Memphis edged UAB at home Wednesday, 62-58, to retain its grip on first place in the standings, which have the top six teams in the conference separated by just a single game. It was a back-and-forth second half of runs by both squads after Memphis took a four-point lead into the break. The Blazers pulled to within a point with 24 seconds left following three straight trips to the charity stripe, but the Tigers came back with some clutch free throws of their own sandwiched around an empty UAB possession to seal things up. Will Barton paced the effort with 17 points, Joe Jackson chipped in 12 and Charles Carmouche tallied 10 points for Memphis, which extended its win streak to four games.
Rice hung tough in Huntington Wednesday against Marshall before the Thundering Herd pulled away late for a 72-61 win, the Owls' third straight defeat and fourth in five games. The Herd held a six-point lead at the half before Rice tied things back up early in the second period. Marshall used a pair of surges to stay in front from there, including a decisive 11-0 run that essentially put the game away with 45 seconds to play. Tamir Jackson led the visitors with 21 points while Arslan Kazemi had 16 points and nine rebounds with a pair of blocks and steals each.
Memphis has captured each of the seven previous meetings with Rice, including last season's 80-68 victory at Tudor Fieldhouse. This will be the fifth matchup in the series held in Houston.
The Tigers have been able to stay on top with one of the more balanced rosters around, as eight players average 7.0 points or better. Overall, The Tigers put up 75.0 points per game and shoot a collective 45.7 percent from the field and 33.7 percent on three-point attempts. The defense holds opponents to 41.1 percent shooting and 69.3 points per game. At the head of the team-first scoring attack is Barton with 13.4 points. Wesley Witherspoon averages 11.1 points while Jackson and Tarik Black score 9.4 and 9.0 ppg, respectively. While no player averages more than Black's 5.2 rebounds, Memphis attacks the category with the same balance to gain a slim 36.3-35.8. Barton pulls down 5.0 caroms per contest and leads the team with 34 three-pointers but on just 29.8 percent shooting.
The Owls have a decent swath of scorers but have experienced mostly an up-and- down ride when it comes to the offense. The standout sophomore Kazemi tops the roster at 15.9 points per game and leads the conference with 11.5 rebounds per contest. His field-goal percentage (54.7) stands second in C-USA. Kazemi is backed by a solid 13.3-point average from Jackson and Connor Frizzelle joins both in double-figures at 10.8 points per game. A spot-on 91.8 free-throw percentage for Frizzelle places him second in C-USA. The Owls own a healthy plus-3.6 margin on the glass (34.2-30.6) and post 67.5 points per game on 43.6 percent shooting. Opponents are held to 43.8 percent shooting and match the Owls with 67.5 points per contest.
Memphis has all the tools to win out over its last five games, and although Rice has a decent amount of firepower, the Tigers should be able to come away with the win in Houston.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Memphis 69, Rice 63