, the Great Midwest and Metro conferences.
The Bearcats depart the conference with them and Memphis as #1 and #2 in the conference in total victories since its inception in 1996. This game will also mark the 8th time the two teams have ended the regular season facing one another.
With a win, Cincinnati will be the third seed in the tournament, playing their first game on March 10th against the winner between (most likely) East Carolina, and whomever loses the last regular season game between UAB and Houston. That would make Memphis the #8 seed by virtue of losing the tiebreaker between TCU (who plays Southern Miss) and whoever loses the UAB-Houston game.
Should Memphis win, however, the Tigers could get to the 4th seed with a DePaul loss to Louisville on Saturday.
MEMPHIS (16-13, 9-6 C-USA) vs. CINCINNATI (23-6, 11-4 C-USA)
Date: Saturday, March
Time: 4:00 PM EST
Series: Cincinnati leads, 35-27.
Last Meeting: Cincinnati won 83-79 on March 6th, 2004
CINCINNATI PROBABLE STARTERS
F Armein Kirkland, 6-8 Jr., 10.8 pts, 4.5 reb, 2.4 ast
F Eric Hicks, 6-6 Jr., 13.8 pts, 8.9 reb, 2.3 blk
F Jason Maxiell, 6-7 Sr., 15.4 pts, 7.7 reb, 2.7 blk
G Nick Williams, 6-3 Sr., 8.6 pts, 2.3 reb, 1.8 ast
G James White, 6-7 Jr., 10.2 pts, 4.6 reb, 3.2 ast
MEMPHIS PROBABLE STARTERS
F Rodney Carney, 6-7 Jr., 16.2 pts, 5.4 reb, 1.1 ast
F Duane Erwin, 6-9 Sr., 6.8 pts, 6.2 reb, 1.2 ast
F Arthur Barclay, 6-8 Sr., 1.4 pts, 3.3 reb, 0.3 blk
G Darius Washington Jr., 6-1 Fr., 15.4 pts, 3.9 reb, 3.5 ast
G Anthony Rice, 6-4 Sr., 9.9 pts, 2.7 reb, 2.1 ast
Although last year's leading freshman scorer nationally, Sean Banks, is suspended from the team, Memphis has plenty of firepower. Junior Rodney Carney and true freshman point Darius Washington, form a dangerous tandem capable of putting up points in a hurry.
Memphis' biggest problem this season has been finding a third player to step up in a clutch situation when either player isn't scoring like they normally do. Expect the Bearcats to key on both players and make Anthony Rice or Arthur Barclay beat them.
Cincinnati is hoping Nick Williams can return to the lineup at full strength after a minor ankle tweak forced him to play only three minutes in the Bearcats' 21-point win over Tulane on Wednesday. James White also returns to the starting lineup in favor of Jamaal Lucas, who was rewarded with a Senior Night start at Fifth Third Arena.
With the absence of Chadd Moore, Lucas will continue to play a role as one of the primary guards in the rotation. Following Jihad Muhammad's 24-point outburst on Wednesday, he also will be counted on for another big night to follow up his season best.
Like so many of the teams Cincinnati has faced this season, Memphis will play without a true post player, giving the Bearcats another size and strength advantage down in the paint.
Not only is Memphis jockeying for a position within the conference tournament, but they are also fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives. Memphis appears to be squarely on the bubble, and any further losses could bury their chances for good. The Tigers desperately need a win against Cincinnati and a win or two in the conference tournament to make them rest a little easier on Selection Sunday.
Expect a very physical and heated game between these two teams with the winner coming out with more than just a little extra pride. They also will come out with a little piece of history.