It was supposed to be a down year for Memphis basketball, and in some ways it is. But one part of the John Calipari glory days remains: Memphis' Conference USA win streak, which, if the Tigers top a tough UTEP team at the FedEx Forum Wednesday night, will eclipse Kentucky's mark as the longest conference winning streak of all-time at 65 games.
It's miraculous, when you really think about it. Sixty-five games. College basketball isn't supposed to be that cut and dry. That's why we love it, right? Because any team can win any game, whether in November or March, and superior talent is only a levee against the impending flood of statistical probability. In other words, eventually you lose. Upsets happen. Always. To everybody.
But not to the Memphis Tigers; at least not in conference play.
It's an historic streak almost 60 years in the making. Adolph Rupp's Kentucky teams reigned over the SEC for the coach's entire career, but never more so than from 1945 to 1950, when Rupp and the Cats won 64 SEC games in a row. (Perhaps it's ironic that Memphis' streak was largely helmed by Kentucky's newest savior, John Calipari. Is that ironic? I don't even know what irony is anymore. I blame Alanis Morissette.) With Calipari recruiting the nation's best talent year in and year out, Memphis has lorded over C-USA -- which has never produced a worthy challenger to Memphis' throne -- with similar dominance. That dominance could reach its high-water mark tonight.
Of course, there is the actual matter of winning the game. UTEP is no pushover; at 11-5, the Miners have beaten Oklahoma and pushed Ole Miss to overtime in Oxford. And Memphis is not the Memphis of Calipari's reign. Too much talent left alongside its former coach, and Josh Pastner has occasionally struggled to make do with what remains. But the Tigers have held on to their precious streak. Tonight, they have the opportunity to extend it, to make it more than an anomaly or a threat to Kentucky's old-school brilliance. Tonight, Memphis has a shot at history. Don't think they don't know it.