Memphis has a chance to make up some serious ground in the AAC over the next 2 weeks

·2 min read
Memphis Tigers guard Lester Quinones plays the air guitar in celebration of his 3-pointer against the East Carolina Pirates at FedExForum on Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022.
Memphis Tigers guard Lester Quinones plays the air guitar in celebration of his 3-pointer against the East Carolina Pirates at FedExForum on Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022.

Welcome back to the Tigers Basketball newsletter. Today, Tigers beat writer Jason Munz:

Memphis dug a sizeable hole for itself during the eight-day stretch (Jan. 12-20) where it lost three straight AAC games.

Over the next two-and-a-half weeks, beginning with Thursday's game at Cincinnati, the Tigers have a golden opportunity to make up much of the ground they lost.

As junior guard Lester Quinones pointed out after the team's win over East Carolina last week, five of Memphis' next six games are against teams ahead of them in the conference standings. Here's how things look as of Jan. 31 (with league record in parentheses):

AAC standings

1. Houston (7-0)

2. SMU (7-1)

3. Tulane (6-3)

4. Cincinnati (5-3)

5. Temple (4-3)

6. Memphis (5-4)

7. UCF (4-5)

8. ECU (2-6)

9. Wichita State (1-5)

10. South Florida (1-6)

11. Tulsa (1-7)

First up for the Tigers are the Bearcats (6 p.m. Thursday, ESPN2). Then, they host UCF on Saturday, before welcoming Tulane to FedExForum on Feb. 9.

Rebounding from that rough stretch in January is critical for Memphis' postseason prospects. Penny Hardaway's team (ranked 71st in the NET and 58th in KenPom) is on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble right now. It's not impossible for the Tigers to play their way back onto the right side. But, for that to happen, they would probably have to win every game left on the regular-season schedule – with the possible exception of the Feb. 12 game at Houston – and win at least two games at the AAC Tournament. That's a tall order.

So, at this stage, Memphis' most realistic shot at getting to the NCAA Tournament is winning the AAC Tournament (March 10-13 in Fort Worth). The odds of that happening increase dramatically with a first-round bye secured. And the only way to do that is by grabbing one of the top five seeds.

The Tigers are currently sixth. If Temple loses at ECU and Tulane loses at Houston (both Wednesday), Memphis could move into third place with a win at Cincinnati.

There's a lot of season left, but crunch time has officially arrived.

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You can reach Commercial Appeal Tiger basketball beat writer Jason Munz via email at jason.munz@commercialappeal.com and follow him on Twitter: @munzly

This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Memphis could make up a lot of ground in the AAC over the next 2 weeks