Memphis finding little resistance in C-USA
Time will tell if Tigers' soft schedule will help or hurt in NCAA tourney
By Mike DeCourcy
Updated: 7:43 p.m. CT Feb 3, 2007
Well, it was another day in the gulag for the Memphis Tigers.
Hard labor, I'm telling you.
The Tigers only beat Southern Methodist by 36 points Saturday afternoon, and it's impossible to fathom how they could handle the pressure.
Since leaving Arizona prior to Christmas with a defeat, Memphis has played 11 times and won those games by an average of 21.5 points. Only Southern Mississippi managed to make a game of it. The rest disintegrated against the swarms of Memphis press defenders.
The Tigers are one of six Division I teams yet to lose a conference game, but the rest are actually being required to regularly prove themselves. We've all seen the number of close games and comebacks Florida has endured. Winthrop won three single-possession games in a row.
There is both good news and bad news for Memphis in all this. The good part, the part too many will overlook, is this is a young team managing to maintain its focus and intensity even though it enters games with a fairly good idea the conference opposition will provide minimal resistance. Coach John Calipari started two freshmen and two sophomores against SMU. At a lot of programs, keeping the heat on when the lead already is 20 points -- as it was at halftime -- is difficult to achieve.
The bad news mostly regards where the Tigers will end up in the postseason. There's a common belief teams playing in less powerful conferences find themselves not as "prepared" for what the NCAA Tournament has in store. That's not really the issue, and everyone should understand this clearly based on what occurred last March.
The presence in the 2006 Sweet 16 of two Missouri Valley teams, one squad from the Colonial and the Tigers themselves out of Conference USA reminded everyone it's not necessary to play in a big-money league to prepare for a deep NCAA run. However, the difference with what George Mason accomplished and what Memphis now is planning is the CAA included a number of teams at or near the Patriots' level, which forced them to conquer or disguise their flaws and polish their strengths to championship level.
As it stands, Memphis has addressed many of the issues apparent in losses to Georgia Tech, Tennessee and Arizona.
Perimeter defense. Chris Lofton embarrassed the Tigers with his ability to score from behind the 3-point line, although, to be fair, he can embarrass a lot of teams when healthy. Hitting at a 31.8-percent clip, Memphis' conference opponents have made only 48 3-pointers in nine games, which is about what Lofton got in 40 minutes.
Joey Dorsey's consistency. An athletic, rugged power forward, Dorsey got punked by Georgia Tech and played just 15 minutes against Tennessee because of fouls. He's collected nine or more rebounds in every game since New Year's and is shooting 64 percent in that stretch.
Robert Dozier's effort. He essentially surrendered in the Arizona and Georgia Tech losses, but has scored in double figures in nine of the past 11 games. His finishing at the rim has advanced from haphazard to efficient.
The question remains whether this improvement is real, and whether it can stick when the competition level is heightened. That's to say nothing of how Memphis will be seeded, given its gaudy record, a top 10 RPI ranking -- and just one victory against an opponent rated 70th or better.
Man, life in Conference USA can be brutal.
© 2007 The Sporting News