Borrowing a page from David Letterman, what follows is a countdown of the Top Ten Reasons the Memphis Tigers May Not Win the Conference USA Tournament. (Tip-off of the tourney's opening game is Wednesday at FedEx Forum.)
10) In a twist on the championship game, C-USA commissioner Britton Banowsky announces that the Tigers, having won 60 consecutive conference games, must beat an all-star team for the trophy. Led by UTEP's Stefon Jackson, UAB's Robert Vaden, UCF's Jermaine Taylor, Houston's Aubrey Coleman, and Tulsa's Jerome Jordan, the C-USA All-Stars beat Memphis . . . at the buzzer.
9) With the Blue Crew chanting "We want Preston!" before the tip-off of their quarterfinal game, Tiger coach John Calipari decides to prove just how big his heart is by starting walk-on freshman Preston Laird. In the game's opening minute, Laird steals a pass and breaks away for what looks like his first dunk attempt of the season. An opposing guard, though, chases Laird down and delivers a hard foul in mid-flight, sending Laird sprawling into the courtside cheerleaders. When three Tigers leave the bench to help their fallen teammate, an overzealous official kicks them out of the game for what he perceived as instigation. One of the three Tigers is their leading scorer, Tyreke Evans, who volunteered to sit at the game's start for Laird. Minus their point guard, the Tigers fall . . . at the buzzer.
8) After their semifinal win Friday, the Tigers mob Antonio Anderson and Robert Dozier, the two seniors having won an NCAA-record-breaking 134th game. In the pileup at midcourt, Anderson twists his elbow and Dozier turns his ankle as a souvenir-seeking fan tears off one of his sneakers. The Tigers are forced to play the championship game without these two longtime starters and lose . . . at the buzzer.
7) Facing UTEP in the semifinals, Tiger coach John Calipari is distracted when he sees Miner coach Tony Barbee wearing the very suit Calipari gave him for Christmas in 2003. Wondering how his former assistant could fit so well in a suit more than five years old, Calipari is disoriented throughout the game. His team misses defensive assignments, relies far too much on three-point attempts, and falls . . . at the buzzer.
6) With memories of the 11:00 pm tip-off against UMass last November still tickling the hippocampus of U of M officials, the Tigers show up almost 12 hours late for Saturday's championship game (scheduled tip-off: 10:30 . . . in the morning). The trophy having already been given to the squad that did show up on time, more than 17,000 Tiger fans still give the team a standing ovation, albeit in the dark.
5) Before the championship game, Houston coach Tom Penders delivers the greatest pep talk since Denzel Washington in "Remember the Titans." Reflecting on his three years as head coach of the Tufts Jumbos in the early Seventies, Penders, through clenched jaw, hisses at his team: "You think coming to Memphis is tough? Then you've never faced the Amherst Lord Jeffs on a Thursday night in mid-February! If we could win that war -- and we did! -- then we can win this battle. Remember the Jumbos!
4) UTEP debuts black uniforms for their semifinal tilt with Memphis. With the game played on Friday the 13th, the overly superstitious Tigers lose their focus -- and outside touch -- in what becomes the greatest upset in C-USA history.
3) Having learned to dribble as a toddler by watching Penny Hardaway do his thing with the Orlando Magic, Tyreke Evans is lost in adulation when Hardaway takes his seat under the basket before the championship contest. In the second half, Evans inexplicably passes the ball directly to Hardaway, again and again. "I just couldn't take my eyes off him," admits Evans after the game. "And he was wide open." Unable to come back after Calipari finally benches his freshman star, the Tigers lose . . . at the buzzer.
2) Against all measures of common sense, the Tigers decide to debut their purple-and-orange, FedEx-inspired uniforms against East Carolina in the quarterfinals. Confused throughout the game by the Pirates' own purple duds, Memphis commits a program-record 54 turnovers and loses to ECU . . . at the buzzer.
1) With the economy sagging and tension mounting between the Tigers and UAB Blazers, officials from both schools decide a pay-per-view cage match - fisticuffs, folks -- will be a better budget booster for both programs than any Saturday morning basketball game. While the C-USA basketball trophy is vacated, Pierre Henderson-Niles is the last man standing Saturday night at FedEx Forum. He signs a contract with UFC before midnight.