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Game Day Preview: UConn vs. Memphis, TV: 9:00 PM ESPN

Memphis could be without leading scorer Austin Nichols Thursday night, leaving a gaping hole in the middle of the Tigers' defense.

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Memphis Tigers: 15-10 (7-5 American)

Preview: After UConn's disappointing loss in Dallas to No. 21 SMU, the team's at-large tournament hopes are just about dead in the water with a 14-10 record and losses to Yale and Houston already on the resume. UConn has just three wins against possible tournament teams but none are projected to be seeded higher than a nine seed (Dayton) in ESPN's latest bracketology. The Huskies boast a strong non-conference schedule but ultimately have not performed well, as they are 58th in KenPom, 85th in RPI, and 74th in strength of schedule, according to CBS Sports. With just six games left in the regular season, UConn's last chance to find a way into the Big Dance is by winning the AAC Tournament. Therefore, my three final keys for the Huskies to finish out the regular season are to achieve a top-five seed in the AAC tournament to secure a first round bye, stay healthy, and gain as much confidence as possible over these final three weeks of the regular season.

With all this in mind, UConn's matchup with Memphis tonight holds some importance. Memphis is tied with UConn in the AAC standings for fifth and just 2.5 games back from the third place Temple Owls. Both teams play again in two weeks in Gampel, so if UConn can steal one at the FedExForum, the chances of securing a first-round bye for the AAC tournament in Hartford are much-improved.

Now, the chances of UConn actually securing a victory in Memphis? With leading scorer Austin Nichols a game-time decision after suffering from a severely sprained ankle two weeks ago, the chances are decent. The 6-foot-8 Sophomore is the Tigers' only scorer averaging double digits at 13.3 points per game and leads the American in blocks per game at 3.3. If Nichols can't play, Memphis's offense is significantly limited in the half court but could thrive on the fast break behind the lengthy Trashon Burrell, rebounding machine Shaq Goodwin, and the Tigers only serious three point threat, Avery Woodson. All three players average 8.5 to 8.7 points per game, representing the young depth Josh Pastner has developed after losing three starting senior guards last season. Pastner doesn't mind playing 11 players which makes it all the more important for UConn to focus on stopping the fast break as the Tigers should have fresh legs all night. But no Nichols means no viable rim protector, so if Amida Brimah can stay out of foul trouble, he should control the paint on both sides of the floor. (Huge if, obviously)

Offensively for the Huskies, building the confidence of Rodney Purvis is primary for the overall success of the team. We've been saying it all year, but Ryan Boatright simply cannot shoulder the load himself on a game to game basis. Daniel Hamilton and Terrance Samuel also struggled along side Purvis at SMU on Saturday, but at least Hamilton has become the Huskies' best rebounder and Samuel a fantastic defender. Rodney Purvis hasn't been able to bring much else to this team, averaging just 2.1 rebounds and 1.1 assists despite playing over 26 minutes per game. Purvis is here to be a playmaker on offense and had been playing great basketball before the trip to Dallas, where he went 1-9 from the field and 1-4 from the free throw line. It is time for Rodney to show some consistency and and give Ryan Boatright the running mate on the perimeter he has been searching for all season.

Prediction: UConn 58 Memphis 54