PROBLEMS IN TIGER-TOWN
The University of Memphis and Coach John Calipari continually bill the basketball program as one of the nation's best and the premier program of Conference USA. While they may become the league's best once Louisville, Cincinnati, and others leave for next season, UM is clearly a step behind the elite powers both in the country and in the conference.
A feeling of superiority seems to shadow the Tiger hoops program. In recent years, UM has dropped series with several regional big-name programs. Coach Calipari would use the excuse that the games do not benefit Memphis, as the Tigers recruit nation-wide. While they may go all over the country looking (and often getting) top players, those athletes have not gotten the job done in recent years, and that is again the case this season.
Projected as one of the favorites in CUSA coming into the 2004-2005 season, the Tigers have fallen flat on their faces. UM sits at just 10-8 on the season, and several of those losses have come to teams that a supposedly premier program should not be losing to. The Tigers lost by a dozen points to a Mississippi team that will undoubtedly finish in the bottom half of the SEC. A nine-point loss to Louisiana Tech (currently 2-4 in the WAC) was followed by a thirteen point defeat at the hands of Providence, a middle-of-the-pack squad in the Big East. Just last Saturday, the Tigers collapsed late and lost a two-point decision to TCU.
Even the losses one can understand, like those to Syracuse, Maryland, and Pittsburgh, have not been close. The Tigers lost by 15 to the Orange, 23 to the Terps, and 19 to the Panthers. Factor in near-losses against teams like Arkansas State (four points), Austin Peay (five points), and South Florida (six points), and it is clear that Memphis is nowhere near a contender on the national scale, much less Conference USA.
Since the conference began in 1996, the Tigers have had CUSA's best record just twice...and both of those years they were tied with another league member for that honor. Memphis has never made the CUSA Tournament title game, and they have won just one game in the NCAA Tournament since Conference USA began. In fact, the Tigers have made only three NCAA appearances in the last nine seasons.
Adding to the problems is the recent dismissal of star forward Sean Banks. The sophomore from New Jersey was averaging almost 15 points and a half-dozen rebounds per contest, but he failed to meet NCAA academic requirements and is ineligible for the rest of the season. Some fans will argue that the loss of Banks may not be the worst thing, as he was only a distraction to the team. Whether or not that turns out to be true remains to be seen, but it's obvious it will take a change in more than one player to get this Tiger program back to where the fans believe it is.
AN UPDATE ON THE UNBEATENS
Kansas survived a Wednesday night scare from Nebraska and has yet to lose this season. Currently ranked third in the SCS.com Fab 15, the Jayhawks will pay a visit to Villanova on Saturday. The Wildcats are 7-1 at home so far this year.
Speaking of Villanova, that squad gave unbeaten Boston College a very tough matchup on Wednesday, but the Eagles prevailed, keeping their record unblemished. BC will visit St. John's on Saturday. The Red Storm is coming off a huge upset of Pittsburgh earlier this week.
Duke survived a tough road test at red-hot Miami with relative ease on Wednesday night. Shelden Williams led the way to the Devils' nine-point victory. Coach K's next test is also in the state of Florida; Duke plays at Florida State Saturday evening.
Top-ranked Illinois has a very interesting contest against Iowa on Thursday night. The Hawkeyes were rolling until Big Ten play came along but are still a very dangerous team. The Illini are then off until next Tuesday when they visit Wisconsin, where the Badgers have won nearly forty straight games.
WEEKEND SPOTLIGHT LEAGUE
This week's spotlight league is the PAC 10. Here's a look at the top games out west this weekend....
In-state rivals get together to get things started on Saturday. While the Cal Bears have struggled so far this season, UCLA has gotten off to a great start in the PAC 10. The Bruins have jumped to a 4-2 start in conference play, including wins over Oregon, Washington, and Arizona State. UCLA looks like a team that could make a serious run at the NCAA Tournament this season.
Arizona will pay a visit to Oregon State Saturday evening. The Beavers have found PAC 10 play to be much more difficult but are still just a game below .500 in league action. The Wildcats, one of the preseason favorites in the conference, are 4-1 with recent victories over Arizona State and UCLA. This will only be UA's sixth road game this season.
Also on Saturday night, Arizona State will travel to Oregon and take on the Ducks. The Sun Devils are 2-3 in conference play, while the Ducks are currently 3-2. ASU has dropped three of their last five, but ironically, both of their wins during that stretch have come away from home. UO has won the games they should have thus far in league play but has yet to take down a big-name opponent.
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