Best & Worst of Tiger Conference Tournaments – 35 Years

The Memphis Tigers earned the #5 seed in the 2nd Annual American Athletic Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament which will be played this week in Hartford, CT. They open play on Friday at 1pm Central vs. #4 seed Temple. Temple beat Memphis on February 7th by a final score of 61-60.

March Madness is officially here for Memphis. In order to earn their 5th consecutive NCAA tournament bid under head coach Josh Pastner, the Tigers must win the AAC tournament in Hartford.

Not an easy task.

Let’s take the opportunity to review the last 35 years of Tiger Basketball conference tournament history. During this time, Memphis played in 4 conferences – Metro, Great Midwest, CUSA, and the AAC.

Note – only moments from the last 35 years were eligible for this list, because largely those were the ones I’ve been alive for.

Here we go….

Bittersweet moment: 1987, Metro Conference, Loiusville, KY – With the Tigers on NCAA probation and unable to participate in March Madness, the next best thing would be to drum their rival and defending national champion Louisville on their home floor to prevent them from reaching March Madness. So what happened? The Tigers drummed Louisville 75-52, on their home floor to prevent them from reaching March Madness. Supposedly Cardinals head coach Denny Crum had lobbied to keep Memphis out of the Metro Tournament. Tough break, Crum.

Side note, for the next 4 seasons (from 1988-1991) – the Tigers’ final in the Metro Conference, Louisville eliminated Memphis each time. For the following 4 after that, during the entire Great Midwest era, Cincinnati eliminated Memphis each time.

Longest Drought: Memphis went nearly 20 (1987-2006) years without a conference tournament title. It took the depletion of Conference USA – after Louisville, Marquette, DePaul and Cincinnati defected to the BIG EAST in 2005 – for Memphis to once again cut down the nets. It also helped to have home court advantage. The Tigers defeated a good UAB team at FedExForum 57-46 on March 11, 2006 for the CUSA Title.

Worst Moment: 2005, CUSA Tournament, Memphis, TN – A few years ago, I was listening to CBS play-by-play man Verne Lundquist interviewed about Duke F Christian Laettner’s famous last second shot vs. Kentucky in 1992. Lundquist had called that game for CBS. The interviewer asked Lundquist if there was a next most memorable moment for him as a broadcaster. Without hesitating, Lundquist answered that the Memphis – Louisville CUSA title game in 2005 was perhaps just as memorable to him. He said it was one of the best games he’s ever called, and it’s certainly one of the best I’ve ever seen. The ending – Darius Washington’s dramatic free throws with no time left and a trip to the NCAA tournament on the line – couldn’t be more pressure packed. If you haven’t seen it, or haven’t seen it in a while – take a peek at the video at the end of this post.

This was a familiar scene from 2006-2013.
This was a familiar scene from 2006-2013.

Most dominant stretch: From 2006-2009, Memphis rolled through the CUSA tournament – on their way to deep runs in the NCAA tournament. None of these games was even close. Over the 4 consecutive tournaments, Memphis’ average victory margin was 18, and the closest margin was the aforementioned 11 point win over UAB. During John Calipari’s final 2 seasons, Memphis won the CUSA championship over Tulsa by 26 and 25 points respectively.

Best Moment: The best conference tournament moment, and the best moment of Josh Pastner’s Memphis career, came in El Paso in 2011. UTEP was hosting the tournament, had a Senior laden team (with a few Memphis kids) who had been to the NCAA tournament the year before, and had drummed Memphis in El Paso the week prior. Memphis was on the bubble, and had they lost the CUSA final to UTEP, they’d probably have been NIT bound. Led by true Freshmen Joe Jackson, Will Barton, Chris Crawford and Tarik Black – Memphis pulled the upset with a late 12-pt comeback. If you have a few minutes, watch the video below. Pretty fun stuff.

Worst Performance: The Tigers history in the AAC tournament is 1-game long – and it’s not good. Memphis got its doors blown off by eventual National Champion UConn at home last year – 72 to 53, and it wasn’t that close. The early exit by host Memphis, and subsequent sparse crowds, helped lead to the AAC announcing that the tournament wouldn’t be returning to Memphis during the near future.

2005 CUSA Tournament:

2011 CUSA Tournament: