Over the better part of the past 48 hours we've seen a number of tournament hopefuls fall in their conference tournaments. Louisville. Wake Forest. Charlotte. Seton Hall.
But what conference has taken a hit like Conference USA did today? None.
While UTEP seems to be at near-lock status, two other teams — Memphis and UAB — were anything but secure. Those two teams were the only ones with at-large hopes of any kind.
So how did they respond to a win-or-likely-go-home scenario? By losing. Both of them.
Let's talk Memphis first, because they needed the win "more," I suppose. The Tigers had a one-point lead on 16-15 Houston with 10 seconds remaining. Now, what makes Houston an interesting case study is the fact it has Aubrey Coleman, who happens to be the leading scorer in Division I, averaging a cool 26 points per.
Logic seems simple, right? Don't let Coleman get the ball, and certainly don't let him be the one to put the shot up that can beat you. But that's what happened. Coleman got two Tigers defenders to bite, and he dipped under both of them to drop in an eight-foot baby shot that gave the Cougars a 66-65 with 5.1 remaining.
Then Willie Kemp, who had kept Memphis in the game for the majority of the second half, was called for a carry as he raced down the court in an effort to get off a shot before the buzzer. Turnover. Game over. NCAA-tournament-season over. Memphis is going to the NIT, and coach Josh Pastner's (pictured) first year with the team will be considered, by some, to be a failure because of that.
As for UAB, its loss is even more unacceptable. First of all, consider the fact it played its game after Memphis, so it had the knowledge that the Tigers' loss could only be the team's gain if it continued to win. Since Memphis fell against Houston, the Tigers' profile took a hit, and UAB losing to the Tigers twice this season now looks even worse on the resúmé. The Blazers also didn't get a win over UTEP in two tries.
So with Southern Miss on the other bench in the C-USA opener, you'd expect UAB — a program and team known for its hustle and bustle — to come out with some fire underneath it. No such thing. In a pathetic showing, the Golden Eagles held UAB to 44 points and won by 14.
Then again, if you caught any part of the game or the highlights you'd see just how empty the arena in Tulsa was. Hard to be fired up in front of a glorified family reunion, I guess.
Conference USA was looking like a four-bid league in the beginning of January. Then, come mid-February Tulsa had played its way out but Memphis and UAB were still in the picture with UTEP.
And now, in mid-March, it's back to what it's been for the past five years: a one-trick pony.
Only this year, that pony isn't Memphis.
- Conference USA
- Aubrey Coleman