January 11, 2007 @ 12:49 am
Most college basketball teams have now officially kicked off their conference seasons, and as a result, the way we judge and perceive NCAA teams will undoubtedly be changed. Some teams like UConn and Clemson have been coasting along with the weakest schedules known to man and will take hit after hit once they get into the thick of conference action, whereas some of the more battle-tested teams like Georgetown and Florida State will now emerge from their mediocre early season records to show us that they’re legit. Then there are teams like Memphis.
When Conference USA was ransacked by conferences like the Atlantic 10, Big East, and Mountain West, the Memphis Tigers stayed put. The reasoning was most likely the university’s less-than-stellar academic reputation or their lack of success in sports other than basketball, but no matter what the reason may have been, the Tigers’ idleness has worked out in their favor. The so-called “super conference” of the Big East owns one of the lowest major-conference RPI’s, and still, each of the conference’s members have to embark upon a stretch of about fifteen games against tough competition in these next few months. Meanwhile, the Memphis Tigers are sitting comfortably in front of a schedule where a ‘big game’ will be playing East Carolina at home.
That’s because John Calipari was clever when he constructed his schedule. He made sure that he had four or five game against NCAA Tournament caliber teams so that his team would get national spotlight throughout the season, and he made sure to schedule one of these match-ups, against Gonzaga, late in the season, so that critics couldn’t jump on the Tigers with the “what have you done for me lately” attack. So far against quality opponents though, Memphis is 1-3, losing to Georgia Tech, Tennessee, and Arizona, only managing to get a win against the unranked Kentucky Wildcats. Nevertheless, that’s the scheduling strategy of a seasoned coaching veteran. He knows that despite losing three or four games to quality opponents, he’ll be able to pad his record in conference action, yet the experts won’t be able to criticize him for not playing quality non-conference opponents.
This’ll surely pay off for the Tigers, who are currently ranked 22nd in the A.P. Top 25. Unless they let their guard down and lose to one of their below average opponents, they have nowhere to go but up, and as quality teams like Georgia Tech, Tennessee, and Arizona, all of whom beat the Tigers, will face their conference schedule and inevitably lose a few games, you can expect Memphis to leap them in the polls, to the point where when Selection Sunday rolls around the Tigers will be sitting pretty with a very high ranking.
You shouldn’t be fooled by the high ranking or high seeding though. This is a team that you want to bet against come tournament time. They’re young, inexperienced, and most importantly, John Calipari can’t coach his way out of a paper bag. Running a spread offense that relies on a lot of 1-on-1 play and ill-advised three-point attempts, the Tigers’ success is very hit or miss. Calipari has always done a good job of recruiting elite level athletes, albeit he’s done it in a very unorthodox and dirty way, but even with players that fit his system well, his system is still flawed. It lacks the kind of structure necessary to be successful on the collegiate level, especially in a half-court setting, where the Tigers almost always come up short if they don’t get lucky on a contested three point look.
This is also a team that lacks a significant degree of discipline, not just on the basketball court but in life in general. It’s hard to avoid the news stories of various Tigers’ run-ins with the law. Whether it’s center Kareem Cooper’s drug arrest, point guard Andre Allen’s prostitution patronization, or even Jeremy Hunt beating his girlfriend up, the Memphis community has come to expect misconduct from Tiger basketball players, and perhaps what is more disturbing is that they’ve also come to expect these misconducts to go unpunished, or at least given a very minor degree of punishment. Yes, John Calipari will suspend his players, just not if he needs them for an upcoming game.
You might question what their off-the-court conduct has to do with their play on the court, but they’re actually very closely linked. As a whole, this Tigers team is undisciplined. They’re a group of prima donnas who constantly have the NBA on their mind and were attracted to Memphis by its offense dominated by isolation plays that showcase collegiate prospects’ talents to NBA scouts. They’re not the type of players who show poise in clutch situations or show patience on offense in general. Rather, you’re likely to see the Tigers letting their emotions getting the best of them in crunch time after throwing up quick three after quick three throughout the game.
In John Calipari, the Tigers have a master publicist and recruiter, but until they let him go, they won’t have a true basketball coach. Sure, when former coach Larry Finch was at the helm, the Tigers weren’t in the national spotlight as much, but they were a lot more legit than they are now. As it currently stands, the University of Memphis basketball team is the epitome of everything that is wrong with college basketball. It’s an NBA prep school for players who want to elevate their individual games to the pro level, not players who want to play within a team concept and succeed on the collegiate level.
So remember, when it’s March, and you’re looking at your bracket, remember that you read this article, and remember that the Tigers are a team that you should bet against. In six years under Calipari, the team has only made the tournament three times and has only made it out of the second round once. They’ll surely be the hot team on ESPN and other sports networks, but it’s a smoke and mirrors attack. The Tigers are the absolute embodiment of the term ‘paper tigers.’