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The Road to March Madness: Why Memphis’ Next Four Games are Critical

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The Memphis Tigers men’s basketball team is gearing up for a critical stretch of games to secure an NCAA tournament berth. The next four games, against South Florida, UCF, Temple, and Houston, will be particularly pivotal for this young and talented squad. After last Saturday, the program finds itself in a familiar place they do not want to be known as the “bubble.” The bubble is a term used for teams that may or may not qualify for an NCAA tournament berth. The Tigers could not avenge the New Year’s Day loss to Tulane when they fell short again to the Green Wave in overtime, 90-89.

Head coach Penny Hardaway and players were adamant about the team not being on the opposite end of the spectrum when qualifying for the tournament. Instead, they wanted to be in a similar situation to their conference rival, the Houston Cougars, who is constantly being mentioned as the top-seeded NCAA tournament team. Let us look at what’s ahead for the Tigers in the next four games and how each presents its problems.

South Florida: February 7

First, the Tigers will take on South Florida in a crucial American Athletic Conference showdown. It will be the second meeting for Memphis as they see a familiar face in a former player Tyler Harris. The last time Memphis faced the Bulls, they had to rally from behind to win 93-86. Memphis took the lead for good with 2:22 left in the second half on a 3-pointer from Kendric Davis. At the time, South Florida was on a five-game winning streak heading into the conference opener against Memphis. Since then, they have won three of their last nine games.

Regarding NCAA tournament hopes for USF, they are slim to none. However, that does not mean they will roll over for Memphis; they showed what damage they could do in the first matchup. The Tigers will need to bring their A-game on both ends of the floor if they hope to emerge victorious. A win against South Florida would give Memphis a much-needed boost in the conference standings and could be the spark they need to go on a winning streak.

Temple: February 12

The Tigers will then return home to face Temple, another formidable opponent. The Owls have risen as one of toughest teams to play in the American down the stretch. In January, the Owls pulled off one of the season’s biggest upsets when they knocked off top-ranked Houston 56-55. Before Temple upset Houston, they pushed Memphis to the edge until Kendric Davis sealed a crucial victory for the Tigers in the final seconds.

Temple is in third place in the conference in front of Memphis. Saturday’s game is an early afternoon tipoff, but a lot will be at stake. The Tigers will need to be prepared for a tough battle, as Temple is a well-coached team that plays a physical brand of basketball. A win against Temple would be another critical step for Memphis in their quest for an NCAA tournament berth, as the Owls are one of the more dangerous teams in the AAC as we advance to March Madness.

UCF: February 16

After facing Temple, the Tigers remain home to host the UCF Knights. In the first meeting, Memphis would lose to the Knights in a game that went into double overtime. The defeat was the Tigers’ second-straight conference loss before they embarked on a five-game winning streak. Since then, the Knights have lost five-straight games, while the Tigers have won five of their last six. Their overall record is 13-9, which includes 4-6 against AAC competition. Like Temple, the Knight’s tournament hopes are hanging by a thread; a win against the Tigers can ease things. Memphis must be sharp and focused from the start, as any lapses could prove costly. A win against UCF would be a massive statement for the Tigers and give them much-needed momentum heading into the season’s final stretch.

Houston: February 19

Finally, Memphis will wrap up this pivotal stretch of games with a road trip to Houston. The Cougars are one of the top teams in the league and the entire country. They will be a significant challenge for Memphis. Houston is a well-rounded team that plays tough defense and is led by a talented guard in Marcus Sasser. The Tigers will need to bring their best effort to Houston if they hope to come away with a win, as the Cougars will be looking to solidify their standing as one of the top teams in the American. Last season, Memphis swept Houston in both games en route to their first NCAA tournament appearance under Coach Hardaway. The Tigers must at least split the series with the Cougars this year to seal another tournament berth.

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Meet Derrick Branch, the founder and chief wordsmith at Strike 7 Sports. With a sharp focus on the NFL and the NBA, Derrick's expertise in sports is matched only by his passion for sharing it with others. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and mass communications from the prestigious University of Arizona Global. Let his insightful and engaging writing take you to the heart of the action.

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