Mustangs visit Tigers in clash of ranked AAC rivals

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Updated: 3/08 12:46 pm

Memphis, TN (SportsNetwork.com) - While neither team can win the inaugural American Athletic Conference title, both the 18th-ranked SMU Mustangs and 20th-ranked Memphis Tigers would love to post a win in the regular-season finale when the two get together at FedExForum on Saturday.

SMU recently suffered its first home loss of the season in an 84-71 verdict against Louisville on Wednesday night, dropping the team to 23-7 overall and 12-5 in conference. The setback stopped a three-game win streak for the Mustangs, who have won seven of their last nine bouts. SMU is just 6-5 in true road games in 2013-14, but one of its wins came the last time on enemy hardwood, as it topped UConn on Feb. 23 in a 64-55 final.

Memphis dropped a 97-84 decision at Cincinnati on Thursday night, saddling the team with its second loss in the last three games and its eighth on the season overall. At 11-6 against the rest of the AAC, the Tigers are surely disappointed not to be in the running for the conference crown, but they hope to win here and grab some momentum as they turn their attention to the postseason.

These two teams are familiar with each other after each called Conference USA home prior to jumping ship for the American. Memphis has won 11 of the 15 meetings in the all-time series, but SMU won the first meeting between the two earlier this season in an 87-72 decision in Dallas on Feb. 1.

SMU prides itself on playing stingy defense, and Larry Brown's club has done just that in yielding a mere 61.9 ppg to rank second in the conference. Foes are shooting just 37.2 percent from the field (tops in the AAC), with their 3- point tries falling through only 31.4 percent of the time. Offensively, the Mustangs are rather ordinary in netting 72.1 ppg, ranking sixth in the 10-team league. They do however, lead the conference in field goal percentage (.493), which includes a 37.1 percent showing from long range (third). The team boasts three double-digit scorers in Nic Moore (14.1 ppg, 78 assists), Markus Kennedy (13.2 ppg, 7.8 rpg) and Nick Russell (10.5 ppg), with Kennedy pacing the rebounding effort and Moore serving as the team's top set-up man.

Russell went 10-of-11 at the free-throw line en route to 18 points, Kennedy added 14 and Sterling Brown tacked on 10 more, but SMU still found a way to lose to visiting Louisville earlier in the week. The Ponies shot 51.1 percent from the field, but allowed the Cardinals to drain 13-of-23 3-point attempts. Their undoing came as a result of the whopping 23 turnovers they committed, which the Cardinals turned into 25 points.

With an average of 78.8 ppg, Memphis ranks second in the AAC in scoring. The team also sits near the top of the conference in field goal percentage (.485), steals (8.5 spg) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.3), while actually coming in first in assists (17.8 apg) and 3-point field goal percentage defense (.299). The Tigers also have three double-digit scorers in Joe Jackson (14.3 ppg, 4.7 apg), Michael Dixon, Jr. (12.3 ppg) and Shaq Goodwin (12.2 ppg, 6.7 rpg), while three others net between 8.9 and 9.1 ppg.

Jackson was high man once again in the recent loss to Cincinnati, as he went 10-of-12 from the foul line to finish with 21 points. He dished out six assists, the team finishing with 18 helpers on 29 total field goals. Dixon, Jr. (19 points) was his usual productive self as the team's sixth man, while Austin Nichols contributed 17 points in the losing effort. The Tigers made good on 46.8 percent of their total shots, which included nine treys, but they were outscored at the charity stripe, 29-17, and they allowed the Bearcats to shoot 53.3 percent from the field.

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