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Saturday, December 2, 2023


C-USA play at perpetual low

Junior forward Qa’rraan Calhoun scored 15 points on 6-of-14 shooting on Wednesday.

When the final buzzer sounded Wednesday night at Hofheinz Pavilion, there was little fanfare from either team. Just business as usual.

The Memphis Tigers and Houston Cougars shook hands, exchanged goodbyes and went their separate ways. The Tigers left for their return flight to Memphis, Tenn. and the Cougars went home to prepare for their battle with Southern Methodist at 7 p.m. Saturday.

The roads for each leads to next week’s Conference USA Tournament, but only Memphis is guaranteed a shot at a much greener pasture.

After beating the Cougars 69-60, Memphis is only one win from recording its third consecutive undefeated season in Conference USA and headed to its fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament.

Houston, the last team with a decent shot to end the Tigers’ streak of 57 consecutive conference wins, will try to grab the fourth seed for next week’s C-USA Tournament by beating SMU. In actuality, however, the Cougars are stuck in quicksand, just like every other C-USA team not named Memphis (27-3, 15-0 C-USA).

For the third consecutive season, C-USA will be a one-bid league for the NCAA Tournament unless Memphis miraculously loses in the conference tournament.’

Wednesday’s game between Memphis and Houston (18-10, 9-6 C-USA) provided another commentary on how low C-USA basketball has sunk since powerhouses Louisville and Cincinnati and other high-quality programs jumped ship for the Big East and other conferences after the 2004-05 season and were replaced by true mid-major programs.

In fairness, the league has improved a bit since that first season, when only four teams finished with winning records, but it has not improved to a point where anyone takes it seriously. When that will happen is anyone’s guess.’

Because every C-USA program except Memphis usually does not make much noise in non-conference play, they have to depend on beating Memphis to garner serious consideration for the NCAA Tournament. Either that, or win the C-USA Tournament to claim the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.’

For the last four seasons, all of them except Alabama-Burmingham, which was the previous C-USA team to beat Memphis in 2006, have come up short. None have come close to winning the C-USA Tournament, known these days as the ‘Memphis Invitational.’

For a once proud men’s basketball conference, it’s sad when this situation arises every season.

‘That is what’s happening to our league,’ Memphis head coach John Calipari said. ‘Next year will be the year that we win half of those games (important non-conference contests). We just keep losing all of them as a league.’

Still, the league’s other coaches haven’t lost hope.

‘This is a good conference,’ Houston head coach Tom Penders said. ‘The perception is kind of whacked out because of the dominance of Memphis.’

This might be true, but that perception doesn’t appear to be any closer to changing.

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