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Nuggets of Gold
Thursday, April 10, 2008
By Adam Gold
Adam Gold is program director of the Triangle's "850 the Buzz" and host of "The G-spot with Adam Gold" mornings from 6-10 a.m.


And there it went.

By Adam Gold
All rights reserved.

Conference USA had its chance to win a national championship in San Antonio. Memphis, the lead dog in a conference full of schnauzers, was gnawing at the trophy, up nine points with a shade over 2:12 on the clock.


Out of nearly nowhere, facing yet another Final Four failure, the blue-blooded Kansas Jayhawks hit a shot here, forced a turnover there, rebounded a missed free throw or four and forced overtime with an 11th hour 3-pointer from the top of the key.

Kansas closed regulation on a 12-3 run, forcing the gassed Tigers to wheeze through another five minutes to get what they thought they’d earned over the first 40.

Nice try.

Teams that watch a 9-point lead evaporate in the closing two minutes, in large part due to their own “deer-in-the-headlinghts” experience, don’t often regroup to handle the pressure of overtime.

Yet, there was Memphis, the lone representative of Conference USA in the NCAA Tournament, going through the motions of a game they knew they had just given away.

The Tigers managed a 5-1 record in post season play, or five times more wins than the combined total of the other two league members that reached the post season, and they should be proud of the accomplishment.

And, that would be a whole lot easier had they not been so unbelievably close to closing the deal.

Don’t turn the ball over near your own basket, make one more free throw, successfully prevent the game-tying three-pointer, either through good defense or by fouling before the shot — we can debate the merits of either — and the game is over, Memphis cuts down the nets and Conference USA becomes the conference of champions.

No kidding, I was prepared to go with that as my lead.

I was going to put Chris Douglas-Roberts on the Wheaties box and talk about the first national title for the league in 42 years.

Quick, name the only other current conference member to win a national championship.

Conference USA is never going to have a better chance to win a title. This isn’t to say that John Calipari won’t have Memphis back in the mix in future years, but there is just no guarantee at all that another kick at the can is right around the corner.

Duke’s only been back to a Final four one time since winning the title in 2001; Kentucky hasn’t been back since winning it all in 1998; and Georgetown reached back-to-back Final Fours in 1984 and ’85 only to disappear from the national elite until taking advantage of a North Carolina meltdown last season.

It’s hard just to get back to a Final Four, let alone be good enough and play well enough to win two more games amid the madness. Add to this the reality that the Tigers will be extremely different next year in terms of personnel. Their best three players, Derrick Rose, Douglas-Roberts and Joey Dorsey are all targeted for the NBA draft this June.

Even if a crop of up-and-coming Tiger stars begins to mature next season, to expect Memphis to reach that level again in the near future is unrealistic.

Honestly, Kansas is going to feel the same pinch. There’s a great chance that six of the eight players it used Monday night in San Antonio will have their names in the draft as well.

Not even the Jayhawks can recover from that. Florida certainly didn’t, missing out on the NCAA Tournament after winning back to back championships with the same players in 2006 and 2007.

So, considering the overall lack of stick in Conference USA, with only one other league school playing a meaningful post-season game (no, the CBI Invitational doesn’t count), the league’s chance for a national championship dissolved in a litter of late-game mishaps and clutch Kansas shots.

C-USA was this close to being the conference of champions, now it's back to being too big, too spread out and too geographically unmanageable.

Oh, the answer to the question: Texas-El Paso, or UTEP, or — as it was known then — Texas Western. The Miners beat Kentucky to win the 1966 title. But, even this doesn’t really count as they played as an independent.

Will it ever happen for a Conference USA team? The odds are against it.


04/10/2008 03:27:12 AM

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