Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
NEW YORK — In four years of coaching Memphis in Conference USA, Josh Pastner amassed a record of 106-35.
During that span, Pastner led the Tigers to win totals of 24, 25, 26 and 31.
Yet during that same era, Memphis was never seeded higher than No. 6 in the NCAA Tournament.
And that was last year when the Tigers went 31-5 overall and 16-0 in Conference USA.
The other two years Memphis made the Big Dance under Pastner they were an 8 and a 12 seed.
The common denominator?
Memphis dominated Conference USA but that domination never translated into much respect from the selection committee.
Pastner defended Conference USA to anyone who would listen, saying it was a good league, a tough league, a competitive league.
But nobody was really buying it.
Now Pastner and the Tigers are in the American Athletic Conference — the same league as defending NCAA champion Louisville and perennial NCAA Tournament teams UConn, Cincinnati and Temple — and he understands the perception is different.
And that could eventually make a difference come March Madness.
“I think the perception for people will be different with the American because there’s great teams in the American,” Pastner said after the No. 15 Tigers lost, 77-75, to No. 16 Florida in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden.
“And no matter what happens you’re going to be perceived differently.”
In a game with much less offense than the Florida-Memphis affair, Cincinnati pulled out a 44-43 win over previously unbeaten Pittsburgh of the ACC in the first game of the night.
“Cincinnati is really good, and the teams from the top to the bottom are really good,” Pastner said.
Memphis is now 1-14 against Top 25 teams under Pastner — with the lone win being a victory over Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State in a rematch this season. Pastner said that Smart is a player who could carry his team to a Final Four.
And while that record is not good, the good news for Memphis is that they will get two cracks each against Louisville, UConn, Cincinnati and Temple, as well as the other teams in the league.
In the latest AP poll, Louisville was No. 6 and UConn was No. 10.
Only the ACC with No. 2 Syracuse, No. 8 Duke and No. 14 North Carolina had as many teams — three — in the top 15 as the AAC.
So now Pastner and his players need to go out and win some of those games, preferably against Louisville and UConn, in order to not only make the NCAA Tournament but to have a hope of getting as high a seed as possible.
“I fought like crazy for our team [in Conference USA], I pounded the podium all the time the last couple of years,” he said. “And this year you don’t need to do that because we’re going to have so many opportunities for some good wins.”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.