Ben Moore (Photo by Matt Visinsky)

Game Preview: SMU at Memphis is tough first AAC test for Mustangs

Billy previews SMU's AAC opener on the road against Memphis on Tuesday at 8 p.m. CT.

WHEN: Tuesday, December 27 at 8 p.m. CT
WHERE: FedEx Forum (Memphis, Tenn.)
SERIES: SMU trails 8-12
LAST MEETING: SMU beat Memphis 69-62 in Memphis on Feb. 25

Pony Trends

SMU rolls into AAC play with a six-game road trip, but not without a little drama. Forward Harry Froling and guard Tom Wilson have transferred from the program, leaving SMU with a tight rotation for Tim Jankovich to work with. SMU's balanced scoring with Semi Ojeleye, Ben Moore, Shake Milton and Sterling Brown all scoring in double figures have helped SMU get going on this run. The Mustangs have been playing loosely lately in a good way. Without Froling, the team has played more of their game and not tried to force a square peg into a round hole. SMU looks to continue that type of game into conference play. 

Scouting Memphis

On just any given night, a Memphis Tiger can go off for 20+ points. It's true. The Tigers lead the AAC and are tied for the lead in the country with six different players having 20-point nights. Memphis ranks seventh in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio, behind five nationally ranked teams and 11-2 Northwestern. Pretty good company. The Tigers take care of the ball and share it well too (4th in assists in the NCAA). After dropping a game against Monmouth at home, Memphis rebounded to beat Oklahoma in Norman, Okla. in overtime and then Incarnate Word on December 21. The Tigers are athletic and coach Tubby Smith had the team ready to rebound against the Sooners. After a long layoff, can Smith get the Tigers focused and locked in for their AAC opener? 

Memphis Players to Watch

G K.J. Lawson: It's no secret that the Lawson twins were two stellar players coming out of high school. Of the two brothers, K.J. had the rougher go his freshman year, getting a medical redshirt after missing the second half of last year. This season, Lawson is averaging over 15 points per game and nearly nine rebounds per game. K.J. is just as tough of a matchup as his brother, Dedric, but Milton figures to draw the assignment against the 6-7 guard.

F Dedric Lawson: Averaging a staggering 21 points and 11 rebounds per game, the 6-11 Memphis native has 31 blocks to his name as well. Simply put, he's a tough one to defend. Will Ben Moore or Semi Ojeleye draw the assignment? That's the question. Dedric can also pass well, averaging over three assists per game. SMU has to stay at home and rely on its positioning and not jumping all over Dedric when he gets the ball. 

G Craig Randall II: Coming off the bench for the Tigers, the sophomore from Ohio leads the way in bench scoring for Memphis. The 6-4 guard averages over seven points per game and if SMU lets him get hot from beyond the arc, he could provide the scoring boost to help Memphis get the win.

Projected Memphis starters:
G K.J. Lawson
G Jeremiah Martin
G Markel Crawford
F Dedric Lawson
F Jimario Rivers

Projected SMU starters:
G Shake Milton
G Jarrey Foster
G Sterling Brown
F Ben Moore
F Semi Ojeleye

Matchup to Watch

Semi Ojeleye vs. Dedric Lawson: If SMU is going to beat Memphis, neutralizing the 6-9, 236-pound forward will be a key to SMU's efforts tonight to beat the Tigers. Lawson spurred the NBA Draft last season after entering it initially and is having a huge year. Expect Ojeleye to draw the assignment as former five-star is more physical than Ben Moore and could potentially keep Lawson in check. In all likelihood, Lawson is going to get his looks and good opportunities to score. If SMU can just limit his production in a way, that'll go a long way. 

Keys to the Game

Take care of the ball and win in the paint. SMU is up against a tough task on Tuesday night as Memphis is one of the best in the country at moving it around while not turning it over. SMU meanwhile has been struggling at times with an identity and has been up-and-down, but has seemed to have righted the ship a bit in wins over TCU and Stanford to name a couple. The paint will be a total war zone with Lawson going up against SMU's two versatile forwards. SMU has to outrebound the Tigers to create second chances. 

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