Memphis hasn't lost a Conference USA game in nearly three years.
Let that sink in.
Since losing Thursday, March 2, 2006, the Tigers have ripped off 55 consecutive conference wins, including the C-USA tourney. No, it's not the Big East, ACC or even the Mountain West in terms of overall league status.
But 55 victories. Three years. (Whistles) That doesn't seem right. Even great teams stumble occasionally in conference play.
Unless you're the Tigers, whose conference mark is 66-1 in the last four seasons, and 129-13 overall.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Thursday's win against UAB was just the latest in what's become a ridiculous show of Memphis and also-rans. The Blazers were at home and were a trendy upset pick before the game. Doug Gottlieb and Michael Wilbon both picked UAB to win. Southern Miss coach Larry Eustachy said the Blazers feature a better starting five.
Yet the 71-60 Memphis victory was another example of why the Tigers don't lose to the Blazers, let alone anyone else in the league: They're athletic, play defense and have a roster of guys who make plays when needed. Thursday, it wasn't freshman wunderkind Tyreke Evans, or longtime starters Antonio Anderson or Robert Dozier who were the difference.
It was junior Doneal Mack. His 14 second-half points, including a key 3-pointer, broke the Blazers' backs. Mack averages just under 10 points a game, yet his teammates weren't shy about getting him the ball.
"We always have somebody we can count on if anybody else is struggling," Dozier told the Memphis Commercial Appeal. "We don't hesitate to throw him the ball. Any guy who's open and getting his shots and has it going, we're going to get it to him. We're going to find a way."
Selfless and talented? That's a dangerous team.
Of course, it also helps to play defense like the Tigers. They're No. 1 on kenpom.com's adjusted defensive rankings, ahead of Louisville and UConn, and slightly better on D than last year's 38-2 squad that reached the national title game. (81.3 points per 100 possessions compared to 83.9 last year.)
Not that the Tigers are invincible. Note the close wins vs. Tulsa and Tennessee, which is probably a function of lower-scoring games.
With Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts gone, they don't run as much as last year, but excel at ball control and are just as good from 3-point land.
"This is one of those teams that you don't know where it's going to come from,'' coach John Calipari said. "It's crazy. We are trying to do something special. We've been in a lot of tight games.''
When Memphis wins its 60th straight C-USA game during the conference tourney, it'll pass West Virginia for 2nd, with only Kentucky's 64 straight SEC wins from 1945-50 remaining. It'll also reach at least 30 wins for the fourth straight season, and pass Duke for the most victories during a four-year period.
That's heady stuff for a group Calipari wasn't sure about to start the season. Now, the Tigers are making a case for a No. 1 seed and a second-straight Final Four.
"Were we going to be mentally and physically tough enough to compete at the highest level?," he asked the Commercial Appeal. "I guess we're proving we are."