You have to feel good for Memphis point guard Joe Jackson.
The consensus top 25 freshman and Memphis native was expected to be the guy that carried the Tigers return to glory this season, but things hadn’t gone quite as planned. For a month down the stretch of the season, the freshman struggled, as freshman are wont to do.
And it weighed on him.
In a basketball town like Memphis, the natives tend to get restless. And when a native son is struggling, you know there are going to be people in your ear.
Which is why this win has to feel so good for Jackson, as well as the Tigers.
Memphis was down double digits for much of the second half, but Jackson and fellow freshman and Memphis native Chris Crawford sparked the comeback. It was Crawford’s three that tied the game at 65. And after a UTEP free throw, it was Jackson drawing a foul with 7.8 seconds left and hitting both foul shots that sent the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament.
This was a road game. The Conference USA Tournament was played in El Paso. Memphis beat UTEP in the title game. For a team led by a group of freshmen, that is quite a feat.
The Tigers struggled down the stretch of the season, which is why they needed this win to ensure that they would be participating in the NCAA Tournament, but you shouldn’t immediately write this team off. They will probably end up being placed somewhere in the 10-11 seed range. And they have the talent to win at least a game.
The Tigers won 13 games against top 100 teams this season. They also went 13-1 in games decided by five points or less. This team had a habit of playing to the level of their competition, but they did beat some quality opponents and they won some close games.
It also needs to be mentioned that, despite all of the issues that Memphis, Butler, and Gonzaga have had this season, all three programs will be headed back to the NCAA Tournament courtesy of their leagues auto-bids.
That should be a testament to the quality of the programs at those three schools.