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Friday, December 21, 2007

Cincy Enquirer - Calipari expects tough crowd, game

Calipari expects tough crowd, game
BY BILL KOCH | BKOCH@ENQUIRER.COM

The crowds at Fifth Third Arena have been sparse and for the most part subdued this season, but Memphis coach John Calipari expects that to change Wednesday night when he brings his second-ranked Tigers to town to play the University of Cincinnati.

"Unless they don't know we're coming to town, I'd be surprised if whatever they're getting they don't get double for our game because it's us," Calipari said Monday.

Memphis, coming off back-to-back Elite Eight appearances, is 8-0, its best start since 1995-96.

The old rivals put on some impressive shows when they were competing against each other in Conference USA. In those days, UC was the national attraction that pulled in the big crowds every time the Bearcats played in Memphis.

But these days, UC, which now plays in the more prestigious Big East Conference, is struggling to rebuild its program while the Tigers, who still reside in C-USA, have assumed a spot among the nation's elite teams.

Still, Calipari expects a competitive game Wednesday night. And he predicts that under Mick Cronin, UC (4-5) will return to its former status before long.

"Anytime you have a change, there's growing pains," Calipari said. "They're going to be fine. They played a great ballgame against Xavier. I watched the game, and they gave themselves a chance to win. I imagine they'll do the same thing against us.

"They're going to play as well as they've played all year because it's what everybody does. We know it will be a tough challenge for us to go on their court and win."

Calipari has a 189-63 record in seven years at Memphis, but he's equally proud of the fact that 16 of his 19 seniors have graduated.

This team has the potential to be his best, which would be saying a lot because the Tigers went 33-4 last season, losing to Ohio State in the South Region final.

Memphis is deep and athletic, led by 6-foot-7 junior guard Chris Douglas-Roberts, who averages 18.3 points per game. The Tigers have 10 players who play 10 minutes or more and they might be playing better at this stage of the season than they were last year.

"We're good for December 15th," Calipari said. "We're probably executing at about 40 or 50 percent of the time. For this time of year, we're in pretty good condition and playing pretty good defense. Offensively, we're not making the shots we're capable of making."

Life has been good for Memphis in Conference USA since UC left for the Big East three years ago along with Marquette, Louisville, DePaul and South Florida.

The Tigers, who went 16-0 in league play last year, dominate their league while the former C-USA foes have found the Big East to be quite a bit more challenging.

"I've said it before and I'll say it again," Calipari said. "Be careful what you wish for. Did those schools benefit? Yeah, look at South Florida football. Look at Cincinnati football. But us being here has not affected us. It's been a positive."

Calipari pointed to Xavier as an example of a team from a non-BCS league that has followed the blueprint he used at UMass and now at Memphis by scheduling strong nonconference opponents to bolster its RPI and land a favorable seed in the NCAA Tournament.

"Mick's challenge is another way," Calipari said. "You're in one of the country's greatest leagues, but you're in the middle. Now how the heck do you get to the top? You've got to climb over somebody. You can't just say that we got better. So did they. That's his challenge. But I think he's up to it."

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