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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Aggies, Oden South's Threats

Aggies, Oden South's threats

By Jim Masilak,
March 12, 2007

A former coach, two arch-rivals and a potential No. 1 overall NBA draft pick line the University of Memphis' path to the Final Four.

Owners of the nation's longest winning streak, the Tigers (30-3) were rewarded by the NCAA Tournament selection committee with a No. 2 seed in the South Regional.

But if the Tigers, winners of 22 straight, are to advance to the Final Four for the first time in 22 years, they'll have to navigate a number of potential pitfalls on the road to Atlanta.

Top-seeded Ohio State enters the tournament with a 17-game winning run of its own and a 7-0 freshman center whose name, Greg Oden, might ring a bell.

Texas A&M, the No. 3 seed, has the opportunity to be a de facto regional-semifinal host in San Antonio.

Longtime conference nemesis Louisville, the sixth seed, also looms as a potential Sweet 16 opponent for the Tigers.

And fifth-seeded Tennessee is there as well, a team that handed Memphis an 18-point December drubbing.

Anyone for an Elite Eight rematch between the Tigers and Vols at the Alamodome?

Not Memphis coach John Calipari. Not yet, anyway.

Calipari wasn't willing to give much public thought Sunday to anything other than Friday's 11:30 a.m. first-round matchup in New Orleans with 15th-seeded North Texas.

"Let's live in the moment. We're not going to get ahead of ourselves," Calipari said. "We're trying to get through one weekend of four teams."

Led by one-time UofM assistant and interim head coach Johnny Jones, North Texas (23-10) qualified for its first NCAA berth since 1986 by winning the Sun Belt Conference tournament.

Should the Tigers get past the Mean Green, they would face either seventh-seeded Nevada (28-4) or 10th-seeded Creighton (22-10) in Sunday's second round at 1:15 p.m.

While Creighton is coming off a victory over West Regional No. 4 seed Southern Illinois in the MVC final, Nevada has lost two of its last four games.

But ESPN's Dick Vitale said the Wolf Pack , featuring forward Nick Fazekas (20.5 points per game), might prove a more difficult foe for the Tigers.

"I think that could be the end for Memphis," Vitale said of a possible second-round meeting with the Wolf Pack. "I think that's a tough matchup."

Should Memphis advance, it would head to the Sweet 16 in San Antonio, where Texas A&M (25-6), should it manage to get past a second-round meeting with Louisville in Lexington, would enjoy a homecourt advantage over the higher-seeded Tigers.

The Aggies' campus is just 200 miles up the road from San Antonio, but selection committee chairman Gary Walters said that was a non-factor.

"We try to protect people from homecourt disadvantage only in that first game," Walters said. "We can only do so much to protect teams."

If the Tigers advance to the Elite Eight for the second year in succession, they'll probably find Ohio State waiting for them, although a rematch with the Vols is also a possibility.

Tennessee would have to get past No. 12 Long Beach State, No. 4 Virginia and the Buckeyes to make that happen.

"I'm not worried about the whole bracket," Calipari said. "Let's worry about what we're doing there (in the first round) and move on if we can."

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