For the seventh time in eight years, Memphis has won the Conference USA tourney title. And, as it has done a few times in the past, it finished league play without a loss.
It took 10 extra minutes, but Josh Pastner's team won 91-79 over Southern Miss to earn an automatic bid in the final C-USA game that the school will ever play. Next year, it's off to the to-be-named other half of the Big East, which officially breaks up on June 30.
Before I go nitty-gritty on Memphis, a quick aside on 25-9 Southern Miss. Donnie Tyndall's in his first year with that program and already doing a very nice job. His team had a few chances to win this game and get its auto berth. But I'm now seeing some Twitter discussion over USM's bubble chances, and I gotta say the Golden Eagles have no shot at an at-large. I can't imagine it whatsoever. This time next year? Expect the team's position on Selection Sunday to be more optimistic.
Memphis, a top-15 RPI club, can be a danger. They could also have the bottom come out and lose by 18. In general, we don't know what to expect from this group. It didn't have a great non-conference schedule -- but it doesn't have any truly bad losses, either. That said, the good wins aren't that good. Expectations will be high, regardless, because Pastner has yet to win an NCAA tournament game since he got to Memphis four seasons ago.
If the Tigers don't win in the Round of 64, the locals there could start calling for his job. Is that fair? Not at all. It's not easy to domineer a conference the way that this program has -- and how Pastner has taken the baton from John Calipari and hardly missed a bit in the regular season.
But the postseason -- the postseason that matters most, the NCAAs -- is an entirely different story. As for the team's personnel, it's defensive-oriented, giving up 91 points per 100 possessions (a solid rate). I do love the point guard, Joe Jackson. He has helped the Tigers to better than 15 assists per game, one of best averages in the nation.
Player to know: Joe Jackson. He leads the team in points (13.4) and assists (4.8) and is a quiet kid who shows flashes of top-notch point guard play. This group has to be led by him -- because it's a wide cast of characters with ability to chip in. Eight players put in 18 minutes or more per game, all of them averaging between six and 13 points.
- Record: 30-4 overall, 16-0 in Conference USA
- Most recent tournament appearance: 2012
- Jerry Palm predicts: 8/9 seed
- KenPom ranking: 38
- Sagarin ranking: 27
- RPI: 15
- Best wins: at Tennessee, Ohio
- Worst loss: at Xavier
- Notable stat: The Tigers are leapers. This team is blocking opponents on 16.7 percent of their possessions, the No. 7 rate in the nation. For as maddening as it can be sometimes to watch this group, it's also exciting just as much.
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