It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish and USF (10-21, 3-15) is hoping to ride a strong regular season finish as it begins play in the AAC Tournament on Thursday against Memphis (19-12, 10-8) at Amway Center in Orlando.
The Bulls will face off against Memphis for the second time in a week, after defeating the Tigers 75-51 in Memphis on March 1. The 24-point win was USF’s largest margin of victory in a conference game since March 4, 2015. The Bulls followed up their upset in Graceland by downing SMU 65-54 Sunday at the Sun Dome.
Despite the dominating performance from his team last week, coach Brian Gregory understands that Memphis is no pushover.
“We’ll see a much different Memphis team,” Gregory said. “They played exceptionally well on Sunday in a win over East Carolina. They’ve won five out of their last six. Their only loss was to us. They’re basically playing their best basketball of the season as well.”
A key part of the Bulls’ recent success has been junior forward Malik Martin. Martin was named to The American Honor Roll for his performance during USF’s 2-0 week. The Miami native led the Bulls in scoring and rebounding, including 19 points and nine rebounds against Memphis.
“This whole month, I’ve been playing really well,” Martin said. “I think every game, I’ve just been getting better and better. In the game of basketball, confidence is a real good thing. And seeing just one shot go in … It’s really helping my confidence a lot.”
Another bright spot for the Bulls has been the play of freshman guard David Collins. Collins was named to the AAC All-Rookie team on Monday thanks to a conference season that has seen him average 11.3 points per game, second among AAC freshmen.
“It means a lot,” Collins said. “I worked hard and it’s good to see accomplishments for things that you love to do.”
Memphis has been without their leading scorer junior guard Jeremiah Martin since Feb. 22. The Memphis native suffered a season-ending foot injury against then-No. 23 Houston. Since the injury, other players have had to lead the way, including junior guard Kareem Brewton Jr. Brewton was held to only six points in the loss against USF, but bounced back against ECU with 22 points.
“He didn’t play as well against us,” Gregory said. “But like a really good player, he bounced back. He’s a load because he can get to the rack, he’s got a very good midrange game and defensively he causes a lot of problems with his length and athletic ability and quickness.”
If USF is able to knock off Memphis for the second time in a week, the Bulls would come back and play Tulsa on Friday afternoon.
“Guys have been through these runs before,” Gregory said. “(Stephan) Jiggetts’ team was, I think, the fifth or sixth seed and they won the conference tournament. They’ve seen it on TV. And we’ve talked about it. But I also told them you can’t make a run unless you win the first game. So there’s nothing more important and our only focus is on Memphis right now.”
The Bulls and Tigers tip-off at 2 p.m. Thursday. The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPNU.