It's Memphis' last year in the C-USA, and the Tigers have a pretty solid chance of leaving the league with one last title.
Josh Pastner's team has won the Conference USA Tournament two years running, and it's the odds-on favorites to win here. The Tigers went 16-0 in the regular season -- one of only three teams in the nation to sweep their conference slate, the others being Gonzaga and Norfolk State -- and it wasn't particularly close, as only four of their wins were by 10 points or fewer. They have one more chance to win the C-USA before heading for the Big East next year.
Memphis' complete dominance and no other elite teams in the league means that C-USA will likely be a one-bid league, but if another team, perhaps second-seeded Southern Miss, manages to knock off the Tigers, Memphis is easily good enough to get an at-large bid. That makes this league a prime candidate for a bid thief, so bubble teams should be pulling for Memphis.
Here's what you need to know about the conference:
What, where, when
The Conference USA Tournament, BOK Center, Tulsa, Okla., March 13-16
It's as standard as an 11-team bracket can be: three play-in games to reach an 8-team bracket, then quarters-semis-finals. Here's the schedule of play:
Wednesday, March 13
3:30 p.m., No. 7 UAB vs. No. 10 SMU
6 p.m., No. 6 Houston vs. No. 11 Rice
8:30 p.m., No. 8 Tulane vs. No. 9 Marshall
Thursday, March 14 (all games on CBS Sports Network)
12 p.m.: No. 2 Southern Miss vs. UAB/SMU
2:30 p.m., No. 3 UTEP vs. Houston/Rice
5 p.m., No. 1 Memphis vs. Tulane/Marshall
8:30 p.m., No. 5 Tulsa vs. No. 4 East Carolina
Friday, March 15 (both games on CBS Sports Network)
Semifinals, 3 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
Saturday, March 16, CBS
Finals, 10:30 a.m.
It's Memphis. KenPom's Log5 gives the Tigers a 48.3 percent chance of winning the tournament, which at a neutral site in a tournament with three games is a pretty enormous probability. The star for Memphis is point guard Joe Jackson, a 6'1 scorer who can get to the line and hit open looks -- a 49.3 three-point shooting percentage -- and leads the team with 13.8 points and 4.9 assists. But what drives this team is their defense. The Tigers block 16.3 percent of opposing shots, the sixth-highest figure in the nation, thanks to senior D.J. Stephens, who despite his 6'5 height averages 2.3 blocks per game and 6.7 boards. (He also shoots 67 percent from the floor, but he rarely decides to shoot.) They also manage steals on 13 percent of opposing possessions, the 16th-best number in the nation.
Southern Miss: The Golden Eagles were the only team to come even close to the Tigers in conference, finishing at 12-4. They're also ballhawks -- steals on 14.1 percent of opposing possessions, even better than Memphis -- and thrive on the offensive boards, grabbing 39.1 percent of their misses thanks to the work of Jonathan Mills and the aptly named Daveon Boardingham. That said, they aren't really on the same level as Memphis, losing by double-digits twice.
UTEP: The Miners went 10-6, good for a third seed, and almost took down Memphis in their one regular-season meeting on Feb. 23: UTEP's C.J. Cooper went to the line after being fouled shooting a three down three, but he missed the first and intentionally bricked the third as the Tigers held on, 56-54.
Who's going dancing regardless
As noted, Memphis. The Tigers are the No. 37 team in the country, per KenPom, and their tournament resume is solid. No really bad losses -- they dropped games to Louisville, VCU, Minnesota and Xavier, three of four of which are probably in the NCAA Tournament -- although their best wins are Southern Miss and Tennessee, neither particularly strong.
Players to watch
Joe Jackson, Memphis: He's the best player on the best team in the conference. The Memphis native can do it all: When he needs to scorer, he can drill four threes and finish with 26 points like he did in a rare close conference game against East Carolina. When he needs to pass, he can do that, recording two double-doubles this year. And for a 6'1 guy, he can grab boards too, finishing one rebound away from a triple-double in the season finale against UAB.
Josh Davis, Tulane: As an eight seed, the Green Wave aren't liable to do much damage, but if they do, it's on the N.C. State transfer. The 6'8 junior scored 17.5 point and ripped 10.4 boards per game this year. If they get past Marshall and the first round, it's on Davis to try to take down Memphis.
Dwayne Davis, Southern Miss: The 6'5 JUCO transfer came in at Southern Miss and took over, leading the Golden Eagles with 15.9 points per game, well ahead of anybody else on the squad. They were supposed to be an also-ran; instead, they went 12-4 and are the main competitor to this bracket going chalk. If someone's going to keep Memphis from winning its final C-USA tourney, it'll probably be Davis.