Can USM beat Memphis?
BY PATRICK MAGEE • HATTIESBURG AMERICAN • JANUARY 19, 2008
HATTIESBURG - When most fans and experts think of Conference USA basketball, only one school comes to mind: the University of Memphis.
The undefeated Tigers have earned every bit of that attention, considering they enter today's game against Southern Miss ranked No. 2 nationally and sporting a 26-game winning streak against C-USA teams.
"I get tired of hearing about (Memphis)," said USM guard Courtney Beasley. "They just have to be beaten before all that stuff can stop."
But can USM beat the Tigers?
Not many people give the Golden Eagles, who are 22.5-point underdogs, a chance in tonight's game at the FedEx Forum.
ESPN analyst Steve Lavin, speaking earlier this week on the cable network's late-night college basketball recap show, listed five potential stumbling blocks as the Tigers chase an undefeated regular season, chief among them a February non-conference game against sixth-ranked Tennessee.
He didn't mention USM, the Tigers' next opponent.
USM coach Larry Eustachy is among those who don't see Memphis as invincible.
At the same time, Eustachy stopped far short from predicting an upset tonight.
"They'll get beat, mark my word," Eustachy said. "It will be good for the conference because we don't get the recognition we should get because Memphis is so highly ranked. This is a tough league and it's very well-coached. I think they'll get beat, but it will have to be on the road."
The Golden Eagles (9-8, 1-2 C-USA) have won just one of their last six games.
But if last year's two games with Memphis are any indication of what will happen, it could be a tight affair. The Golden Eagles lost to Memphis at home 75-62 and nearly pulled off the upset in the River City, taking the Tigers to the final minute before falling 67-64.
Chris Douglas-Roberts, who will be Beasley's responsibility on defense, is the biggest threat in the backcourt for the Tigers, averaging 16.3 points while shooting 50 percent on 3-pointers.
On Wednesday, UAB's Robert Vaden poured in 33 points in a 72-65 victory over USM.
"I have to redeem myself," Beasley said. "(Vaden) did a little too much against me."
A win over Memphis (16-0, 3-0) would be a huge boost for any Conference USA team.
"I think it would be terrific," Eustachy said. "In the long term, I don't know if it would change the program. It would be a great win to get people excited.
"We have to keep growing as a program, which I think we're doing. We're better than the first year, better than the second year, better than the third year and we're better than last year. So it would be nice and it would pump a little energy into the program. I just have to continue to recruit and work with these players."
Memphis reached the Elite Eight last season, falling to eventual NCAA runner-up Ohio State. Eustachy believes the team taking the floor today is even better.
"(Freshman guard Derrick) Rose is a huge help and (transfer forward Shawn) Taggart helps," Eustachy said. "That's what makes them clearly better. Guys like Antonio Anderson and Douglas-Roberts are better than they were last season."
Eustachy sees national championship potential in John Calipari's team, but they have weaknesses.
"When they get in the halfcourt game, they're not great shooters," Eustachy said. "There comes a time when you meet your match from the athleticism and experience standpoint when you have to be able to shoot. I'm not sure about that. That could be their Achilles' heel."
A packed FedEx Forum will be waiting for the Golden Eagles, but the homecourt advantage isn't a huge concern for Eustachy and his players.
"I don't think it's a tough place to play," Eustachy said. "I've taken teams into Phog Allen Fieldhouse (at Kansas) and beat them twice in a row. That's a tough place to play."
Contact Patrick Magee at email@example.com.