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VOL. 127 | NO. 49 | Monday, March 12, 2012

Tigers Advance to C-USA Championship

By Don Wade

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From the Tigers’ perspective, what wasn’t there to like about a resounding 83-52 victory over Central Florida Friday evening in the semifinals of the Conference USA Tournament at FedExForum?

The Tigers led by as many as 38 points near game’s end and their defense rendered the Knights helpless. Coach Josh Pastner was able to find minutes for Adonis Thomas, playing just his second game since returning from an ankle injury. And Pastner was able to empty his bench. The closest thing to a negative? Forgotten forward Stan Simpson collecting three fouls in his five minutes of playing time.

So now the Tigers (25-8) are poised to achieve one of their preseason goals, if they can beat Marshall (21-12) for the tournament championship Saturday morning (tipoff at 10:35). They’re on a six-game winning streak and have won 19 of their last 22 games.

“We just feel like when we’re on our game we can beat anybody,” guard Will Barton said.

But the more relevant question is how does the NCAA Tournament Committee feel?

Pastner is right when he says that regardless of what happens against Marshall, “We’re in the tournament, no matter what.”

But here’s another question: Does hammering UCF twice here, a team that beat the Tigers by a point in Orlando, help or hurt them as the committee tries to gauge the level of their competition?

And what of this tournament’s No. 2 seed, Southern Miss, losing to No. 6 seed Marshall in the semifinals?

Southern Miss, like Memphis, is now 25-8. Coach Larry Eustachy did not take kindly to questions about his team’s NCAA Tournament status.

“Is there doubt?” he asked. “They are talking about Mississippi State at No. 71 (RPI). We are 13th and 48th in strength of schedule … This just goes to show you the constant lack of respect towards our conference...

“Are you kidding me? People who say we are not in the tournament are idiots. They are idiots.”

Perhaps. But some of those same people have projected the Tigers as a No. 8 or No. 9 seed. The popular scenario: The tournament committee sends the Tigers to Louisville, the same region as No. 1 Kentucky, to try and create a made-for-TV matchup between UK coach John Calipari and his old team.

It could happen. Then again, one more decisive win in the C-USA championship and maybe the Tigers move up to a No. 7 seed and avoid all that.

Central Florida coach Donnie Jones, who had no magic tricks for slowing down the far more athletic Tigers, believes Memphis is better than a No. 8 seed.

“They had a lot to do with why we didn’t play so well tonight,” Jones said. “I know they had some early losses that could probably hurt their seeding, but they’ve played very well in our league (regular-season champions) and the last 10 games they’ve played as well as anybody in the country.”

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