MEMPHIS, Tenn. — In less than 24 hours, the Memphis Tigers (26-8) will head to Columbus, Ohio, for the first round of the NCAA Tournament, where they take on FAU Friday, March 17 at 8:20 p.m.
While the players and coaches are proud of their accomplishments this year, they aren't satisfied yet - and want more wins in the Big Dance.
The Tigers said all year that they play for the city of Memphis. It's what motivated them to win an American Athletic Conference Championship and beat the No. 1 team in the country in Houston.
The 901 knows how great they are, but the NCAA tournament is a chance to prove it to everyone else.
For many Tigers on this year’s team, it's a chance to finally live out a dream.
You always wanna be where everybody’s at as a competitor - you want to be there," said Kendric Davis. "As a kid I always grew up watching March - Kemba Walker, all them dudes. I just dreamt of it."
Davis' story has been well documented. He transferred to Memphis from SMU. Memphis had beaten his old squad in the conference tournament and in the NIT, essentially keeping him out of the NCAA Tournament.
In his one and only year in the tournament, he's led the Tigers back to the big dance.
Even though the Tigers made the tournament last year, Coach Penny Hardaway said the vibe with this group is different. He describes a togetherness and lack of egos, where everyone knows to play their role for the bigger goal of a championship.
"There's a different feeling for sure because we're connected, really connected." Hardaway said. "That makes you feel good because the team is willing to do whatever it takes. There’s nobody on the team saying they that they’re not going to do anything. Whatever it takes to get it done. I don't know if it was like that last year."
For connection and dedication, look no further than Kendric Davis and DeAndre Williams. They both grew up in different parts of Houston. Both had tough upbringings, but their fast bond has sparked overall team success.
In the AAC Tournament, they combined for 162 points. Davis' 84 alone set an AAC Tournament record. The pair were named to the AAC's All-Tournament team and named First Team All-AAC.
"(Davis) had his own path, I had my own path but both was hard. Both was real hard growing up," Williams said. "Once we started hanging out and things and learning each other’s story – (on court success) came easy."
The Tigers are ranked for the first time this season at No. 24, according to the Associated Press. The ranking comes after Memphis beat Houston. The team has maintained a chip on their shoulder, believing they don't get the respect they deserve.
"We're just going to play basketball. We don't care. Obviously we got a lot of Penny haters," said Davis. "Obviously, we forced them to talk about us by beating the number one team."
March Madness is unpredictable, but ask any Tigers on this squad and they don't see a ceiling on their tournament potential.
"The way we competed against the top teams in the country, we competed. We can beat anybody on any night," said Hardaway.
"I do believe that we’re going to shock the world when we get there," said Williams.
When the Tigers returned from the AAC tournament championship, they were welcomed by a slew of fans right off the plane. Those same fans are invited to help send the team to Columbus.
There will be a send off party at the Laurie Walton Family Basketball Center Wednesday at 11:30.