The band is warming up and the Tigers have laced their shoes. It's time to dance! The University of Memphis looks geared to win its first NCAA tournament game with Josh Pastner as head coach.
After securing the C-USA Tournament title on Saturday morning in Tulsa in a heart-pounding game not reflected by the final score (91-79), the Tigers learned Sunday evening that they were grouped in the Midwest region.
Memphis will take the floor on Thursday in Auburn Hills, Mich. (time to be announced) to take on the winner of a play-in game between Middle Tennessee State and Saint Mary's. The Tigers look to have a decisive advantage against either team, especially when the extra game for the opponent is taken into account.
Yet, the road to the Final Four will be a tough one for the Tigers with prolific teams such as Louisville, Duke and Michigan State in the Midwest region. But the best part about March Madness is the unpredictability! Memphis can only play one game at a time and Thursday the Tigers look to get one step closer.
Memphis landed a No. 6 seed. Before the weekend, many thought that the Tigers would be floating around a seven seed, with room to move either way based on their performance in the C-USA tournament. When the last ball had bounced in Tulsa, the Tigers successfully had climbed the championship mountain.
After Memphis carved up its first two opponents (Tulane 81-68 and Tulsa 85-74), Pastner and his crew were poised to seize the C-USA crown against rival Southern. What unfolded that morning was a game very reminiscent of those played in the NCAA tournament. Faced with a win or go home scenario (no berth to the NCAA tourney), Southern Miss' determination and desperation was very clear to see.
The lead changed hands 18 times throughout the game. Standing at the charity stripe with mere seconds remaining, Tiger guard Joe Jackson had a chance to increase Memphis' lead to four and virtually seal the deal. However, he missed the front end of a one and one and the Eagles were able to go coast-to-coast to convert a game-tying lay up. It was so close the referees went to the review table to confirm that the shot did, in fact, get off in time.
If Jackson was the goat at the end of regulation, he was the hero at the end of the first overtime period. He made a game-tying jump shot from the elbow of the free throw line to tie the game and force a second overtime.
The determined Eagles committed a few costly turnovers to start the second OT, and, well, things got ugly fast for USM. The Tigers ran away with it down the stretch, notching a 12-point victory that gave no clue to how hard USM pushed them.
Chris Crawford took home tournament MVP honors by virtue of his incredible three point shooting (19-31 in three games) and a clutch performance at the end of the battle with Southern Miss. His play was a big part of the Tigers claiming their seventh conference title in eight years and helping Memphis to a flawless 19-0 record during its last season in C-USA.