The great thing about March Madness is that – whether your team ultimately makes the tournament or not – you still get to participate. In February.
Now is the time of the year when fans of mediocre or bad teams start to hope with every win. It’s a specific hope…
Maybe they’ll get hot and go on a run.
Memphis won its 3rd game in a row today, a 75-65 victory over UCF in Orlando.
By the way, If you’re looking for clues as to whether the administration of the school is upset with Josh Pastner’s team or job performance in an otherwise rebuilding year, here’s the school President on Twitter after the game:
Great defense in OT, another big win and strong team effort. Good to see this team showing Memphis grit. Go Tigers.
— Dr. M. David Rudd (@UofMemphisPres) February 22, 2015
Let’s hear from our friends:
- This is a strange season for Memphis. Fans have been apoplectic all year, and the panic alarm has been sounding the whole time. Yet look up today and the Tigers are at 17-10 (9-5) and in good position to finish in the top 3 of the conference – which is approximately where they were predicted to start the season.
- In seasons like this – where the Tigers are clearly on the wrong side of the NCAA bubble – it’s tempting for fans to play the “what if” game. What if Austin Nichols hadn’t gotten hurt in the Temple game? What if Memphis had hit one more shot against Tulane back on January 3rd? A few more wins and Memphis would be sitting at 19-8, 11-3 and perhaps closer to the right side of the bubble.
- Outside of the Austin Nichols injury games (vs. Temple, @ ECU), the Tigers have won 9 of 11 and 14 of 17. That being said, injuries are part of the game – and Memphis is just like everyone else in that regard.
- Regardless of whether the Tigers end up winning the AAC tournament and playing in the NCAA (long shot), going to the NIT (likely), or playing in the CBI / CIT or some other such nonsense (more realistic than you might think) – if you don’t love this time of year, then you aren’t a college basketball fan. An improving team, a conference tournament, and a chance to re-write the narrative of the season. That’s what it’s all about.
- Now the Tigers have 4 big games in a row to close the regular season. 2 home vs. SMU / Tulsa followed by a 2-game swing @ UConn and @ Cincinnati. One would have to assume that it’ll be a chore just to finish 2-2. Those are 4 of the best 5 teams in the league.
- What’s at stake?
- The program’s 15th consecutive 20 win season.
- Positioning for the AAC tournament, which starts in less than 3 weeks in Hartford, CT. The Tigers would like to secure one of the 5 first round byes and, ideally, avoid being on the same side of the bracket as host UConn. The Tigers have no control over the latter, but at this point they control their own destiny on the bye.
- In fact, the Tigers are still mathematically alive to finish anywhere from 1-8 in the conference. Right now 3 to 6 range seems most likely.
- Austin Nichols appears to be showing no ill effects from his ankle injury. He finished with 20 points on 9/15 shooting, with 7 rebounds and 3 blocks. When he first went down on February 7th, it looked very much like an ACL tear, so it is great to see him out there playing big.
- With Nichols back, Shaq finally showing some consistency, Kedren Johnson established at PG, and the rotation trimmed down – Memphis is playing its best basketball of the season. You may be of the opinion that said basketball is still not good – and you may be right – but as a famous philosopher once said: it is what it is.
- I watch some of these games with a friend who happens to be a retired coach. At the end of the UConn game, as Ryan Boatright was rolling the ball up the floor on an in-bounds to delay the clock starting and thus preserve time, my friend said, “I don’t understand why people don’t just go in there and steal that.”
- I thought it was a stupid statement – because I’ve seen that play (rolling the ball up the floor) literally thousands of times and I had never seen it contested, much less contested successfully.
- So you can imagine my dismay today, when watching the end of the UCF game with the same friend, as UCF stole the ball off the deck from Memphis’ Kedren Johnson with less than 4 seconds to play in a tie game.
- Naturally, my friend said, “I told you.” And it’s true – he had told me. Luckily for Memphis, UCF missed a jumper and the Tigers pulled away in OT.
- Avery Woodson has had a great year and is the smoothest, purest shooter Memphis has had at least since Jeremy Hunt and Anthony Rice, and maybe as far back as Mingo Johnson – but he wasn’t hitting in the last 5 minutes today (he finished 3-12 from 3pt range) and Memphis needed to figure something else out. Woodson’s consecutive misses almost cost Memphis the game.
Finally, I’ll leave you with this:
— Jay Brenner (@_bballjones) February 22, 2015