The Commercial Appeal

Win or lose Why Memphis can — and can’t — reach March Madness’ Final Four

- Jason Munz

Memphis basketball reveled in the glory of knocking off the No. 1 team in the country with a zeal that has been pent up for more than a decade.

But, after the Tigers cut down the nets Sunday, after they squeezed into the Chisolm Room inside Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas, with fans and media members to watch the NCAA Tournament selection show, and after they celebrated an accomplish­ment that has been years in the making, they made a vow. Coach Penny Hardaway made it clear he still had a little more time set aside to celebrate the AAC Tournament championsh­ip the Tigers had just won by beating Houston. But the fifth-year coach − along with three of his veteran leaders: Kendric Davis, Deandre Williams and Alex Lomax − stood firm on the notion that there is still work to be done.

“I’m going to enjoy this today, but I’ll start preparing for FAU today as well,” said Hardaway.

Memphis (26-8) begins its quest for postseason prestige Friday (8:15 p.m., TNT) as a No. 8 seed against Conference USA champion and No. 9 seed FAU (31-3) in the East Region at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. The Tigers and Owls are paired with No. 1 seed Purdue and the winner of the First Four game between Fairleigh Dickinson and Texas Southern.

Do Hardaway and Co. have what it takes to make a run to the Final Four?

Why Memphis basketball can get to the Final Four

KD and Dre: When Davis and Williams are at their best, very few teams in the country have a 1-2 punch as potent as the Tigers. In their last three games, the Houston natives combined to average 54 points, 16 rebounds and eight assists. As long as Memphis is getting production like that from those super seniors, it has the chance to unlock a lot of potential.

3-point defense: FAU’S numbers suggest a team that has lived and died by the 3-pointer this season. The Owls rank 19th in the country with a 37.8% success rate beyond the arc. That’s where more than 37% of their total points come from, a stat that ranks 27th. Memphis, however, has held opponents to a 31.4% mark from three this season, which is good enough for 52nd in the country. The Tigers have been even better than that in recent weeks. In their last five games, opponents have connected just 26.5% from 3-point range.

Why Memphis basketball can’t get to the Final Four

Inconsiste­ncy inside: In the Tigers’ last six games, they have been out-re

In the win over Houston, Alex Lomax played his best game since returning from a groin injury several weeks ago, putting up 10 points to go along with four assists, three steals and three rebounds. Elijah Mccadden and Chandler Lawson each had key blocks. Malcolm Dandridge had four points and a pair of rebounds.

Common opponent

The only team to face both Memphis and FAU this season is Ole Miss. The Tigers defeated the Rebels 68-57 on Dec. 3, while the Owls slipped up 80-67 on Nov. 11.

It's difficult to glean much from results that early in the season. But FAU leading scorer, 6-foot-4 guard Johnell Davis (13.5 ppg) was held in check with just 10 points. Ole Miss also owned the glass, out-rebounding the Owls 40-31.

Memphis won the battle of the boards versus the Rebels, 42-39. Williams led the way with 17 points, while Davis and Lomax each put up 14.

FAU scouting report

FAU'S only other losses this season were to UAB and Middle Tennessee State in the regular season, and they came by a combined 13 points.

The Owls, who are 32nd in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency, are also balanced. Alijah Martin (a 6-2 guard from Summit, Mississipp­i) scores 13.2 per game, while 7-1 center

Vladislav Goldin puts up 10.6 points a game. Goldin also has 41 blocks and leads the team with 6.4 rebounds a game.

FAU, who sits at 13th in the NET rankings, is that high in part because it ranks ninth in the country with an average margin of victory this season of 13 points per game. That doesn't mean Dusty May's team has not been in close games, though. Nine of its 31 wins came by 5 points or fewer.

Memphis vs. FAU score prediction

Memphis 79, FAU 68: Kendric Davis has been pining for this moment for as long as he can remember. No way he's letting it slip through his fingers.

Reach sports writer Jason Munz at jason.munz@commercial­ or on Twitter @munzly.

 ?? LM OTERO/AP ?? Memphis forward Deandre Williams, left, and guard Kendric Davis celebrate a play during the first half against Houston in the finals of the American Athletic Conference Tournament on Sunday in Fort Worth, Texas.
LM OTERO/AP Memphis forward Deandre Williams, left, and guard Kendric Davis celebrate a play during the first half against Houston in the finals of the American Athletic Conference Tournament on Sunday in Fort Worth, Texas.

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