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Rooting Guide: Memphis Basketball's Path to a Top-4 Seed in Fort Worth

Entering the final two weeks of the regular season, the Memphis Tigers currently sit at 6th place in the AAC standings. With Memphis’ only real hope of making the NCAA tournament being winning the conference tournament, they must do whatever they can to end the regular season to best set themselves up to do that. 

In the AAC tournament, the top 4 teams in the final regular season standings get a first-round bye, meaning they only have to win 3 games in 3 days instead of having to win 4 games in 4 days to receive the automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. Since 2014, the inaugural season of the AAC, every team that has won the conference tournament received a first-round bye and only had to win 3 games. For the Tigers to make the NCAA tournament, they would have to do something that no AAC team has ever done if they do not finish top 4 in the AAC standings. So, with them sitting in 6th, how can they do that? 

First, the Tigers must do their part. To get a top 4 seed, the Tigers must win out in their remaining games vs ECU, UAB, and FAU. If they do not win those games, a top 4 seed is all but guaranteed to be out of the conversation for them. In addition to winning out, they must receive some help from the teams above them in the standings. In the current standings, #1 USF is out of reach, however FAU, Charlotte, and UAB are 2 games ahead of Memphis, and SMU is only one game ahead. 

Memphis needs to jump two of those 4, and here is how Memphis could jump each team, in order of most likely to least likely chance of Memphis finishing higher in the standings than them, which will be determined by their chances to win games according to KenPom, and under the framework that Memphis wins all their remaining games. Beside each opponent on a team’s remaining schedule is the percent chance that the team focused on in the section will win the game. It is not a perfect exercise, but it will help illuminate what teams are within reach. 


Remaining Schedule: Tulane (88%), @North Texas (55%), Memphis (Loss) 

Chance of Finishing Below Memphis: 51.6% 

It is surprising that the math spit out FAU as the most likely for Memphis to pass. Two losses are needed from FAU in their final three games. Since it is assumed, Memphis wins all remaining games, Memphis would own the tiebreaker over FAU as well, due to their 2-0 record against them. The most likely place for FAU to get that second loss in the closing stretch is in Denton against North Texas. I would caution against anyone thinking FAU will lose three of their final four games, so this one feels out of reach. If they lose to North Texas though, the regular season finale against Memphis gains even more stakes than it already has. 


Remaining Schedule: UTSA (96%), ECU (89%), @UAB (64%) 

Chance of Finishing Below Memphis: 45.4% 

Memphis only needs one loss from SMU, as Memphis would own the tiebreaker over SMU due to its record against FAU in the scenario in which Memphis wins out. It would be shocking if SMU lost to UTSA or ECU at home, so the best opportunity for Memphis to pass SMU would come from their road game at UAB. This one is by far the most straight-forward for Memphis. 


Remaining Schedule: Wichita St (72%), @Memphis (Loss), @Temple (60%), SMU (36%) 

Chance of Finishing Below Memphis: 40.4% 

UAB is the only team above Memphis with 4 games left to play. The more games one plays, the more likely they are to lose one, so this is beneficial to Memphis’ cause. However, Memphis does not own the tiebreaker over UAB due to both team’s records over top dog USF, meaning UAB would have to lose three of these games. Assuming they lose to Memphis, the most likely places for a loss are at Temple and against SMU. UAB losing their final three games feels unlikely, although they did get blown out at home to lowly Rice recently, so anything is possible. 


Remaining Schedule: USF (57%), Rice (77%), @ECU (54%) 

Chance of finishing Below Memphis: 31.2% 

Charlotte must lose two of their final three games for Memphis to finish ahead of them. Memphis owns the tiebreaker due to the head-to-head record. USF at home will be a tough game, as USF seems to always find a way to win and seems to be undervalued by the computer numbers. Rice could sneak up on them as they did this season against UAB and Memphis on the road, however the ECU road game is the most likely place for a loss to come. 

Rooting Guide 

With all that said, here is the rooting guide for Memphis Tigers fans these last two weeks of the season, with the bolded games being the previously mentioned most likely losses for teams ahead of Memphis in the standings. 

February 28th: Wichita St win vs UAB 

February 29th: Memphis win vs ECU 

March 2nd: Tulane win vs FAU, UTSA win vs SMU, USF win vs Charlotte 

March 3rd: Memphis win vs UAB 

March 6th: Rice win vs Charlotte, ECU win vs SMU, North Texas win vs FAU 

March 7th: Temple win vs UAB 

March 9th: Memphis win vs FAU, ECU win vs Charlotte 

March 10th: SMU vs UAB (Root for SMU win if SMU loses to UTSA or ECU, UAB win otherwise) 


It is unlikely all of this goes in Memphis’ favor, however if they can do their part and win the rest of their games, I would expect them to enter the conference tournament with the all-important top 4 seed. March is almost here, and hopefully Memphis and others will help set it up to be a long month for the Tigers. 

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