Conference USA turning into Memphis and the 11 dwarfs
By Tony Castleberry
The Daily Reflector
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
While some college teams seem to have good seasons every year, few, if any, men's basketball programs dominate their conference like Memphis does Conference USA.
It's almost like the Tigers are a big-league team and the 11 other C-USA clubs are toiling away in the minors. In this case though, the minor league teams have to play in the same league with the pro squad.
It all results in Memphis being the New England Patriots of C-USA. And aren't we all pretty sick of the Patriots by now?
Since going 9-7 in league during the 2004-05 season, the Tigers, owners of a perfect 15-0 record and ranked second in the latest Associated Press poll, have posted a 31-1 conference record the last two-plus seasons. The only loss came at UAB on March 2, 2005, when the Blazers recorded an 80-74 victory.
Memphis has won 19 consecutive C-USA regular-season games since that setback and have taken two straight league tournament titles as well. The Tigers opened the conference slate this season with a 99-58 thrashing of East Carolina last Wednesday, followed by a 68-45 beatdown at Marshall Saturday.
It has to be disheartening for the rest of the league to know it has little-to-no chance to compete for a conference championship. Barring some minor miracle, Memphis will roll over the rest of C-USA once again this season and take a stellar record into the postseason.
Of the 16 games left on their schedule, only a handful, if that many, should present the Tigers with even a moderate challenge, and just a couple of those are conference tilts. The Jan. 30 game at Houston could be close and two matchups with UAB loom. But the nonconference home games against Gonzaga and Tennessee will probably be more competitive than any C-USA games the Tigers play.
Memphis is unquestionably one of the most talented, deepest teams in college basketball. The Tigers would be good in any league.
But if John Calipari's crew played in the Atlantic Coast Conference or the Big East, they probably wouldn't be as untouchable as they are. In Conference USA though, nobody can even get close to the Tigers.
For Memphis, the conference schedule essentially serves as a 16-game warm-up for the postseason. The intrasquad practices are probably more competitive than many of the league games the Tigers play.
While Memphis certainly isn't complaining about how easy it has things in C-USA, the rest of the league is faced with a virtual no-win situation when it comes to league play. Without Memphis, C-USA basketball becomes even more invisible to the rest of the country than it already is. With Memphis, the glaring inadequacy of the other teams when they're stacked up against the Tigers shines even brighter.
The solution for the rest of C-USA is simple: get better. But a lot of teams are going to have to get a lot better to close the gap on Memphis. It's doubtful that will happen anytime soon.
Tony Castleberry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (252) 329-9591.