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At long last, Tigers crack top 25

sports@dailyhelmsman.com

Published: Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 00:02

For a while, every Tiger fan was thinking, ‘Boy, what is it going to take?’
Apparently, it took an 89-76 trouncing of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg over the weekend, the Tigers’ 14th straight victory. After Saturday’s win, the Tigers — finally — resurfaced into the top 25, ranking No. 22 in the Associated Press Poll and squeezing in at No. 25 in the Coaches Poll.

In the duration of head coach Josh Pastner’s tenure, the Tigers have never ranked in the top 25 this late in the season.

“I’d rather be in the polls than not. Who doesn’t?” Pastner said. “You get more attention. You get more focus. You’re on the scroll of the games on ESPN.”
Junior guard Geron Johnson offered some strong words following Memphis’ win over Southern Miss.

“I’m going to be honest, there is no team better than us in the country,” Johnson said after Saturday’s game.

The time will come to prove Johnson’s claim. In the meantime, the Tigers are rolling through their conference schedule, a feat made more impressive by their position. With the imminent move to the Big East, every Conference USA team is getting one last shot at the Tigers, a team that has dominated the league since 2003.

“We’ve won 14 straight, which isn’t easy to do,” Pastner said. “Don’t take one win for granted. We’ve won 10 in a row, which is the longest streak in the country for road wins; that isn’t easy to do.”
With only five weeks until Selection Sunday, a national ranking assures the Tigers a spotlight. However, the Tigers have received little love from the selection committee in recent years. In 2011, the Tigers received a No. 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Last year, the Tigers joined the field as an eight seed.

The Tigers’ record this year is their best since 2009, but their strength of schedule is a sticking point. The Tigers have no “bad losses”, but they also lack the premier victories that tournament selectors look for. The wins over Ohio University, Tennessee, and Harvard are not the résumé builders that fans hoped for before the season.

But, the Tigers have a Central Florida team to defeat. And after that, Marshall stands in the way. If the Tigers lose before the end of the season, their run in the top 25 will most likely end.

“The only thing we can do to stay in the polls is win games,” Pastner said.

Indeed, all the Tigers can do is win games, but the ranking provides satisfaction for now.

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