Predictions may keep Tigers humble
By Dan Wolken
March 13, 2007
After winning the Conference USA championship game on Saturday, coach John Calipari said one of his biggest concerns was preventing the University of Memphis from becoming arrogant or overconfident heading into the NCAA Tournament.
But Calipari got plenty of fodder Sunday night when several prominent college basketball analysts -- including Dick Vitale, Doug Gottlieb and Seth Davis -- predicted early exits for the Tigers.
Memphis, the No. 2 seed in the South Regional, plays North Texas in a first-round matchup at 11:30 a.m. Friday at New Orleans Arena. And should the Tigers get by that game -- only four No. 15 seeds have ever won a game in the NCAA Tournament -- the Tigers would face either No. 7 seed Nevada or No. 10 seed Creighton at 1:15 Sunday afternoon.
"If you watched four hours of TV last night, Memphis may not have been mentioned but twice in passing, (as in) 'Nevada will get Memphis,'" Calipari said. "That's how we were mentioned in most of the stuff. That may get them going a little bit, but it's real simple. Everybody's opinion at this point is irrelevant. You throw it up, and you play now."
It's familiar territory for the Tigers, who were a popular pick to be an early-round upset victim last year as a No. 1 seed.
One thing the Tigers learned last year is not to look ahead at any possible matchups or scenarios beyond the one in front of them. Instead of Memphis getting upset, it was the other teams in the Tigers' bracket that fell by the wayside.
"Last year, I started to look ahead (thinking) we were going to play Arkansas," junior point guard Andre Allen said. "Then Arkansas lost, and we played Bucknell. Then I thought we'd play Pitt, and Pitt lost to Bradley. So after that, I stopped looking ahead."
Calipari said ticket requests are one of the biggest issues a coach has to deal with during NCAA Tournament week, especially when the Tigers are playing in such an accessible location for Memphis fans.
"We have 550 tickets," Calipari said. "Two hundred of them are upstairs. Just think about that. I already told them, our kids' parents and brothers and sisters do not sit upstairs. ... That takes 'X' amount of tickets away. That becomes a little bit of an issue. I just turn my phone off. There's 550. Every donor is going to call. But we just don't have it."
Though lower-level tickets are becoming scarce for this weekend, upper-level seats for New Orleans Arena were still available through Ticketmaster as of Monday night.
The Memphis coaching staff had a long night Sunday breaking down game film of North Texas, which won the Sun Belt Conference's automatic bid. The Mean Green finished tied for fifth in the league during the regular season but did claim November victories over C-USA foes Rice and Tulsa.
"They're very athletic, their wings are pretty long," Calipari said. "They negate our athleticism a little bit and negate our strength. It's a good matchup and a touch matchup."
The Tigers will practice at the Finch Center on Wednesday before traveling to New Orleans via charter. ... Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery will be CBS' broadcast team for the New Orleans pod. Raftery, one of college basketball's top color analysts, has already seen Memphis once this year. He called the Tigers' 88-52 victory over SMU for ESPN on Feb. 3.
-- Dan Wolken: 529-2365