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Teams won’t be lining up to play Memphis next week

Will Barton, Angelo Johnson, Lashay Page

Memphis Tigers guard Will Barton (5) goes to dunk the ball over Southern Mississippi guards Angelo Johnson (23) and Lashay Page (0) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012, in Memphis, Tenn. Memphis won 60-58. (AP Photo/Lance Murphey)


For much of the country, the Memphis Tigers were “out of sight, out of mind” following their non-conference slate, which included losses to Georgetown (twice), Louisville, Michigan and Murray State. But now would be a good time to get on the Tiger bandwagon, as Memphis is playing its best basketball of the season at the right time.

Josh Pastner’s Tigers capped their run through Conference USA with a dominant showing in the tournament final, beating Marshall 83-57 to earn the league’s automatic bid. Five Tigers finished in double figures with Joe Jackson leading the way with 19 points to go along with six assists, and Will Barton posted a double-double with 18 and 13 boards.

Marshall, who entered the game with hopes of earning an NCAA tournament berth, may have met a fate similar to UCF’s in Friday’s semifinals. DeAndre Kane dealt with lower back trouble throughout (it’s been an issue for much of the season, in fact), but the bigger pain was the attention paid to him by Memphis defensively.

Two days after leading the Thundering Herd to a 105-100 triple-overtime win over Tulsa with 40 points, Marshall’s leading scorer shot 5-for-18 from the field, finishing with 18 points. Damier Pitts wasn’t much better as he shot 5-for-15 from the field, and as a team Marshall shot 35.5% on the afternoon.

Having now won 11 of their last 12 games, Memphis is in position to make a run to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament, which is something few expected to say (or write) as they were dealing with maturity-related issues earlier in the season. But a closer look at their stats reveals that Memphis has been underrated.

According to Ken Pomeroy’s numbers (subscription required; sorry) the Tigers sit in the Top 25 in both adjusted offensive (113.4; 21st) and adjusted defensive (88.3; 12th) efficiency. And during this current run just one opponent has averaged more than one point per possession (UTEP), and that was their one defeat back on February 18th.

Saturday’s win did have a concerning moment with big man Tarik Black crashing into the Marshall bench in pursuit of a loose ball in the second half. But it’s only a bruised right forearm according to reports, which allowed Memphis to breathe a sigh of relief and thoroughly enjoy their second straight C-USA tournament crown.

Naysayers can feel free to point out the conference that Memphis plays in, but to do so would be to ignore how well Pastner’s charges have played down the stretch. The bandwagon is taking on passengers, and it may be a good idea to hop on before it pulls off.