College Basketball Road Trip: Did Memphis blow its tourney ticket?
When the FOX Sports Hyundai Santa Fe (the orange one) rolled into Cincinnati on Thursday, it rolled in early. How early, you ask? Well, we were on campus and parked outside the arena four and a half hours before tip-off, because we were that excited for the 15th-ranked Bearcats’ game against 20th-ranked Memphis. (And because it was a short drive from Bloomington and we couldn’t think of anywhere else to go before the game.)
The problem we ran into by arriving so early was media can’t check in until two hours before tip-off. That meant we were stuck outside Fifth Third Bank Arena in the freezing cold with two hours to kill. And what do two exhausted bloggers on Cincinnati’s campus do with two hours to kill? They go to the student center and play shuffleboard, of course. When in Rome, they say.
After pretending to be students and taking brief naps in the middle of a Sigma Sigma meeting, we walked back over to Fifth Third Arena right as Memphis’ buses arrived. I peeked through the windshield to confirm it was the Tigers and immediately made eye contact with head coach Josh Pastner through the windshield. My initial reaction was to give him a head nod like we’ve known each other for years, and he nodded back like we’ve known each other for years. In reality, we haven’t known each other for years. We haven’t known each other ever, although we are friends on Facebook and I will occasionally "like" random pictures on his wall. Maybe he got my "poke" last summer, too.
Our awkward acknowledgment of each other’s presence in town told me it was to be Memphis’ night. Actually, it didn’t tell me anything, but I caught a case of Memphis swagger as Matt and I watched the Tigers unload off the buses and file in through the players-only entrance like a group on a mission, or like Colin Kaepernick in that Beats By Dre commercial. At 22-7 on the season and with the potential for a HUGE key win ahead, the Tigers, coming off a second win over 7th-ranked Louisville, were in the zone and ready for the nationally televised game in Cincinnati. Nothing was going to keep them from making this a tight game. NOTHING.
Fast forward to the 12:34 mark in the first half and Memphis is down 18-4. All of that confidence I had in Pastner’s team was long gone and my focus was drifting from what was supposed to be on one of the American Athletic Conference’s games of the year to how I could smuggle some of that City Barbeque in the media room out to the parking lot. Man, that stuff was good.
Memphis, on the other hand, was not good. Not Thursday night, at least. The Tigers showed some promise when they trimmed the deficit to one point early in the second half, but Cincinnati quickly stretched it back to double digits minutes later. It was a complete rout from there with senior Sean Kilpatrick scoring a season-high 34 points in his last home game as a Bearcat. UC kept Memphis from making it a game. The ‘Cats dominated this one, 97-84, just as they did in the first meeting.
The Tigers’ ugly loss moved the team to fifth in the AAC, one game behind UConn and SMU and three games behind Cincinnati and Louisville. The NCAA tourney hopes are still alive, thanks to those wins against Louisville, but Memphis still could use a win at SMU on Saturday to feel confident about its stock on Selection Sunday. If not there, Memphis also can make some noise in the conference tournament on its home floor next week.
Speaking of conference tournaments, the FOX Sports College Basketball Road Trip will be at the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament for quarterfinal action on Friday. With four games to take in, our only quadruple-header of this adventure, we plan to have plenty of material here on FOXSports.com.
Get ready to get MVC’d, people.