I didn't believe that Memphis could go down to El Paso and win the CUSA tournament. To beat UTEP, in El Paso, at 9:30 in the morning just seemed too much to ask of this team. I was wrong. The expectations were extremely high for Memphis going into the season, and then when we saw them play. Everyone had to adjust what they thought the team was capable of. Most believed that the team was still capable of being the class of CUSA, and after a 4th place finish were disappointed in how the season had played out.
Most projections did not have Memphis making the NCAA tournament field unless they won the CUSA tournament. With a tournament bid on the line, and down big to UTEP, Memphis fought back and capped off a huge run with two Joe Jackson free throws to seal their fate. Dancing.
Time will pass and we will remember the clutch Joe Jackson free throws forever, but it was how the game really ended that interested me most. The game really ended with UTEP having a chance to win when Christian Polk (who had been fantastic all day) took a shot that came up short. Several years ago I read an article in Sports Illustrated where Jeff Van Gundy said (and I am paraphrasing) "You are down by 1 and you have the ball. You draw up the play. Your guy gets the ball and he is open. He takes the shot. The ball is in the air.... good coach, bad coach, good coach, bad coach, good coach, bad coach,"
I have always remembered that quote when thinking about how we talk about coaches. I could not help but think of that quote after the game in regards to the Polk shot to win it. If the shot drops in... Josh Pastner is bad coach? His team becomes a disappointment and we are probably watching an NIT game hosted at FedEx Forum. If the shot misses...Josh Pastner is a good coach? His team is part of the Big Dance and they won the 3 games they absolutely had to.
It does all seem sort of silly. Pastner is no better or worse of a coach if that Polk shot drops in and UTEP is dancing instead of Memphis. Who knows if Josh is going to be one of the great college basketball coaches? I would love to think that he will be because, like any normal human, I root for good things to happen to good people. Here is what we do know - when it mattered most Josh Pastner had his team playing the best basketball we have seen them play all season. He has taken the criticism and now he gets the praise.
The Memphis season was filled with the feeling that the team was not going to live up to expectations. There is no question that not being involved in the NCAA tournament would have been a disappointing. But nobody (not the fans, not the players, not Josh) has to worry about that. A big congrats to Josh Pastner and the team.
Memphis is dancing after all.