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VOL. 131 | NO. 182 | Monday, September 12, 2016

Tigers to Start and End AAC Play With SMU

By Don Wade

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The University of Memphis will open its 2016-17 American Athletic Conference schedule on Tuesday, Dec. 27, when SMU comes to FedExForum and will finish the season on Saturday, March 4, at SMU.

Dedric Lawson heads the University of Memphis returning cast that will try to improve upon last season's 8-10 mark in the American Athletic Conference. The Tigers open and close this season's AAC slate playing SMU.

(Andrew J. Breig)

The 18-game conference slate includes nine games against opponents that had RPIs of 100 or better last season. Memphis, which went 19-15, returns American Conference Rookie of the Year Dedric Lawson, who averaged 15.8 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. Lawson’s 55 blocks ranked third in the league.

After Lawson, junior guard Markel Crawford is the most experienced returning player. He averaged 20.2 minutes in 33 games last season with a 5.3 scoring average. Dedric’s brother, K.J. Lawson, had his season cut short by injury and averaged 8.8 points and 3.5 rebounds in 10 games.

Memphis finished 8-10 in the AAC last season and in seventh-place. The Tigers also missed postseason play each of the last two years under coach Josh Pastner after having made the NCAA Tournament four straight times. Pastner, of course, left to take the job at Georgia Tech and Memphis hired Tubby Smith away from Texas Tech; Smith won a national championship while coach at Kentucky.

SMU, the first AAC foe of the season, finished last season with a 25-5 overall record and returns three of its top six scorers. The Mustangs are led by the return of 6-8 forward Ben Moore, who averaged 11.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per game last season. SMU is also one of four schools, including Memphis, Tulane and UCF, to have a new coach for the season, as Tim Jankovich took over for Larry Brown, who resigned from his position in the summer.

Three days after the first SMU matchup, Memphis hosts South Carolina for its final non-conference game of the season. The Tigers host the UConn Huskies, in a rematch of the 2016 American Athletic Conference Tournament Championship Game, on Thursday, Jan. 5. The Huskies return their top scorer from last season: Rodney Purvis, who averaged 12.8 points per game. The Huskies finished 25-11 and reached the NCAA Tournament.

The first conference road game comes on Sunday, Jan. 8, when the Tigers play at Tulane. The Green Wave will feature new head coach Mike Dunleavy Sr., and return 6-4 senior guard Malik Morgan, who averaged 12.3 points per game.

The schedule follows with three consecutive weeks of a mid-week road game and a weekend home contest. The run of mid-week road games starts with a Wednesday, Jan. 11, game at Tulsa. Last season, the Golden Hurricane finished with a 20-12 overall record, falling to Michigan in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. The team returns just Pat Birt (12.4 points per game) out of its top eight scorers from last season.

USF, which went 8-25 last season, comes to FedExForum on Saturday, Jan. 14, and is led by guard Jahmal McMurray, who averaged 15.2 points per game last season and was named to the American Conference All-Rookie Team.

The next week the Tigers travel to Houston on Thursday, Jan. 19, and face off against a Cougar team that had a 22-10 record and returns two of its top three scorers including Rob Gray Jr. (16.3 ppg) and Damyean Dotson (13.9 ppg).

On Sunday, Jan. 22, Memphis returns home to face off against UCF, a team that returns three of its top five scorers from last season for new head coach Johnny Dawkins. Among the key returners, A.J. Davis averaged 12.0 points per game, Matt Williams averaged 8.1, and 7-6 center Tacko Fall blocked a conference-high 70 shots a season ago.

Memphis then travels to Philadelphia to take on the Temple Owls on Wednesday, Jan. 25. Last season, the Owls earned a berth into the NCAA Tournament, narrowly falling in the opening round to Iowa. The team returns two key players from its 21-12 squad, including Obi Enechionyia who averaged 11.2 points and 3.8 rebounds per game, and Josh Brown, who averaged 8.3 points and 4.9 assists.

On Saturday, Jan. 28, Memphis hosts the East Carolina Pirates, who had a 12-20 record last season. ECU returns two players who averaged double-digit scoring in B.J. Tyson (14.6 ppg) and Kentrell Barkley (10.1 ppg).

The second half of the schedule kicks off with back-to-back road games, as the Tigers play Thursday, Feb. 2, at South Florida and Saturday, Feb. 4, at UCF.

After returning from Florida, the Tigers remain at home for the next week and a half, hosting Tulsa on Tuesday, Feb. 7, and Temple on Sunday, Feb. 12. The next road game for the Tigers comes on Thursday, Feb. 16, at UConn.

A week later on Thursday, Feb. 23, the Tigers travel to Cincinnati to face off against the Bearcats in the only meeting between the two programs during the regular season. Last season, Cincinnati finished with a 22-11 record and made the NCAA Tournament. The squad returns three of its top five scorers from 2015-16, including leading scorer and American Conference First Team honoree Troy Caupain (13.0 ppg), 2015-16 American Conference Defensive Player of the Year Gary Clark (10.7 ppg), and Jacob Evans (8.4 ppg).

On Sunday, Feb. 26, Memphis hosts Houston, before the Tigers hold their senior-day game on Thursday, March 2, against Tulane. The conference schedule concludes with the March 4 game at SMU.

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