The first C-USA tourney was held right here in Memphis, at The Pyramid in 1996. In what remains the best championship game to date, Cincinnati beat Marquette, 85-84, in overtime. The BearcatsÕ Danny Fortson (now of the Seattle SuperSonics) was named the tournamentÕs MVP, the first of four Cincinnati players to be so honored.
Over its first nine years, the tournament has been dominated by Bob HugginsÕs Cincinnati program. (Huggins is the only coach to have been on the bench in every C-USA tourney.) The Bearcats were the top seed in each of the first seven tournaments and have won four championships (1996, Ô98, 2002, Ô04). They lost in the 2001 championship to Charlotte.
Only twice has a top seed lost its opening game. In the 2000 quarterfinals, ninth-seeded Saint Louis upset Cincinnati, and in 2003 Marquette was beaten by another nine seed, UAB. But take note: those Golden Eagles went on to reach the Final Four.
The lowest seeds to ever reach the finals were a pair of nines. Saint Louis beat third-seeded DePaul for the trophy in 2000. UAB lost to Louisville in 2003.
Only one C-USA scoring champion has played for a tournament champ. CincinnatiÕs Steve Logan averaged 22.0 points per game in 2001-02 and the Bearcats beat Marquette for the title.
This has not been a fun tournament for the University of Memphis. Only three times have the Tigers reached the semifinals, losing to Marquette in 1996, Cincinnati in 2001, and Louisville in 2003. On five occasions, Memphis has lost its opening game of the tourney (including last year when, as the second seed, they lost to Saint Louis, 72-61).
Among C-USAÕs 14 schools, only three have failed to reach the semifinals on at least one occasion: TCU, South Florida, and East Carolina. The Pirates have yet to win a single tourney game, and wonÕt this year as they failed to qualify.
After Cincinnati, the most successful tourney squad has been Charlotte. The 49ers have reached the championship game four times, winning the title in 1999 and 2001.
The lowest-scoring championship came in 2000 at The Pyramid, when those underdog Billikens beat DePaul, 56-49. On two occasions, a single team placed three players on the all-tournament team. In 1998, CincinnatiÕs DÕJuan Baker, Michael Horton, and Kenyon Martin made the squad. A year later, Charlotte placed Diego Guevara, Kelvin Price, and Galen Young on the team.
Memphis has placed only two players on the all-tournament team: Lorenzen Wright in 1996 and Kelly Wise in 2001.
The single-game scoring record is 37 points, by Larry Hughes of Saint Louis in a 1998 quarterfinal game against UAB. The Billikens lost to the Blazers, 76-74. (Steve Logan scored 32 points against Memphis in a 2001 semifinal.) The Memphis record is 27 points by Lorenzen Wright against Marquette in the 1996 semifinals.
Winning the C-USA tournament does not bode well for a teamÕs prospects in the Big Dance. Only once has a tourney champ advanced beyond the second round of the NCAA tournament. In 1996, Cincinnati reached the regional finals.
Memphis has been an equal-opportunity loser over the course of the tourneyÕs nine-year history. Eight different teams (Marquette, Southern Miss, South Florida, DePaul, Cincinnati, Houston, Louisville, and Saint Louis) have eliminated the Tigers. Only Marquette has done so twice.
The TigersÕ four C-USA tournament wins have been over DePaul (in 1996), South Florida (in 2000), Marquette (in Ô01), and USF again (in Ô03).