Tuesday, October 09, 2007
Tigers Earning Positive Preseason Press
Tigers earning positive preseason press
By Dan Wolken
Sunday, October 7, 2007
Thousands of pages of college basketball preseason magazines have hit the newsstands in recent days, and nearly all of them agree on one basic point about the University of Memphis: Anything less than a trip to the 2008 Final Four will be considered a disappointment.
Of the five most well-known preseason publications, only one -- the CBS Sports.com magazine -- pegs the Tigers No. 1. But the others rank the Tigers alongside UCLA, North Carolina, Georgetown, Kansas and Tennessee as the elite of the elite in college basketball this season.
Preseason predictions rank the U of M basketball team as high as one or two. Do you think the Tigers can live up to the expectations?
"We did pick UCLA as No. 1, but in terms of talent coming back, it was pretty easy to put Memphis No. 2 because we see this as kind of the year they finally break through and make a Final Four," said Scott Smith, editor of the Street & Smith's/Sporting News magazine. "They're really not going to have a heck of a lot of trouble in Conference USA, and they'll be able to peak for big games, and we just think this is the year they're going to do it."
Over the past two years, Tiger players, and especially their fans, have complained at times about a lack of respect nationally. But now, coming off back-to-back Elite Eight appearances and with the entire starting five returning, the critics have become converts.
"There were five, six teams that we really considered for the Final Four, and Memphis was one of the no-doubt-about-it teams from the top," said Mitch Light, editor of the Athlon college basketball preview. "Memphis, North Carolina and UCLA were the three that there was just no way we weren't picking them. Memphis has one of the most complete rosters in the country. North Carolina may be a little deeper roster, but there are no weaknesses with Memphis."
The only factor working against Memphis as opposed to UCLA and North Carolina -- which Athlon predicted as its national championship game -- was experience at point guard, Light said. Though Derrick Rose is recognized in every preseason publication as one of the top freshmen in the country, Light said UCLA's veteran point guard Darren Collison -- who he rates as the top point guard in the country -- gives the Bruins a slight edge over Memphis.
Gary Parrish, who was responsible for the CBS Sports.com rankings, drew a different conclusion about Rose taking the reins in Memphis' backcourt.
"The reality is, they are coming off back-to-back Elite Eights, they are returning every starter, and they are bringing in what some people believe to be the best recruit, who could be the best point guard in the country," Parrish said. "So when you blend an unselfish personality like Derrick Rose, who is also immensely talented, with a group of veterans that have already done it, I don't know why anybody would think those aren't the ingredients of a No. 1 team."
Two publications, however, don't rank Memphis as the best team even in the state of Tennessee. Though Lindy's pegs the Tigers at No. 4, assistant editor Ben Cook said Tennessee's SEC affiliation gave the Vols a slight edge at No. 3.
"We think Memphis is just darn good," Cook said. "That's pretty much the only thing to say. They have a lot of veteran talent back, and the only question we had at all was can they replace (Jeremy) Hunt's shooting? But I feel quite confident they will.
"Once you get past No. 1 (UCLA), I think you can take the next three or four teams, put them in a hat and shake them up. Tennessee is loaded, and the fact that they played so well against Ohio State (in a Sweet 16 loss) tells me that this is a team that can play on the national stage. Nothing will scare them. I do like Memphis. I think probably the defining factor there is, I don't think Memphis will get tested nearly as much as Tennessee during league play, and that possibly could show up in the postseason."
The Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook assigned Memphis a No. 5 ranking, behind No. 3 Georgetown and No. 4 Tennessee.
Blue Ribbon editor Chris Dortch said he based that ranking not so much on conference but rather how Memphis and Tennessee matched up last December when the Vols handed the Tigers one of their four losses last season, 76-58 in Knoxville.
Dortch, however, also acknowledged that Memphis could be the best team in the country, "if Joey Dorsey plays like an all-American" and the Tigers can knock down 3-pointers with more consistency.
"I like Memphis' talent a lot, and I like the aggressive way they play," Dortch said. "But I just got to looking, and I was at the Tennessee game last year where Tennessee was able to defend the attack, attack part of their offense. An athletic team was able to prevent them from getting to the basket, so as a result, they had to shoot from the outside. If you go back and look at the box score of that game, they shot under 30 percent for the game.
"In my mind, I'm looking at a potential weakness for this team, and for the season they shot 32 percent from the (3-point line), and in this day and age, that's kind of low. I'm thinking I like them in the top five, but do I like them as one, two, knowing that if somebody shuts down the attack, part of their offense can they be handled?"
Reach Dan Wolken at 529-2365; read his blogs on Tiger basketball at thememphisedge.com.
What: The Tigers' annual season-opening celebration.
When: Friday; doors open at 7 p.m. Festivities start around 8 p.m.
4. North Carolina
7. Washington St.
Street & Smith's
3. North Carolina
8. Washington State
Runner-up: North Carolina
Final Four: Memphis, Georgetown
Elite Eight: Kansas, Louisville, Oregon, Tennessee
2. North Carolina
7. Washington St.
1. North Carolina
6. Michigan State