- Category: Original
18 Dec 2013
- Written by J.R. Moorhead/Special to The New Tri-State Defender
The expectations of the True Blue Nation are always high. When Memphis comes into a season with a top five recruiting class, the fans are just that more enamored.
Yet to the outside world, the Tigers haven't been relevant on the national stage for years. It seems that every year the early buzz fizzles with a quickness.
That probably hurts some feelings, but the truth always does. Winning C-USA championships didn't really carry much weight, and why should it when Memphis followed them up with early exits from the "big dance."
When the Tigers joined a new conference, the True Blue fans looked at it as a platform for Memphis to get more exposure. And the tough out-of-conference games would be a gage for the true potential of the team.
However, when Memphis fell to Oklahoma State earlier this year, those fans were brought back to reality. The Tigers had room to improve, lots of it. Then the Tigers rebounded to beat the Cowboys a couple of games later and re-legitimize themselves by winning the Old Spice Classic.
That momentum rolled into the latest test, as the No. 15 Tigers took the court opposite the No. 16 Florida Gators during the Jimmy V Classic.
Florida lead by double digits and controlled the pace for most of the first half, but Memphis rallied and trailed by only three (41-38) at halftime. It appeared the Tigers were determined to avoid being embarrassed again on national TV.
The game remained close and Memphis had a chance to tie or win on its final possession of the game. A contested lay-up after a one-on-one drive by Joe Jackson didn't find the net and the Tigers came up just short (77-75).
It was a tough loss, but an impressive showing. Many questioned Memphis' credibility and this game showed that the Tigers can compete with the nation's top teams.
The Gators of the SEC will be a tournament team and Memphis took them to the wire. It's a loss, but an encouraging sign. In the last few years, the Tigers have found it difficult to beat or even stay close with teams of Florida's caliber (other than OSU earlier this season).
While the way Memphis played bodes well for the future, more challenges loom on the horizon. A tough AAC schedule, which includes home-and-home series against Louisville, UConn, Cincinnati and Temple, as well as a matchup with Gonzaga will test the Tigers.
Almost winning games isn't what the fans want. Still, it has to be inspiring for the True Blue Nation to see Memphis going punch for punch with a serious contender.
This year, the Tigers might lose a few more games during the regular season than they did when they were cruising through the C-USA, but they will be more prepared for the NCAA tournament. Playing better competition does have its advantages and Memphis looks to reap those benefits.