Tough task ahead for all but U of M
MEMPHIS (AP) — For the lower-seeded teams in the Conference USA Tournament beginning today at the FedExForum, advancing to Saturday’s final will be a challenge on its own.
Toss in having to possibly face Memphis, the nation’s second-ranked team, at home in the FedExForum en route makes the road more difficult.
The Tigers, who spent considerable time earlier this year atop the polls, are 30-1 and unbeaten against C-USA opposition the past two seasons.
Memphis, the top seed, received a first-round bye in the tournament, as did No. 2 UAB, No. 3 Houston and No. 4 Central Florida. Memphis opens Thursday against the winner of tonight’s first-round game between No. 8 Marshall and No. 9 Tulane.
While Memphis is the overwhelming favorite to win a third straight C-USA title, Marshall coach Donnie Jones said, after all, it is March.
“It is very difficult to beat Memphis (in Memphis),” said Jones, whose team lost 68-45 at home to the Tigers in January. “What Memphis has done at its arena is amazing. Memphis has created a tremendous atmosphere at home.
“But that’s why they call it March Madness. Anything can happen. You’d hope they’d have one of those nights where they miss some shots and miss some free throws.”
Unfortunately for the rest of the C-USA field, it hasn’t happened much. The Tigers needed a last-second shot from guard Chris Douglas-Roberts to win at UAB last month, but recovered to record a lopsided win over the Blazers last weekend.
“I felt we went into the Memphis game (last weekend) on their senior day knowing we had second place in the league wrapped up,” said UAB coach Mike Davis. “In some of our guys’ minds, we had nothing to play for. We got beat by the No. 2 team in the nation on senior day. We’ve got to understand that game is over.”
Memphis’ only loss this season came against then-No. 2 ranked Tennessee in a game at FedExForum.
Some of the league’s coaches would prefer the C-USA tournament rotate between several league cities in hopes of lessening Memphis’ stronghold, which has hosted for the fourth straight year and has been confirmed as the host for next year.
But the coaches also know Memphis is deserving. Memphis averaged 17,476 in 18 home dates.
“Wherever you put it, it’s all about attendance,” Davis said. “Memphis is going to come and watch its team play. Until (other programs) have a fan base that’s going to come out like Memphis, it’s going to be in Memphis. It’s all about putting people in the stands.”
UCF coach Kirk Speraw’s program has a new basketball facility, alongside a new football stadium, and would like to have the Knights eventually be the host.
“Obviously, it’s certainly a competitive advantage to anyone who hosts the tournament,” Speraw said. “You’ve still got to go out there and play the game and compete. Certainly, it’s nice to have it at home.”
Tulsa’s new downtown arena is a potential host next year, although the event may return to Memphis. But what is more important, Speraw said, is the fan base for every team has to increase.
“Right now Memphis is the only team, along with UTEP, that are (approaching their) capacity,” he said. “The others have to do a better job of filling their arenas. It’s hard to move it from a place that is drawing the most support from its community.”