Memphis has done it again: survived when maybe they shouldn't have, grabbed another NCAA Tournament berth and will be very underseeded compared to what you would expect out of a 30-4 record in a top 10 conference (Yes, despite how bad CUSA is, they are still a top 10 conference).
The big question is whether this was their lone shot to make the NCAA Tournament. There is a good chance they will be dancing without having beaten another NCAA Tournament team. That will come down to what happens in the MAC Championship game between Akron and Ohio. If the Bobcats can repeat as champs (and take three of the last four), Memphis will be off the schneid.
It took two overtimes to wear Southern Mississippi down this time. The Golden Eagles got a basket from Neil Watson just as the clock was about to hit zero to extend the game longer than 40 minutes. It was the closest that the second best team in the league had played the Tigers all season. In the other two meetings, it had been all Memphis.
Memphis got itself into foul trouble (Shaq Goodwin, Tarik Black, Geron Johnson) and opened the door for the balanced scoring of USM. But 40 minutes only enough for the Golden Eagles to grab the tie. Then 45 minutes was enough for USM to almost win.
Unfortunately, 50 minutes was too many to keep the legs moving.
So Memphis survives, 91-79, with the game being a lot closer than the score indicates. We know they will get an eight or nine seed, because it is Memphis, and the rest of the at-large candidates will be so bad that the committee will say "Well, Memphis is better than that," even though there is nothing on their resume to prove they are better than this.
Remember earlier this season when the Tigers were only 3-2, and were lucky to not be 2-3 and winless in Atlantis? Remember how everyone was worried about this team?
They all forgot when the Tigers began to win and win and win. They all forgot that this team made a ton of mental errors (they haven't disappeared). They forgot that this team gives the ball away like it was made of grease. They forgot that this team can't shoot free throws.
All because none of those things came close to jeopardizing Memphis' run through Conference USA without a loss.
They couldn't beat Louisville or Xavier though. Xavier, who won't even be dancing this season, took a nonconference opportunity late in the year to beat them, once again exposing the flaws in this team.
After last year, when Saint Louis took them apart, is there any shot that you would reasonably give them in the NCAA Tournament, even though they are in the top 20 of the MRI and the top 40 at Ken Pom?
You honestly have to wonder what the discussion would have been like in the committee room had Memphis lost to Southern Mississippi. Those three wins over the Golden Eagles are the best that the Tigers have this season. That and a few wins over the next tier: Tennessee, Ohio, Northern Iowa.
But none of that seems enough given that they played a middling schedule overall -- no chance they would expose those flaws too many times -- and have no wins that would stand out for their resume.
That is the scary part. Even this team will end up with an eight seed and probably get bounced with a lot of "What happened to Memphis?" questions despite them being a real paper Tiger. They will be hailed for winning their conference again, but not for being a very good team.
If they lost, you almost have to wonder if Josh Pastner would have a job tomorrow, or at the end of the NIT. That is how poorly the Tigers have stepped up against the top competition in college basketball since the last head coach went to Kentucky.
We even thought they were in real danger this season after analyzing just what the talent level was left on the roster compared to what others were putting on the floor. Central Florida had comparable players. Southern Mississippi wasn't far behind. This was a team ripe for the taking (and will get bounced around a lot next season in the America-whatever conference).
So congrats to Memphis on surviving for another day, another week. And congrats to Pastner who will lead his team to another first round loss, their third under his watch.
You are champions, for a day, of a conference on the verge of collapse. Have fun being the prey next season.