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Surviving UCF, UCONN means NCAA may still be possible

The University of Memphis men’s basketball program has not made it to the NCAA tournament in five years, and coach Penny Hardaway is in danger of missing the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row. The last two coaches who missed the NCAA tournament consecutive years did not return as head coach.

If the Tigers beat both Temple and USF this week, they will be 18-5 with 8 games remaining, four of which the tigers will be favored to win.

Josh Pastner’s last two teams lost 14 and 15 games respectively, while Tubby Smith’s teams lost 13 games both years. After a rough 14-loss season last year, Hardaway has the program trending back towards single-digits in the regular season loss column.

To get back to the NCAA tournament and continue trending upward and assuming they win against both Temple and UCF, Memphis needs to win five of the remaining eight games against Cincinnati, Connecticut, East Carolina, SMU, Tulane, Wichita State and Houston, who they will play twice.

Hardaway and his team finished the regular season with 19 wins last year, notched two wins in the American conference tournament, and one in the NIT, for 22 total wins. If the five-year March Madness drought is to be broken this year, Hardaway and the Tigers need to finish the regular season with 23 wins or more to safely qualify for an at-large bid and be off the bubble.

For this program to not suffer another setback, this team needs to make the NCAA tournament this year. Expectations may not currently include positions as national title favorite, but this squad should still want to rep the 901 in the big dance.

Finish the regular season 23-8, and they appear to be safe for an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament. That way, even if they are one-and-done in Fort Worth for the American Conference postseason tournament, the NCAA selection committee views Memphis a team with single-digit losses on the season. The NCAA selection committee will be less likely to snub a Memphis team with single digit losses than with double-digit losses.

Even if the tigers do not win a post-season game, they have likely punched their ticket on selection Sunday with a 23-9 record and will be around a ten seed. It is not a lock and more deserving teams have been left out before, but Memphis has enough name-brand recognition to not be snubbed with a deserving single-digit loss record—especially in a year where there’s more parity across the board and more top teams have lost.

For this program to not suffer another setback, this team needs to make the NCAA tournament this year. Expectations may not include being national title favorites currently, but expect this squad to savor the opportunity for the limelight that comes with making the NCAA tournament.

The Memphis Tigers’ next game against the Temple Owls will begin Feb. 5 at the FedExForum at 7 p.m.

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