For the Memphis Tigers, the NCAA tournament begins Saturday morning (10:30 central time) in El Paso, Texas. With a win in the Conference USA championship game against host UTEP, the Tigers would return to the NCAA tournament after a year of relegation to the NIT. (With 24 wins now and a top-40 RPI ranking, even with a loss the Tigers should force the tournament selection committee to consider their credentials.)
The Tigers found their long-range shooting touch — and a star turn by freshman point guard Joe Jackson — to avenge a loss to East Carolina just nine days ago in Greenville. Memphis hit 10 of 18 shots from three-point range, their most treys in a game since January 5th. And Jackson scored a season-high 24 points, 18 of them in an explosive first half that saw the fourth-seeded Tigers take a 42-29 lead over the eighth-seeded Pirates. (ECU played its third game in three days, and was without Brock Young — C-USA's Sixth Man Award winner — who injured a knee in Thursday's quarterfinal upset of UAB.)
Junior guard Charles Carmouche hit three of four from long-distance and scored 19 points for Memphis, also a season high. Senior center Will Coleman scored 11 points and grabbed four rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench for the Tigers. The Tigers limited ECU to 36-percent shooting for the game.
The U of M will again be looking to even a score in Saturday's title tilt. On February 26th at the Don Haskins Center, UTEP demolished the Tigers, 74-47. Memphian Randy Culpepper had 20 points in that game, one in which the Tigers hit only one of 18 three-point attempts. The Tigers and Miners have never faced each other in a C-USA tournament.
Here's a look at how the Tigers fared in their five previous appearances in the C-USA championship (all games were played at FedExForum):
* 2005: Louisville 75, Memphis 74
* 2006: Memphis 57, UAB 46 (MVP - Shawne Williams)
* 2007: Memphis 71, Houston 59 (MVP - Chris Douglas-Roberts)
* 2008: Memphis 77, Tulsa 51 (MVP - Antonio Anderson)
* 2009: Memphis 64, Tulsa 39 (MVP - Tyreke Evans)