If the Memphis Tigers want to distinguish themselves as the class of the AAC, defeating the SMU Mustangs would be a good place to start.
TV Schedule: Sunday, January 7, 5:00 PM ET, ESPN
Location: FedExForum in Memphis, TN
Thursday night was a difficult one for the Memphis Tigers. It took a late three-pointer to hold off an upset bid from Tulsa in both teams' American Athletic Conference opener. The team also lost guard Caleb Mills, who appeared to hurt his knee late in the first half.
It's with that backdrop that Memphis returns home in a quick turnaround to face a better rested SMU Tigers team that will surely be upset-minded.
If Memphis puts itself in position to beat SMU, it needs to close much more efficiently. The Tigers led the Golden Hurricanes by 14 points at the half, only to see that lead slip away and frustration from players like Jahvon Quinerly - who becomes even more important if Mills is absent - nearly get the best of them.
As of Friday afternoon, there's been no official word about Mills' prognosis. Based on reactions in the gym on Thursday, it seems pretty hard to believe he'll be back on the court anytime soon, let alone Sunday.
Even without Mills, however, Penny Hardaway's squad has plenty of firepower. David Jones is one of the best players in the nation, averaging 20.9 points per game on 45.9 percent shooting. Quinerly is typically steady at guard. Nae'Qwan Tomlin has made an instant impact in the three games he's played since transferring from Kansas State.
That's a lot for SMU to deal with. While it doesn't always show up in the box score, the Mustangs have their own firepower, enough to make them a sneaky threat to any team in the AAC.
Zhuric Phelps and Chuck Harris are a dynamite guard duo. And why Samuell Williamson has been underperforming from a scoring perspective, he's prone to get it going at any moment.
SMU has the capability of giving Memphis a scare. But the way Tomlin is playing, the Mustangs don't have anybody who can match up with him if the other players start to cancel each other out. Rob Lanier has SMU headed in the right direction, though.
Prediction: Memphis 75, SMU 66