Memphis will enter the championship game of the Conference USA Tournament on quite a roll. The Tigers have won 10 of their past 11 games and 19 of their past 22. Each of their past nine victories has been by double digits, with an average margin of victory in those games of 21.8 points.
"That's a heck of a deal. To be able to do that is not easy," Memphis head coach Josh Pastner said of the Tigers' streak. "The bottom line is we have gotten better from the beginning of the season to now, and every one of the players has improved."
Memphis has been playing so well lately that there seems to be a feeling that Saturday's game is merely a formality to go through before crowning the Tigers as the C-USA Tournament champions for the sixth time in the past seven years. But Pastner said he expects Marshall to give the Tigers a tough game.
"I said at the beginning of the year that Marshall should be picked to win the league," Pastner said. "I really believe that they're as talented as anyone in the league. If we're going to have an opportunity to win we have to play a great game with great energy."
Saturday's championship game will begin at 10:35 a.m. CST and will be televised by CBS.
An absolutely dominating performance by Memphis against UCF, as the Tigers rolled to an 83-52 victory. This one was really never in doubt after the first few minutes. In fact, if it had been a boxing match it would have been stopped in one of the early rounds.
The amazing things is, there was no obvious star in the game for Memphis. Instead, the Tigers turned in an incredibly balanced attack, with six players scoring between 15 and eight points each, and four players grabbing between seven and five rebounds.
"We have a lot of weapons and a lot of guys who can get points in bunches," said Memphis guard Will Barton, who had 10 points, seven rebounds and six assists. "When we play our game and we're focused and we're playing defense and rebounding and doing all the little things, it's pretty hard to beat us."
The Tigers are well on their way to defeating UCF, leading 69-37 with 7:39 to play, and the game has produced one of the most unusual stats of the tournament. The Knights have committed 13 turnovers, which Memphis has converted into 19 points. But UCF has literally done nothing with the Tigers' seven turnovers in the game, getting zero points off the miscues.
So in the category of points off turnovers, Memphis leads 19-0. That will lead to a victory almost every time.
The Memphis Tigers are closing in on their seventh appearance in the Conference USA Tournament championship game in the past eight years. Memphis leads UCF 36-22 at halftime, behind 10 points and four rebounds from Wesley Witherspoon.
The Tigers have harassed UCF into eight turnovers, which they have turned into nine points. The Knights, meanwhile, have yet to score a point off a Memphis turnover. In fact, the Knights hasn't scored many points at all. Marcus Jordan leads the team with seven points, but no other UCF player has scored more than four.
Despite a 25-8 record and a No. 15 ranking in the RPI, there still has been some speculation that Southern Miss might be left out of the NCAA Tournament following the Golden Eagles' loss to Marshall. But USM head coach Larry Eustachy does not understand such talk. In fact, he was incredulous during the post-game news conference that anybody even asked about his team's NCAA Tournament chances.
"There's no question that we're in the tournament," Eustachy declared. When told that some national analysts were questioning whether USM would make the field of 68, Eustachy replied, "Well those guys are idiots. They're idiots."
Midway through the second half of the game between Southern Miss and Marshall, the Golden Eagles hit a 3-pointer to take a five-point lead. Marshall head coach Tom Herrion called a timeout in order to, as he later said, "calm our kids down and get reorganized."
It turned out to be an extremely productive timeout. Because after that the Thundering Herd went on a 17-4 run in less than five minutes and then cruised to a 73-62 victory.
"I thought the tougher team won," Southern Miss head coach Larry Eustachy said. "We had a five-point lead and then we just had some lapses defensively. But give Marshall credit. They're coming off triple overtime (on Thursday) and they still had the moxie to put it to us in the last 10 minutes."
The most obvious difference in the game was in the shooting percentages. The Herd made 54.3 percent of their shots (65.2 percent in the second half), while USM shot 34.2 percent from the field.