Instead, the 19th-ranked Tigers have been relegated to the other side of the bracket and will face Minnesota in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament Friday in Nassau, Bahamas.
Memphis (2-1) needed a victory Thursday to set up a prime-time matchup with the Blue Devils in the semifinals. The Tigers, though, stumbled against unranked Virginia Commonwealth, falling 78-65.
They were able to cut a 14-point halftime deficit to two with 4:05 left, but a late 11-0 run by VCU and a season high in turnovers proved to be too much to overcome, according to coach Josh Pastner.
''You can't win a high-level game by committing 22 turnovers and giving up 3s like we did," Pastner said. ''I'm proud of my guys for the way they battled back. But one of my pet peeves is giving up 3s and they shot the daylights out of it.''
VCU hit 13 of 22 from behind the arc, accounting for the most 3-pointers Memphis has allowed since Louisville went 15 of 23 in the Tigers' 75-74 loss March 12, 2005.
Memphis did shoot a season-best 52.9 percent from the field, but it hit only 2 of 7 from long range. It has hit only 12 of its 41 3-point attempts in its three games.
Adonis Thomas hit one Thursday while shooting 9 of 15 overall and scoring 19 points. Joe Jackson, who averaged 13.5 points in the first two games, scored only six before fouling out.
''What can I say?,'' Pastner asked, ''They shot the daylights out of it from 3, especially those big ones late.''
The Tigers can finish no better than fifth place in a tournament that seemed set up to feature four ranked teams in the semifinals, with No. 2 Louisville, No. 13 Missouri and Duke also in the eight-team field.
Instead, Memphis will face Minnesota, which was routed 89-71 by the Blue Devils on Thursday.
After holding their first four opponents to 28.6 percent shooting and 48.0 points per game while winning each by an average of 26.5 points, the Golden Gophers (4-1) were shredded defensively as Duke shot 54.5 percent. It was the most points allowed by Minnesota since a 95-77 loss to Western Kentucky on Nov. 18, 2010.
Rodney Williams, the team's leading scorer at 14.8 points per game, hit 6 of 11 shots and scored 16 points. He's shooting 68.9 percent from the field this season.
''I think we had a couple of lapses on defense,'' Williams said. ''Duke hit some big shots in the second half when we were playing good defense.''
The 6-foot-7 Williams has played both guard and forward this season, but coach Tubby Smith had Williams at the small forward spot in the second half. He doesn't mind his different roles.
''I just go out and play whatever Coach tells me to,'' Williams said. ''I'll play wherever.''
Minnesota has lost its last seven games against Top 25 opponents and hasn't beaten a ranked non-Big Ten team since a 72-67 victory over No. 8 North Carolina on Nov. 19, 2010, in Puerto Rico.