For the University of Memphis Tigers' basketball team, the 2012-13 season is into the "grind" of the conference schedule. Memphis only has 11 games remaining in the regular season and 10 off those are against C-USA opponents.
So far during their campaign, the Tigers have had no real problem shredding their conference foes. They recently improved to 6-0 in C-USA and appear to be on cruise control coming down the stretch.
Last Saturday (Jan. 26), Memphis defeated the Marshall Thundering Herd 73-72 at the FedExForum. Three days before, the Herd had been thoroughly embarrassed (102-46) at the hands of the University of Southern Mississippi and they were determined to not have a repeat effort as they took the court this past weekend.
Marshall came out with intensity and was able to tie the game a couple times in the second half, yet the Herd could never strip the lead. Ultimately, the Tigers came away with a one-point win (only one point because Marshall connected on a meaningless three as time expired) and headed on the road to face the East Carolina Pirates.
Memphis had already beaten ECU this season and the Tigers looked to take the season sweep last night (Jan. 30). After only leading by one point at the half (28-27), Memphis was able to outscore the Pirates by six in the second half to come away with a 75-68 victory. Twenty-six points for starter Joe Jackson and 11 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists by Chris Crawford off the bench were the keys to the Tigers' sixth conference win.
Memphis is definitely making a strong push to take the C-USA regular season title. Although, if Memphis continues to play with their " cruise control" mindset, there could be a couple of bumps in the road to come.
The rematch against Marshall on the road will definitely be a gut check for the Tigers. Also, they still have to play Southern Miss, who is also 6-0 in C-USA, twice. These games could very well decide the team that takes the conference crown.
While it is tempting to look ahead, it is important to remember that the next game is always the most important for any team. For Memphis, that is this Saturday (Feb. 2), as the Tigers face off against Tulsa.
Tulsa brings a 12-9 (4-3 C-USA) record to the meeting, but they are not a team to be overlooked. Their 4-3 conference record is deceiving with losses coming to USM, Marshall and Tulane, who are all amongst the top half of the group. Tulsa has also upset the Tigers at home in the past.
A loss wouldn't be catastrophic for Memphis' outlook on the season, but it would put a damper on the team's body of work in the eyes of the people that decide which teams are given invitations to the NCAA tournament.
Considering the Tigers don't have any "quality" wins, a perfect conference record might be the only thing that gives their season legitimacy. Even then, they still might have to win the conference title to become validated in their critics' eyes.
Until then, all the Tigers can do is keep winning.