Three Saturdays ago Memphis lost at UTEP by 27 points.
Joe Jackson played 14 minutes.
And that's about the time some fans started openly wondering whether Josh Pastner was built to be a longterm successor to John Calipari while rumors began circulating that Jackson, a high school legend turned struggling freshman reserve, might transfer out of his hometown program. Four days later, Jackson played nine minutes in a loss to East Carolina and the frustration intensified. All of which made what happened Saturday unpredictable and unbelievable.
Memphis 67, UTEP 66.
In El Paso.
For the C-USA tournament title.
That was Joe Jackson -- thanks to a pair of free throws that took Memphis from down one to up one in the final seconds. The kid with the "King of Memphis" tattoo across his chest who seemed lost and demoralized less than a month ago finished with 17 points a day after dropping a career-high 24 points on East Carolina in the C-USA semifinals. So this Memphis team that began the season nationally ranked before struggling to a 10-6 league record that caused their 33-year-old second-year coach to face questions about his future is now headed to the NCAA tournament with C-USA's automatic bid, and Jackson suddenly looks like the McDonald's All-American whose commitment helped bring those preseason expectations to begin with. It's a remarkable turn of events for a program that's still recovering from Calipari's exit. More than anything, though, it's a development that'll go a long way in allowing Pastner to regain the confidence of his fan base, Jackson the confidence of his past.
Three Saturdays ago, both seemed confused and overwhelmed by their situations.
But now they're right where they were supposed to be all along -- in the NCAA tournament as C-USA champions.