Dreaming: A top 5 rank? A No. 1 seed?
It's a longshot, but Tigers are in range
By Dan Wolken
February 19, 2007
The University of Memphis owns the nation's longest winning streak at 15 games. It has an RPI of 9, according to Ken Pomeroy's calculations. And with losses by Pittsburgh, Texas A&M and North Carolina last week, the No. 8-ranked Tigers will likely be only a breath away from the top-five in today's polls.
So you know what that means, don't you? Let the lobbying begin.
"I don't know if we're top-five but I think we're going to be (in the) top five," coach John Calipari said Saturday after Memphis' 78-77 overtime victory at Gonzaga. "Now that starts to put you in what range? No. 1 seed."
Though that notion seemed outlandish in December when Memphis came back from Arizona with an 8-3 record, could the Tigers possibly be in position for a second consecutive No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament?
Make no mistake, it's still a longshot. Memphis would have to win its four remaining regular-season games and the Conference USA Tournament, then get plenty of help from teams ranked higher.
But with the win at Spokane Arena, the Tigers went a long way to solidifying their status as at least a No. 3 seed, where ESPN's "Bracketologist" Joe Lunardi has had them for several weeks.
Should the Tigers creep up to a No. 1 or a No. 2, it would be a controversial choice in some circles, given their lack of competition so far in C-USA and their early season losses to Georgia Tech (in the Maui Invitational), at Tennessee and at Arizona. Memphis' best wins are over Kentucky and Gonzaga.
"It makes everybody mad, but what are you going to say?" Calipari said. "You start getting in that range (the top-five), and these guys, they deserve it. We've taken on all comers, and this was our third tough (road game). You go to Arizona early and Tennessee when they didn't know what they were early and here. These are hard games."
No matter where Memphis is ultimately seeded, the Tigers got an NCAA Tournament-style test Saturday, one that was sorely needed after a series of blowout wins in C-USA.
After traveling cross country, the Tigers went in front of a hostile crowd of 11,272 and made clutch plays in overtime to beat Gonzaga, which played with season-on-the-line intensity to erase a 13-point second-half deficit. Sophomore guard Chris Douglas-Roberts made a running layup despite getting fouled with five seconds left to lift Memphis to the victory.
"We knew they were going to play hard," sophomore Robert Dozier said. "They had just lost their last game, and we knew it was going to be a high intensity game. They played with us to the very end. Just a couple guys came in and knocked down shots in OT, and that made the difference."
Senior Jeremy Hunt, who shook off a poor shooting performance in regulation to make two huge 3-pointers in overtime, said pulling out a victory in that fashion will be a valuable experience to draw on down the road.
"We needed a team to fight like that, for it to come down to something like this," Hunt said. "You're not going to always win by a whole lot. There's going to be games like this, and you just want to be the one on the defensive end up by one. And that happened today and we came away with the victory.
"It was a big road win for us. They had a packed crowd, and we knew they were going to make runs, and we didn't stop fighting."
-- Dan Wolken: 529-2365