Memphis entered Tuesday night’s game at Xavier with the nation’s longest winning streak at 18 games, which is the kind of late-season surge that every college basketball analyst wants to see. Peaking at the right time is so important in college basketball. You want to be playing your best basketball of the season as February turns into March.
And that very well may be true with Memphis, but what their 64-62 loss to Xavier proves is that, while the Tigers have a gaudy record, it doesn’t come with all that much substance.
First things first: Memphis has three wins over a team with a chance of making the tournament as an at-large bid. They beat Tennessee and they beat Southern Miss twice, and neither of those two teams is anything close to a lock to go dancing. They also haven’t lost a game since Dec. 15th, but just as the Tigers did last season, they’ve fattened up with weak non-conference opponents and a Conference USA schedule that would make teams from the Sun Belt blush.
Put simply: the Tigers have won a bunch of games that don’t hold all that much weight when it comes to NCAA tournament seeding.
And while Xavier was playing without their starting point guard and is a long way from being the kind of Xavier team that we expect to see on a yearly basis, this was a road game against a good Atlantic 10 team that just so happened to be on national TV and have Mike Bobinski, the chair of the NCAA tournament selection committee, in the stands.
This was a chance to prove that the lack of impressive wins wasn’t the end of the story. This was a chance to capitalize on the nation’s eyes being glued to ESPN2, giving Memphis the opportunity to pass the oh-so-important ‘eye test’.
And they did no such thing.
Xavier’s front line of Isaiah Philmore and Travis Taylor beat up the Tigers on the interior, dominating the offensive glass in the first half and finishing with a combined 33 points, 16 boards (10 offensive) and four blocks. The Musketeer’s back court, who was without Dee Davis, committed all of nine turnovers against the uber-athletic Memphis perimeter attack.
The Tigers were outhustled and outworked for 40 minutes. If it wasn’t for a two-minute stretch where Geron Johnson and Chris Crawford hit five straight threes, the Tigers would have been run out of the gym.
This was not the kind of performance that Josh Pastner wanted to see out of his team.
And as a result, the Tigers have to get put back into the bubble conversation.
Tiger fans better hope they finish out the rest of the season fattening up on what’s left of their C-USA schedule.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.