MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Even casual fans of the Memphis Tigers men's basketball team are taking notice of the team's hot start to the season, and it's hard to argue against them.
The Tigers entered Monday 8-2, fresh off their biggest win of the year - a huge neutral-site 82-73 victory over No. 11 Auburn - giving them six in a row since their buzzer-beating loss to Seton Hall.
It's the second-longest win streak in five years under head coach Penny Hardaway, and the third straight year the team has gone on such a streak.
However, just four days after passing their toughest test of the season so far, the Tigers will have to prove themselves yet again Tuesday at 8 p.m. on ESPN2 - this time on the road against the No. 4 team in the country, Alabama, straight off a huge win over No. 1 Houston.
The matchup is the Tigers' fourth of the year against an SEC foe - the other three being Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and No. 11 Auburn, all wins.
What will it take for the Tigers to steal a win? What would a loss mean for their NCAA Tournament hopes?
Sizing up the Tide
There's a chance the 2022 Alabama basketball team is even stronger than the one the Tigers beat at home in 2021 - a game which will certainly be on the minds of the Crimson Tide. Alabama has two wins against AP No. 1 teams in 2022, the first time that has happened before January 1 since 1965.
Their No. 4 ranking is the highest they've achieved since 2006-2007, when they were also ranked fourth.
Alabama is the best rebounding team in the country and has seen a significant share of their scoring coming from their two standout freshman - Noah Clowney and Brandon Miller.
Clowney has been named the SEC Freshman of the Week for the second straight week, and Miller is averaging the most points per game of any freshman in the country at 17.9. In addition, Miller is the only freshman in the country to rank in the top 65 in both points per game and rebounds per game.
The Tigers' track record
The Tigers' game against Alabama is easily their toughest non-conference test of the season, and outside of two upcoming games against Houston, could be their last true "Quad one" matchup of the season.
You have to go back to 2013 to find the last time Memphis beat a top-5 opponent, that was when the Tigers defeated No. 5 Oklahoma State 73-68. The Tigers have lost three straight games to top-5 teams.
While the matchup against Auburn on Saturday easily stood out as their most impressive win, the Tigers also have wins against quality opponents like Nebraska and Ole Miss. In all, they have five wins against Power 5 teams.
Tigers veteran standout Alex Lomax is second in the nation with 30 steals through 10 games, and ranks third in steals per game.
Kendric Davis led the way for the Tigers with 27 points, nine rebounds and six assists in their win over Auburn, and the star transfer will be relied upon again versus the Crimson Tide.
What would a win - or loss - mean for the Tigers' Tournament resume?
Memphis earned its first "Quad one" win of the season against Auburn, but might need more to bolster its case for a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Quad one wins are important in building March Madness resumes. They represent wins against the toughest of opponents. Teams without one are at a disadvantage when it comes to making the NCAA Tournament.
Quad one wins are achieved when a team defeats an opponent that is of a certain NET ranking. The minimum standard for a quad one opponent varies depending on the game's location. A team has a quad one opportunity if they play an opponent ranked Top 30 in NET when at home, Top 50 at a neutral location, or Top 75 on the road.
Memphis made the most of their first quad one opportunity, topping No. 11 Auburn in Atlanta this weekend. That takes some pressure off Tuesday's game in Tuscaloosa, but only some. Quad one wins will be hard for Memphis to come by in league play with The American shaping up to be a two, maybe three bid league.
After the Alabama contest, the Tigers two games against Houston are their only sure-fire quad one games left in the regular season. NET rankings will shift significantly over the next few months, so it is possible other Tigers opponents rise to quad one status—Jan. 11 at UCF and Feb. 23 at Wichita State have the best chances to elevate.
A road win over Alabama could go a long way toward the Tigers NCAA Tournament resume.
What will it take to win?
Simply put - the Tigers need to execute their best game of the season Tuesday to have a chance to win.
In Saturday's win over Auburn, the Tigers turned the ball over 19 times - many of them unforced errors - but were saved by shooting 50% from the field (30-60). This was also boosted by out-rebounding Auburn 43-32 - something that could be much tougher against the best rebounding team in the country in Alabama.
The Tigers will have to slow down Alabama's two dynamic freshman in Clowney and Miller, but stand a good chance at limiting the Tide's scoring if they can. The two standouts - and other newcomers - have generated nearly 600 of the Tide's 739 points this season.
The Tigers' trio of Kendric Davis, Alex Lomax and DeAndre Williams will be relied on heavily to match the Tide's young stars.
The Tigers will also need to drown out the noise of a true hostile environment - they are 1-1 in true road contests this season, the loss coming at the hands of St. Louis, another Quad one opponent.