The UTEP Miners are rolling into the CUSA championship game with a 15-1 Conference USA record and a 17 game winning streak, so it’s only fitting that that they will have to face the last team to beat them. Houston comes in as the #7 seed and the feel good story of the tournament, fresh off a one-point upset of #2 Memphis in the semifinals. Aubrey Coleman, the nations leading scorer, has manhandled the Cougars’ opponents this tournament, averaging 25 points a game. At #21 in the nation, UTEP has the best overall team, but Houston is the last team UTEP wants to deal with. They only won seven conference games, but the Cougars have beaten three of the top four teams in CUSA, including Memphis twice. If they manage to pull off this upset and punch their ticket to the dance, it will be one of the more remarkable underdog stories of the year. So join us here at RTC Live and make sure you don’t miss this great championship matchup!
We’ve been anxiously awaiting the next thirty days for the last eleven months. You have too. In fact, if this isn’t your favorite time of year by a healthy margin then you should probably click away from this site for a while. Because we plan on waterboarding you with March Madness coverage. Seriously, you’re going to feel like Dick Cheney himself is holding a Spalding-logoed towel over your face. Your intake will be so voluminous that you’ll be drooling Gus Johnson and bracket residue in your sleep. Or Seth Davis, if that’s more your style. The point is that we’re all locked in and ready to go. Are you? To help us all get into the mood, we like to click around a fancy little website called YouTube for a daily dose of notable events, happenings, finishes, ups and downs relating to the next month. We’re going to try to make this video compilation a little smarter, a little edgier, a little historical-er. Or whatever. Sure, you’ll see some old favorites that never lose their luster, but you’ll also see some that maybe you’ve forgotten or never knew to begin with. That’s the hope, at least. We’ll be matching the videos by the appropriate week, so for the next three days, we’ll be re-visiting some of the timeless moments from Championship Week. Enjoy.
Dateline: 2005 Conference USA Championship Game – Memphis vs. Louisville
Context: The scene was the CUSA championship game in Memphis. Freshman point guard Darius Washington, Jr., stood at the line with 0:00 left on the clock, and it was supposed to be the crowning moment of the uber-hyped young point guard’s basketball life. Instead, it quickly became a nightmare. At 19-14 (9-7 CUSA), Memphis came into the game squarely on the bubble. A solid performance against the nation’s #6 Louisville Cardinals probably wasn’t going to be enough — the Tigers needed to win the game. When the Cards went to the line up two with 6.7 seconds remaining, there seemed to be little hope left. But when Brad Gianiny missed the front end, Washington pushed the ball upcourt. After splitting two UL defenders, he pulled up near the three-point line and drew contact as the buzzer sounded. The shot missed badly, but he was headed to the line with a chance to win the game, and more importantly, give his team an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. You probably know the rest, but here it is anyway. The first shot was all net to put Memphis down one. The second shot… slightly short, bouncing off to the right. The third seemed to hang in the air forever but it was much the same shot, a little bit short and bouncing off to the right. Utter devastation. Washington crumpled to the ground fully prostrate, and the CBS announcer (Ian Eagle (?)) said “Somebody needs to go help that kid up.” It was easily one of the most pressurized yet deflating moments that one can imagine a young player will ever face — the chance to send your team to the NCAAs from the line with all zeros on the clock — and the memory of it is etched into March history.
With one round under our belts, the big boys in Conference USA finally get to strut their stuff, with the top four seeds all in action for the first time in this year’s tournament. This is also a big opportunity for the lower seeds to come away with upsets. #5 Tulsa especially has something to prove. The preseason champs fell on hard times, finished 10-6 in the conference, and have been left for dead; but tonight, the Golden Hurricanes have a chance to redeem the lost season with a win over #4 Marshall. They have the home crowd all week, and three straight victories will send them to the Big Dance. Let’s see if they can catch lightning in a bottle. On the other hand, Marshall has a chance to get fitted with their own pair of glass slippers and crash the hometown party with a win. They are both dangerous teams with a shot at the championship, but only one can survive. So come get in on the action with RTC Live!
Eli Linton is the RTC correspondent for the Summit League and an occasional contributor. He will be live-blogging some of the key games this weekend from Tulsa at the C-USA Tournament.
UTEP 15-1 (24-5)
Memphis 13-3 (23-8)
UAB 11-5 (23-7)
Marshall 11-5 (23-8)
Tulsa 10-6 (21-10)
Southern Miss 8-8 (18-12)
Houston 7-9 (15-15)
SMU 7-9 (14-16)
UCF 6-10 (14-16)
East Carolina 4-12 (10-20)
Tulane 3-13 (8-21)
Rice 1-15 (7-22)
Conference USA Tournament
This year’s Conference USA tournament is going to be slightly different from the previous years when Memphis was the only horse in this show. Believe it or not, the Tigers are NOT the favorite (that honor would belong to UTEP), and they will be fighting this weekend as a bubble team. Only UTEP has locked down an at-large berth for March Madness. UAB is also considered a bubble team, but at 11-5 in conference, anything short of a championship game showing will likely keep them out. It is likely that only two teams are coming out alive from C-USA — Memphis and UTEP — but a team like Tulsa (which is essentially playing a home tournament) could pull it together and win (I also have a little faith left for UAB).