The difference between being No. 1 or No.
2 in college basketball could be likened to the distinction between
President or Vice President.
media has relatively little concern at the moment about who the next
Veep will be but we get daily reports on how various primary campaigns
across the nation are going for the presidential candidates.
Some folks couldn't tell you if the
current vice president was John Chaney, Lon Chaney or Dick Cheney.
The national spotlight shifted to
Memphis and Coach John Calipari this week after the Tigers moved up a
notch to No. 1 in the polls following Maryland's 82-80 upset of
previously-unbeaten North Carolina on Saturday in Chapel Hill.
There was widespread media attention —
some of it coming from outside the rather sizeable geographic footprint
of Conference USA.
The Tigers coach fielded questions from
reporters in media outlets ranging from Seattle to Dallas to USA Today
after the Terps boosted his program into the top spot. Many coaches try
to downplay the rankings but Calipari said his players wanted to be No.
"I was surprised yesterday how badly
the team wanted to be rated No. 1," Calipari said. "I was kind of taken
aback by that. But when you look at it — and I said this earlier —
similar to my UMass teams, we have a lot of players that were kind of
overlooked who had been told their whole lives that, 'You can't, you
won't, it isn't ever happening, there's no hope.'
"And all of a sudden, they all come
together; they work together."
East Carolina had the distinction of
being guinea pigs for the Tigers' C-USA opener two weeks ago and Pirates
coach Mack McCarthy probably would offer little dispute for Memphis
being rated the top team nationally. ECU was in the game for about 15
minutes at the FedEx Forum before getting left in the vapors of an
Memphis won 99-58 as McCarthy was
ejected for a second technical foul before the midway point of the
second half. Still, Mack saw enough of the Tigers to realize they were
"In the first half when we did enough
of the things that we needed to do to compete with them, there were two
things that were problems," McCarthy said. "The first of them being 17
offensive rebounds I think in the first half. The problem is when you
get offensive rebounds you're close to the goal, so now we're talking
about getting fouls and then shooting 30 free throws.
" ... It's about them rebounding the
ball offensively and driving the ball up the goal so hard. We knew what
they were doing, but stopping them is another thing. They have a lot of
A lot of Memphis' weaponry was
developed in North Carolina. The Tigers have seven players on their
roster who played at prep schools in North Carolina. Those seven players
were accounting for 41.9 points and 27.7 rebounds per game going into a
56-41 C-USA win over Tulsa on Wednesday night.
"You know it's inspiring the other
team," said Calipari after his club failed to win by 20 points or more
for the first time in seven games. "You've got to hope that it's
inspiring to your team even more. If it becomes an anvil around their
neck, let's lose. If it becomes something that drags us back, let's
"I think a lot of this had to do with
Calipari's players may not be on the
same page with their coach in terms of taking a loss to avoid targeting
from opposing teams.
"I've been wanting to be No. 1 since I
was a freshman," said 6-foot-9 senior Joey Dorsey, who prepped at
Laurinburg (NC) Institute. "It was great for me."
Dorsey had a career-high 19 rebounds to
surpass 1,000 for his career.
"I ain't trying to lose it," Dorsey
said. "I'm trying to be No. 1 until the year's over.''
Shawn Taggart, a 6-10 sophomore who
prepped at Mount Zion in Durham, had 12 of his 14 points in the second
half at Tulsa as Golden Hurricane coach Dave Wojcik, who was on Matt
Doherty's staff at North Carolina, played some triangle and two as well
as a 2-3 zone against Memphis rather than his customary man to man.
"I'm not sure that anybody does a
better job of preparing their team for us than what Doug does,''
Calipari said. "The problem is that when you're playing them early in
the season, he exposes some of the stuff for other people to kind of
come after you a little bit.''
Wojcik is reportedly a good friend of
Gonzaga coach Mark Few, whose 15-4 club will challenge Memphis' 42-game
home winning streak in a noon tipoff (EST) on Saturday. It's a good bet
that Few will be calling Wojcik for some strategic counseling.
The Tigers (18-0, 5-0 C-USA) already
have exceeded their win total following their last ascension to the
penthouse in the polls. The last time Memphis reached No. 1, Virginia
Tech pulled off a 64-56 upset just hours after the rankings were
released. That was on Jan. 10, 1983.
Memphis finished 33-4 last season,
getting a No. 2 seeding for the NCAA Tournament and advancing to the San
Antonio regional final where they lost 92-76 to top seed and eventual
NCAA runner-up Ohio State, 92-76. The Tigers have five returning
starters with the experience of that NCAA run plus additional depth.
This year's Final Four is in San
Antonio, too, so Memphis should be ahead of the curve in terms of
adjusting to the building if they can just get there.
It should be an interesting season as
the Tigers attempt to become the first non-BCS conference team to win
the NCAA basketball title since UNLV in 1990.
McCarthy likes the offensive aggression
of the program that has won the last three C-USA titles.
"They do a good job at creating their
situation; the way they drive it," said the Pirates coach. "When they
catch it, they're shooting it or driving it. When they drive it they can
finish or make plays. They're just very, very talented. They have a lot
of answers for whatever you do."
At the moment, Hillary Clinton, John
McCain and Memphis are all No. 1 in the polls but the Tigers aren't
running for the White House. The position they're seeking will be
decided at the Alamodome in April.