While listening to Gary Parrish and John Martin on the way home from work on Wednesday (link to the podcast here – around the 50:20 mark), the following exchange caught my attention:
Gary Parrish: To me it’s almost like….whatever. Are Memphis fans going to be excited about a win over Temple? No. I mean the truth is the only way any of the tone within the city changes before the start of next season is if Memphis somehow wins this automatic bid and goes to the NCAA tournament. And even then I’m not sure it changes completely. It will just quiet temporarily. So beat Temple, lose to Temple – I honestly don’t think it will register much in the city unless we look up on Saturday morning and Memphis is playing for an automatic bid.
John Martin: I think that’s an interesting conversation and one I sort of had with Geoff this morning. Like if you just polled the average Memphis basketball fan – are they invested in this week at all? Are they looking forward to this? Are they emotionally invested in this whatsoever or are they on the side of, ‘eh wake me up when they beat SMU in the semis’ ? I think that’s an interesting question.
Gary Parrish: I don’t know what Geoff said, but from what I gather – no – I don’t get the sense that folks are excited about the American Athletic Conference tournament or that they’re looking forward to it. There’s nothing really to gain, except the obvious thing to gain – and I don’t think anyone thinks that’s possible or reasonably considered possible.
Let me say a few things here.
I am one of the folks.
I am excited.
I can’t speak for the other folks, but for the record, here are 7 (lucky number) reasons why I’m excited. And one other point of disagreement with what Gary had to say.
1. Conference tournaments are exciting. While I certainly don’t disagree with Gary’s overarching point that the Memphis fan base is in a collective bad mood – conference tournaments are just plain exciting. Because the AAC is an 11 team league, and given that the Tigers enter with a bye, Memphis only has to win 3 games to pull off a miracle of sorts. Certainly, certainly, the odds are long – but the very nature and format of the event lends itself to excitement. Even for the Temple game.
Which brings me to my 2nd point.
2. Talking yourself into it. The great thing about a bracket – is you can always, I repeat always, talk yourself into being excited.
It goes something like this….
3. Memphis isn’t awful, and they had Temple beat the last time they played. On February 7, with Austin Nichols not playing the final 7 minutes of the game, Memphis had Temple beat until literally the final second of the game. So it’s not like Memphis is entering this tournament with no chance whatsoever to make a run.
Beat Temple and all of a sudden you’re alive on Saturday.
Beat Temple and all of a sudden you’re in the semi-finals.
Beat Temple, all of a sudden you can start quoting John Turturo’s The Jesus from Big Lebowski.
“I see you rolled your way into the semis. Are you ready to be f^%ked man?”
as in – “Hey Larry Brown, I see you rolled your way into the semis, etc…”
The possibility of that excitement is exciting in itself.
4. The Path. SMU will be tough – no about it. They’re the best team in the league with two of the best players in Markus Kennedy and Nic Moore. They’re fundamentally sound and swept Memphis in the regular season. Buuuuuuut (talking myself into it now) Memphis played the Mustangs tough in the 2nd game and did so essentially without a back court in the 2nd half of said game.
Also, I’d rather get the Ponies on day 2 than on day 3. I have no actual reasoning for this, but it sounds good.
5. UConn or Tulsa in the finals? No big deal. The Tigers swept UConn and had Tulsa beat a few weeks ago. Totally doable. Now we’re in fantasy land, but so what? That’s what March is about. MADNESS!
6. History repeating itself? Where have I seen this story before?Tigers defeat a quality opponent on their home floor to win a conference tournament and claim an NCAA bid. This is what happened in 2011 in El Paso against UTEP. Memphis, needing the automatic berth to secure a spot in the field of 68, ran through the weekend and defeated the Miners in front of rowdy, partisan crowd.
Of course, this ain’t CUSA and this ain’t in El Paso. This is Harford, CT – 2,301 miles from El Paso. That’s 32 hours. Without traffic. Also, this is a much tougher league with better competition.
Still though, you know Josh Pastner is itching to repeat history.
7. This is hardly unprecedented. Memphis has 18 wins and is a 5 seed. While they’re not even close to being on the bubble, they wouldn’t be the first team from off the bubble to win a bid in a multi-bid league. The Wall Street Journal had a piece today on teams that come from out of nowhere to win their conference tournaments. In 2008, Georgia was 4-12 in the SEC but won the league tournament and claimed the SEC auto-bid. 9 other times, teams with losing records in “power” conferences (Memphis was actually 10-8 in the multi-bid AAC) came up unexpectedly to win their conference tournaments. Seems every year a non bubble team (aka bid thief) emerges in a multi-bid league and makes a run to the finals.
Finally, I do disagree with Gary about the tone. For the record, I don’t think Memphis is going to win the AAC tournament. BUT – if they did make said run I definitely think the tone would change. It would mean that Josh Pastner took a team with 9 new players – and a major injury – through a significant growth process to 21 wins and an NCAA birth. Furthermore, it would surely be an incredibly fun weekend for Tiger fans watching Memphis go 3-0 in Hartford, CT. So again, I don’t think it’s going to happen any more than Gary does. But I can talk myself into it and if it did happen – I definitely think the tone would change.
If the Tigers roll their roll into the Semis – this will be quoted extensively on Friday night: