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Conference USA has slid markedly in its second decade of existence, coinciding with the Big East poaching Cincinnati, Louisville and Marquette. From its 1995 inception through the 2005 NCAA Tournament, C-USA had six four-bid seasons and a six-bid explosion in 2004. Since the '05-06 season, however, the league has had three single-bid years and hasn't had more than two.
With C-USA not having nearly the depth it used to, the Memphis Tigers have to make sure to load the non-conference schedule with stern tests to keep their at-large credentials polished, just in case someone knocks them off in the conference tournament. Josh Pastner wants to prove he's got the Tigers back up to the lofty heights of his predecessor, John Calipari. If he gets out of this schedule with three or fewer losses, he's there.
Like Duke, the Tigers open with Belmont, a program that seeks to inherit the Gonzaga-Butler mantle of mid-major masters of March. Then, Memphis makes its way to Maui, where they may actually run into Duke...provided they get past a Top 20 opponent in Michigan, that is. Opponents like Kansas or UCLA could await in their third game.
From December 6 to December 22, Memphis will run a strong gauntlet against a variety of opponents. They start with a trip to Miami to face the Hurricanes, then the always dangerous Murray State Racers come to FedEx Forum.
On the 17th, the Tigers head to the Bucket (aka the KFC Yum! Center) to face Louisville, and on the 22nd, they travel to face Georgetown. The hardest part about the Georgetown game may be the fact that it'll be their third in five days, as they have to go home to face Lipscomb in between the two trips.
The fun doesn't stop after the New Year, either. Memphis hosts Tennessee on January 4, then Xavier exactly one month later. If the Tigers even go .500 in these dangerous games, the committee will have no choice but to give them something better than last year's No. 12 seed.