As the University of Memphis Tigers have shown thus far, the conference-play stretch of their schedule is not all that menacing. They own an 8-0 record in C-USA play, even though the latest two games pitted them against formidable foes, Southern Mississippi and Central Florida.
With the end of the regular season rapidly approaching, these games had C-USA championship implications riding on them. A couple of wins would validate Memphis' win streak, but a slip-up would put the Tigers in a tough spot with only a handful of games left.
First up was a trip to Hattiesburg, Miss., to take on USM (Feb. 9). Memphis had beaten the Golden Eagles 18 out of the last 19 times they had met, but USM had a 23 home game winning streak on the line.
Unfortunately for the Goldern Eagles, the Tigers' reign of supremacy continued. That was largely due to the performance of Geron Johnson. He flirted with a triple-double, recording 25 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists. The outstanding showing earned him C-USA player of the week honors.
The victory marked the Tigers' 20th of the season and 14th in a row.
On Monday, Memphis found its way back into the Top 25 polls (22, AP/25, USA Today).
After defeating conference rival Southern Mississippi (89-76) this past weekend, the Tigers returned home to face the University of Central Florida Knights (Feb. 13). Memphis was impressive in their last victory and looked to keep rolling against the Knights.
And they did, drubbing UCF 93-71. It was one of the Tigers' best outings of the year, and although they won by 22, they led by as many as 34 with under four minutes remaining.
The Tigers' outstanding frontcourt play was the key to their dismantling of the Knights. Johnson posted another near triple-double (19 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists). Chiming in with a double-double of his own, Joe Jackson lead scoring with 21 points and added 10 assists.
USM and UCF were ranked 2nd and 3rd in the C-USA, respectively, when the Tigers played them this past week. Memphis came away with two big wins by a combined margin of 35 points. If that isn't a statement, then nothing is!
The Tigers only have seven games remaining in the regular season and they have a two-game lead in conference standings. Memphis has a tough road game against Marshall this weekend, a team they barely beat (73-72) earlier this season.
They also have to play USM and UCF again before it's all said and done. Yet, the Tigers have to be feeling confident about the way they are playing at this stage.
Joe Jackson, who was honored before last night's game for scoring 1,000 points in his career, said, , "(The Tigers) were coming together at the right time of the year."
Taking it a little further, Johnson added, "This team could be a national championship team."
Head coach Josh Pastner fielded questions about Johnson's pronouncement after the game.
"I've got no problem with Geron's confidence, but the reality is we have to focus on the next game," said Pastener. "When teams play Memphis it's their Super Bowl, World Series or Stanley Cup."
The Tigers will definitely continue to get their opponents best efforts as the season winds down. Still, if they keep playing at the level they have been the last couple off weeks, an undefeated record in C-USA is a real possibility.