So Josh Pastner’s latest post-game conference is just about to start, this one after a 93-71 victory over Central Florida on Wednesday, Feb. 13, a game the Tigers led by as many as 34 points.
Before I can sit down a colleague stops me and says with a smile, “They’re a good team, good players.”
I smile and say, “They’re well-coached. That’s a good win.”
He replies, “Donnie Jones (the UCF coach) is a good friend of mine.”
As I settle into my chair, another colleague smirks, leans in and whispers, “That’s a good win. Good players, good coach … .”
And on and on it goes until Pastner sits down behind the microphone and, no kidding, says: “That’s a good team we just played. A well-coached team … Donnie’s a dear friend … good players, high-level team … that’s a good win.”
No, we don’t even need the coach to do his press conference anymore. We know the lines by heart, including how in Conference USA Memphis is everybody’s “World Series” and “Super Bowl” and this time, in a nice addition, “their Stanley Cup and Master’s championship.”
All right, deep breath … within the strange and relative context of C-USA this was a good win. Certainly it was in the sense that it came after the Tigers just re-entered the rankings – at 22 in the A.P. poll and 25 in the coaches poll. The Tigers have won 15 straight and are 10-0 in conference, 21-3 overall. And to be fair, the Knights are 7-3, 17-7 overall – better than most of this league.
But Donnie Jones captured what the Tigers are and the rest of C-USA is not when he described the Tigers as “very explosive and very talented.”
So the Tigers are a keg of dynamite while the rest of C-USA is a package of sparklers.
That said, I will grant Pastner this: When he says that unless you’ve coached or played at this level you are not truly qualified to judge whether a team or a league is any good, it sounds reasonable on the surface.
Except that by that same logic you would have to be an elite chef to judge whether food tastes good. Look, you know good food when you taste it. And you know good basketball when you see it, and if C-USA teams are involved it’s easy to lose your appetite.
The shame in all this is that it would be great to put all the focus on how the Tigers are playing because, yes, no matter the level of their competition, they are playing well; their fastbreaks are now highlight reels with or without D.J. Stephens dunking at the end of them.
“It’s like hot potato when we get out in transition,” said guard Joe Jackson, who had a double-double with 21 points and 10 assists against UCF. “We’re giving it up.”
The real question now is can they move up in the rankings and therefore improve NCAA Tournament seeding?
Guard Geron Johnson said in one breath that the Top 25 “means nothing, just a number next to a name.” But in the next breath he will tell you he can’t believe there are 20-some teams ranked ahead of the Tigers, and in the breath after that he’ll not only say he believes Memphis is capable of winning the national championship, but “that’ll be my response every time you see me. Hold me to that.”
Sure, Geron, no problem.
After all, the Tigers just won their 15th straight Super Bowl, Stanley Cup, Daytona 500, Iditarod, PDGA Disc Golf World Championship … .
Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. He and Jon Albright host the “Jon & Don Show” on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays.