The knock on Penny Hardaway early in the season was that he could recruit talent to Memphis, just not win with it.
The Tigers seem to be rounding into form — finally.
Shaking off some ugly early-season losses, Memphis put itself on the NCAA Tournament bubble with a marquee win over No. 6 Houston on Saturday. The Tigers beat Tulane earlier in the week and have won five straight as all those talented young players have begun to find their way.
"We came in locked and focused all week,” Hardaway said. “I was trying to keep the guys focused on Tulane, but I could tell they were antsy to get to this game because Houston has been the standard in our league.”
Hardaway has secured some of the nation's best recruiting classes during his four seasons in Memphis, but has yet to turn all that talent into consistent results. Memphis missed the NCAA Tournament in each of Hardaway's first three seasons despite winning at least 20 games in each.
The Tigers entered this season with plenty of hype, ranked No. 12 in the preseason AP Top 25 and with a roster that included the nation's top recruiting class.
Memphis won its first five games, including a victory over Virginia Tech, before a stretch of five losses in six games. Then the Tigers lost three straight last month, digging a deeper hole as injuries mounted.
Things have started to change over the past three weeks. Memphis (14-8, 8-4 American Athletic Conference) has played more cohesively and picked up a huge Quadrant 1 win, beating Houston 69-59 to end the Cougars' 37-game home winning streak.
There's still work to do, but the Tigers have put themselves in the NCAA Tournament conversation.
Rutgers (15-9, 9-5 Big Ten). An overtime loss to Northwestern hurt the Scarlet Knights' NCAA Tournament chances, but three straight wins over ranked opponents was massive.
North Carolina (18-7, 10-4 Atlantic Coast Conference). The Tar Heels were blown out by rival Duke but have won six of seven, including a blowout of Florida State. Avoid any big slipups and they could find themselves in the bracket in Hubert Davis' first season as coach.
Tennessee (18-6, 9-3 Southeastern Conference). The Vols have bounced back nicely from a blowout loss to No. 5 Kentucky with seven straight SEC wins. Tennessee gets another shot at the Wildcats on Tuesday.
SMU (18-5, 9-2 American Athletic Conference). The Mustangs have rallied from a couple of shaky early-season losses to win seven of their past eight games. Knocking off No. 6 Houston was huge.
Oregon (16-7, 9-3 Pac-12). The Ducks typically get better as the season progresses under coach Dana Altman. That appeared to be the case when Oregon reeled off 10 wins in 11 games, but a lackluster 78-64 loss to California on Saturday may have put it back on the edge of the bubble.
Michigan (13-10, 7-6 Big Ten). A win over then-No. 2 Purdue was a huge boost. The Wolverines followed that up with a loss to No. 16 Ohio State. A team that was once No. 4 in the country, Michigan may need a strong finish to the season to get into the field of 68.
Iowa State (16-,9 3-9 Big 12). Once 12-0, the Cyclones are now last in the Big 12 and on a four-game losing streak after an overtime loss to Kansas State. They need to get it turned around in a hurry to have any shot at the NCAA Tournament.
Utah State (15-11, 6-7 Mountain West). The Aggies have some shaky losses on their resume and are middle of the pack in the Mountain West. There are still chances to boost their resume with road games against San Diego State and Boise State, along with a home game against Colorado State.
More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25