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Monday, December 24, 2007


Beyond the Arc
Mike Miller


In case you hadn’t heard, there’s a big game Saturday between No. 2 Memphis and No. 5 Georgetown. (It’s not even the only Top 10 game. No. 4 Texas plays No. 10 Michigan State in Auburn Hills. Score one for hoops fans.)

Nearly 19,000 people are expected (including 15 NBA scouts, or so) to watch the Tigers and Hoyas face off in what could be a Final Four preview. Memphis is among the nation’s most talented teams, while the Hoyas are consistent and return most of their Final Four team from last season. Both are unbeaten, but neither have turned on the juice yet this season. Yes, I’m saying both should be better by season’s end.

I’m already on record for picking the Hoyas (also my choice to win the whole shebang), but considering Pitt’s upset of Duke on Thursday, my picks ain’t worth much. (Jay Bilas’ also siding with Georgetown; some others have gone with Memphis, though.)

Yet, for all that buildup, I’m avoiding a game preview. You’ve got links for that. And for a detailed matchups breakdown, click here.

I’m more amazed at the run Memphis is likely embarking on, which could result in a title for John Calipari.

The Tigers have put together back-to-back 33-4 seasons. Only 14 teams have racked up more wins in two seasons’ time, and five of them involve those loaded Duke and Kentucky teams from the late ‘90s. If the Tigers reach the Elite Eight for the third straight year, they’ll likely be 34-4, or 100-12 in that span. They get to the Final Four, even more wins.

And even fewer teams have won games in a three-year clip like that. They include Kentucky, 96-98 (104-11); Kentucky, 46-48 (102-8); Montana State, 27-29 (102-11) and Duke, 99-01 (101-11).

Consider for a moment just how many games a team has to play to even approach 100 wins in a three-year span, let along actually do it.

Now, part of that achievement comes from playing in the weak Conference USA (where Memphis is 29-1 in regular-season play that last two seasons, and 6-0 in conference tournaments), but the Tigers also are 196-79 since 2000, which means they were winning at a pretty good clip before C-USA went belly up.

It makes me think this is what Jerry Tarkanian’s UNLV teams were like in the 1980s. The Running Rebs were 271-65 in the 80s. More importantly, Tark’s teams ran, which helped with recruiting (this guy did too) and eventually led to a title where UNLV had more talent on the floor than any other team.

Calipari’s set himself up for the same kind of run and talent influx Tark did. Memphis may not win the Big Dance this season, or next. But eventually, by running, winning and recruiting, he’ll have a team that can.

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