Calipari to likely juggle his lineup
First team might split to prevent drop-offs
By Dan Wolken
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Given the depth on the University of Memphis' bench, coach John Calipari came into the season planning to wear opponents down by sending one wave of players after another onto the floor with no noticeable drop-off between units.
So it was both surprising and alarming for No. 3 Memphis, in each of its first two games, to build leads in the opening minutes only to fall behind Tennessee-Martin and Richmond once the second team rotated in.
In response, Calipari said he is contemplating some lineup changes for Monday's exhibition game against Christian Brothers at FedExForum, with an obvious eye toward Thursday's semifinal matchup with Oklahoma in the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic at New York's Madison Square Garden.
"I've got to figure it out because we've made subs, and it's not been a good thing," Calipari said.
Memphis had a 14-8 lead in the first 4:22 of its season opener Monday. But once Calipari began making substitutions, Tennessee-Martin clawed its way back and took a 28-21 lead over the next five minutes.
The next night against Richmond, Memphis came out fast and led 15-5 after just 5:43. But the Tigers sagged over the next six minutes and fell behind 29-22, giving the Spiders confidence that might have been crushed if Memphis' reserves had carried the momentum.
"They had the lead, and the second team, we've got to come in and give a spark and extend the lead," sophomore guard Willie Kemp said. "We've got to go in, play good defense, play hard and do the things the first team does."
Said sophomore guard Doneal Mack: "I wouldn't say a lineup change would make that big of a difference. I just think some of us didn't play to the best of our abilities. As long as you play hard, coach is going to keep you in. You ain't got to hit no shots. If you're rebounding, playing defense, diving for loose balls, coach is going to keep you in."
At this point, Calipari isn't sure what changes he might make to the starting lineup. One option would be bringing junior guard Antonio Anderson off the bench and starting either Kemp or Mack, putting a bone fide 3-point shooter on the floor to begin the game.
Anderson, a defender and driver, is versatile enough to come in the game at any position and also big enough at 6-foot-6 to give the Tigers some size.
In the first two games, Calipari's first substitution made the lineup significantly smaller, which might have contributed to the Tigers' problems. If that's the case, it could correct itself when junior forward Joey Dorsey returns to the lineup.
Dorsey sat out the first two games with a sprained right shoulder and has been working his way back into practice, though he still is very questionable to play Monday.
When Dorsey returns, Memphis can bring 6-foot-11 Shawn Taggart off the bench. Taggart, who started in Dorsey's place, was the first player substituted out of the two games this week.
"I've got to figure out, was it Joey being out? Or do we have to do this a little different?" Calipari said. "I think part of it was I was going from a bigger line up to Willie going in for Taggart and changing the whole complexion of the team. Hopefully with Joey back we'll go big with a big."
Should Calipari make a starting lineup change, it would highlight the themes of sacrifice and togetherness he has stressed this week. In fact, Calipari called a team meeting at his home Thursday to address several issues, including playing time and the immense amount of media attention freshman guard Derrick Rose has received.
"We talked about what we've got to do to get guys ready to win a national title," Anderson said. "He talked about his team at UMass and how they got things done and how guys sacrificed for their teammates. Everybody understands that, and he just wanted to let everybody know it's going to be a long but hard ride and we have to sit back and enjoy it."
Reach Dan Wolken at 529-2365; read his blogs on the Tigers at thememphisedge.com.