JOHN MARSHAL

Early in the season Penny Hardway could have brought talent to Memphis but not won with it.

The tigers seem to be rounding up in shape – finally.

Getting rid of ugly defeats earlier in the season, Memphis put themselves in the NCAA tournament, winning Saturday over No. 6 Houston. Earlier this week, the Tigers defeated the Tulane and won five in a row as all these talented young players began to find their way.

“We came closed and focused all week,” Hardway said. “I tried to keep the guys focused on Tulane, but I could see that they were tense to get into this game because Houston was the standard in our league.”

For four seasons in Memphis, Hardway has secured some of the nation’s best recruiting classes, but has yet to turn all that talent into stable results. Memphis missed the NCAA tournament in each of Hardway’s first three seasons, despite winning at least 20 games in each.

The Tigers entered this season with great excitement, finishing 12th in the pre-season AP Top 25 and with a list that included the country’s best recruiting class.

Memphis won its first five games, including a win over Virginia Tech, before suffering five defeats in six games. Then last month, the Tigers lost three in a row, digging a deeper hole as injuries increased.

Everything has started to change over the last three weeks. Memphis (14-8, 8-4 American Athletic Conference) played more harmoniously and got a big win in Quadrant 1, beating Houston 69-59 and ending the Cougars series with 37 games at home.

There is still work to be done, but the Tigers have included themselves in the NCAA tournament talk.

RISE SOON

Rutgers (15-9, 9-5 Big Ten). The overtime defeat by Northwestern damaged the Scarlet Knights ’chances in the NCAA tournament, but three straight wins over ranked opponents were significant.

North Carolina (18-7, 10-4 Atlantic Coast Conference). The Tar Heels were beaten by rival Duke, but won six of seven, including the Florida State blast. Avoid big setbacks and they could end up in the brackets in Hubert Davis ’first season as coach.

Tennessee (18-6, 9-3 Southeast Conference). Vols bounced well from Kentucky’s No. 5 defeat with seven SEC wins in a row. Tennessee will get another hit at the Wildcats on Tuesday.

SMU (18-5, 9-2 American Athletics Conference). The Mustangs have rallied after several shaky defeats earlier in the season to win seven of their last eight games. The beating of Houston’s № 6 was huge.

BROKEN HOPE

Oregon (16-7, 9-3 Pac-12). Ducks usually improve over the course of the season under coach Dana Altman. It seemed like it was when Oregon got 10 wins in 11 games, but a faint defeat to California on Saturday with a score of 78-64 may have brought it back to the bubble line.

Michigan (13-10, 7-6 Big Ten). Victory over the then no. 2 Purdue was a huge incentive. The Wolverines followed suit, losing to the 16th Ohio number. The team, which was once №4 in the state of Michigan, may need a strong end to the season to come out on the field with 68.

Iowa (16-, 9 3-9 Big 12). After 12-0 the “Cyclones” are now last in the Big 12 and have a four-game losing streak after losing in overtime from Kansas. They need to hurry to turn things around to fight in the NCAA tournament.

Utah (15-11, 6-7 Mountain West). Aggies have some shaky losses in their resume and occupy the middle of the pack in the West Mountains. There’s still a chance to increase your resume with away games against San Diego and Boise, as well as a home game against Colorado.

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More about AP College of Basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/ AP_Top25

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