Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Calm Tigers prepare for weary USC
Calm Tigers prepare for weary USC
While U of M rests, Trojans have busy stretch of games
By Dan Wolken
Saturday, December 1, 2007
At the end of Friday's practice, assistant coach John Robic walked the University of Memphis through the offensive sets it will likely see Tuesday against Southern California in New York's Madison Square Garden.
And for the next three days, the No. 3-ranked Tigers will have nothing else to think about but how they plan to defend O.J. Mayo, Daniel Hackett and all the other future pros on No. 22 USC's roster.
In the same time period, USC will have to recover from Thursday night's victory over Oklahoma, prepare to play No. 4 Kansas on Sunday in Los Angeles, then fly cross-country and have one day to get ready for Memphis in the Jimmy V Classic.
Though distinct styles will certainly be on display when the teams meet in New York, the lead-in preparation for each team will be just as much a study in contrasts.
While USC is in the midst of its most grueling stretch of the season -- and perhaps the most difficult 10 days for any team in college basketball this season -- Memphis has been mostly sequestered inside the Finch Center, gearing up for its stiffest challenge to date.
Advantage Tigers? Coach John Calipari isn't so sure.
"The game intensity is just hard to duplicate, so we're going to do the best we can," he said. "If you get into the game with them, and they're at one level and you're at another level, you can't compete with them."
Though it certainly will be a lot to ask for USC to come through this gauntlet -- which included a 70-45 victory over Southern Illinois last Sunday -- and play its best against Memphis, each side could claim a benefit to its schedule.
By the time USC gets to New York, the Trojans will be battle-tested, their attack sharpened against some of the best teams in the country. Memphis, meanwhile, has had time to heal injuries -- forward Robert Dozier, after missing two games, is back at practice -- enjoy its easy victory over Austin Peay on Tuesday and use an entire week to prepare just for USC.
"Coach is going to get us ready for Tuesday's game, and we've got a couple days of practice to get better ourselves," junior guard Antonio Anderson said. "Our bodies will be fresh, and (USC) may be a little worn out."
Memphis clearly understands what it's like to be on the other side.
Last season, the Tigers played Arkansas State on Nov. 29, Manhattan on Dec. 2 and Marshall on Dec. 4, then traveled to Knoxville for a Dec. 6 game against Tennessee.
With an entire week to target Memphis, the Volunteers administered a 76-58 beating in the Tigers' worst performance of the season.
Calipari, however, believes that USC coach Tim Floyd has already taken a long look at the Tigers, despite his busy schedule. In fact, Memphis is preparing to see some zone defense, even though Calipari can't find it on tape.
"They haven't played a stitch of zone, but they're going to play some zone," Calipari said. "He's a good coach. Tim and I are friends. He's a terrific coach.
"The thing that's scary with them, you can play great defense and (Davon) Jefferson will go make a crazy shot. Mayo will step back and shoot a fadeaway through the rafter and swish it. Hackett can do the same. Gibson will go tip-dunk a miss on a bad shot. They play a lot like Southern Miss. They'll try to keep the game in the 50s or 60s."
At least there shouldn't be any surprises for Memphis.
But what legitimately concerns Calipari is whether Memphis can simulate the "game intensity" in practice that USC will be accustomed to, especially after facing Kansas on Sunday.
"Coach is telling us we have to come out here and practice hard because of the two games they're playing," freshman Derrick Rose said. "That's going to be an advantage for them, so we have to go at each other harder."
Reach Dan Wolken at 529-2365; read his blogs on the Tigers at thememphisedge.com.