Ideally, I was going to spend some time charting a course for how the University of Memphis would make it to the Sweet 16. They would get, say, a 6 seed and I’d spend a little time talking about how they would beat an 11 seed in their first game and then I’d made a case for them upsetting a 3 seed in their second game and reaching the tournament’s second weekend.
And I was prepared to do that, I really was. The Tigers are on a seven-game winning streak, have won 20 of their last 23 games, are playing their best basketball at exactly the right time and fresh off winning the Conference USA Tournament at FedExForum in convincing fashion.
But the NCAA Tournament Committee not only turned a deaf ear to Tigers coach Josh Pastner’s pleas for a 5 seed, the committee didn’t reward the Tigers for a strong finish. Or maybe it was just more punishment because they play in Conference USA, which is nowhere close to being as good as Pastner would have you believe but not so bad that the Tigers should have received an 8 seed.
They play Friday against 9 seed Saint Louis University. The loser goes home after the game, the winner sticks around to play 1 seed Michigan State, coached by the brilliant Tom Izzo, and goes home Sunday.
As much as I’d like to make a case for a deep Tigers run, their path is almost immediately blocked. And this assumes they beat Saint Louis in the first game. I think they will, but there are no guarantees. However, if they do advance to play Michigan State (and yes, I’m assuming they knock out the 16 seed with no problem), young coach Pastner will have the challenge of his life matching up with Izzo and having just a day of preparation.
If you want to know how this could have turned out differently, there are a couple of answers. They could have won at least one of their two games with Georgetown. That would have been enough to make them a 7. They could have beaten Michigan. Or Murray State. Or not lost to Central Florida and UTEP in conference, bad losses by any measure.
The Tigers deserved a little better than an 8. The only surprise here is that the committee didn’t reach for the easy story line and put them against 9 seed UConn in the South Region, setting up a possible matchup with 1 seed Kentucky and John Calipari. So it could have been worse, much, much worse.