Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Memphis still under radar

From Andy Katz' Blog on ESPN.com:

This is perfect for Memphis coach John Calipari.

The Tigers win a thriller in overtime at Gonzaga and the talk is more about the Zags than the Tigers.

The new polls came out and the Tigers moved up from eighth in the coaches' poll to seventh, and from ninth to seventh in the AP poll. In the coaches' poll, though, Kansas jumped over the Tigers, moving from No. 9 to No. 6.

You don't think this kind of stuff is perfect fodder for Calipari? Of course it is. Cal has a team that, for whatever reason, doesn't seem to be discussed on a regular basis as a high seed, let alone a Final Four team.

Once again, perfect for Cal, as he is relishing playing in a headline-less league in Conference USA.

"We probably should be five with what we've done," Calipari said Monday. "We lost 50 percent of our scoring (Shawne Williams, Rodney Carney and Darius Washington), two first-round draft picks (Williams and Carney), and look how we've responded? Our team is playing better as a team than we did a year ago. We may not have as much talent, but we're playing better."

A year ago, Memphis played its way to a No. 1 seed but had much more of a challenge within the conference from UAB, UTEP and Houston.

This season, the Tigers are cruising along at 12-0 (one of the only two remaining teams that are unbeaten in conference play, along with Winthrop in the Big South). But Memphis isn't booked for a No. 1 seed like a year ago, even though the Tigers look like they could go undefeated in C-USA and have wins at Gonzaga, against Oklahoma and Kentucky in Maui, and versus Ole Miss at home (wins that look and sound good, but are against teams that, save for Ole Miss, aren't playing as well as they did a year ago).

Calipari was quick to say that the perceived weakness of C-USA shouldn't hurt the Tigers since it didn't a year ago when it was a No. 1 seed. But the difference, and Calipari acknowledges this, is there aren't any other at-large hopefuls in the league.

"People are waiting for us to drop one game, to see us lose," Calipari said. "We're not talking about the streak [in C-USA]. But we do tell our kids that we can't lose to that team or they'll make us a 6-seed."

Calipari said that a bit tongue-in-cheek, but he is paranoid when it comes to the NCAA Tournament selection process.

Calipari said the Tigers, who lost at Tennessee and Arizona, as well as to Georgia Tech in Maui, is a better defensive team this season. That's not surprising when you see that Memphis has given up fewer than 60 points in seven of its 12 conference games.

So, if you want to ding Memphis because it's Memphis, that's fine with Cal. He's confident that the crew of Chris Douglas-Roberts, Jeremy Hunt, Robert Dozier, Joey Dorsey and Antonio Anderson can go just as far as the more heralded collection a year ago -- the Elite Eight.

As for the Tigers' latest victim Gonzaga, Calipari said he can't understand why folks are down on the Zags after they lost by one point at Spokane Arena on Saturday.

"People are like, 'They lost,' " Calipari said of commentators making it seem like the Zags are toast since they lost to Memphis, essentially at home. "Did you watch the game? I think what they've done and who they've beaten, even without [suspended center Josh] Heytvelt, means they're in [the NCAAs]."

Gonzaga likely will enter the WCC tournament -- and might have to win it -- as a No. 2 seed. The Tigers will be the No. 1 seed in C-USA, barring a late swoon.

1 comment:

Southern Girl said...

Oh, it seriously irked me last year that everyone was talking about every other team BUT us. Looks like we're going to have to put up with it again this year. :-P