There are two weeks remaining in the regular season and four games left on the schedule and the Memphis Tigers have already sewn up Conference USA after beating Southern Miss 89-73 to give themselves a three-game cushion and the tiebreaker.
Memphis (24-3, 13-0) stretched its winning streak to 18 games and has lost only once since the third week of November. That loss came against Louisville in December, one of the few quality opponents Memphis has faced this season.
And while there is plenty of reason for the Tigers to be proud of what they've accomplished to this point, there also has to be some doubt in the back of coach Josh Pastner's mind about how his team will stack up when it goes up against opponents from tougher conferences next month. We've seen this formula end badly in the past after all. A dominant team from a weak league becomes a one-and-done come tournament time. In fact, we saw it happen to the Tigers just last season.
Memphis figures to be the only team from C-USA in the NCAA tournament this year unless another team rises up to beat it in the conference tournament snatching an automatic bid. Strange things happen when teams are playing to keep their season alive.
Memphis a more mature team this year than it was last year when it lost its first game in the NCAA tournament. Maybe it will handle it better this season, assuming it doesn't fall apart here in the next three weeks and somehow find away to be relegated to the NIT.
Southern Miss was in the same boat as Memphis with no quality wins to speak of in its nonconference schedule. The Golden Eagles really needed to beat the Tigers at least once to have any reasonable hope of an at-large berth. Perhaps they will prove capable in the conference tournament, but at this point it appears Memphis will be carrying the C-USA torch in March Madness.
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