Lowly Pirates expected to turn up heat for Tiger visit
By Dan Wolken
January 20, 2007
GREENVILLE, N.C. -- The University of Memphis last year went to Cincinnati and Alabama, had to battle on Ole Miss' home floor, came from behind to win at Marshall and had to be almost perfect at the free-throw line to win at Rice.
But when the Tigers talk about the adverse circumstances they face every time they hit the road, they talk about ... East Carolina?
"Last year, their record was worse than it is this year," coach John Calipari said. "And we were lucky."
And so, as the No. 17-ranked Tigers return today to the very spot to face the same team, Memphis is preparing for another nail-chewing 40 minutes, ignoring the fact this is the biggest on-paper mismatch in any major conference this season.
East Carolina, with just two Division 1 wins, is ranked 323rd in the RPI. You have to go all the way to Idaho, at No. 272, to find a team from a top-10 conference in East Carolina's RPI neighborhood.
Still, that's not much different from last year when East Carolina finished with an RPI of 300 and still gave Memphis a tough time at Minges Coliseum. In front of a packed house of 7,553 fans, the Tigers could manage only a tie at halftime, shot 36.6 percent for the game and had to hold ECU to two field goals in the final eight minutes to escape with a 77-67 win.
The way the game played out was almost impossible to predict, especially given that Memphis had already proven itself as one of the nation's best teams by then with wins over the likes of Gonzaga and UCLA.
But as the Tigers have learned, any time they go on the road in Conference USA, they are far more likely to have survivals than blowouts. It was much the same last weekend when Memphis had to come from behind in the second half to snag a 75-62 win at Southern Miss.
And by now, it's a fairly easy phenomenon to predict. Even a struggling team like East Carolina will be energized for a visit from Memphis more than any team on the schedule.
"UTEP beats Southern Miss by 20 and (UTEP coach Tony Barbee) said he watched them on tape, and it wasn't the same team we played," Calipari said. "None of this stuff matters when we're playing. When we walk into a building, those teams play different."
Still, it appears East Carolina will have to play much different to have another shot at beating Memphis. The Pirates have lost 10-of-11 and were barely competitive in the second half Wednesday against Tulane in a 65-56 loss. If there's a ray of hope for East Carolina, it's that Memphis will be without leading scorer Chris Douglas-Roberts due to a sprained right ankle. Once again, the degree of difficulty on the road goes up.
"That's why we needed a game like Southern Miss, to get us ready for games like this," sophomore guard Antonio Anderson said. "It's probably the toughest game on their schedule. They're looking forward to this game, and they'll probably make some shots and have a good game, but we've just got to fight through it and try to get a win."
-- Dan Wolken: 529-2365
No. 17 Tigers at East Carolina
When, where: Today, 5 p.m. CST, at Greenville, N.C.
TV, radio: CSTV (Ch. 222 on Comcast digital cable), WREC-AM (600)