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Monday, January 21, 2008

Geoff Caulkins - Shhh ... Don't tell 'em they're chasing history

Shhh ... Don't tell 'em they're chasing history

By Geoff Calkins
Saturday, January 19, 2008

Quick question: What team won the NCAA basketball tournament last year?

Had to think for a moment, didn't you? And that was just last year.

What team won three years ago, in 2005? How about 2004? Or 2003?

You have no idea. The seasons all blur together.

Now, one last question: What was the last team to win the championship and go undefeated?

The 1976 Indiana Hoosiers, of course.

Everybody knows that.

Which is why you should save your tickets from tonight's game at FedExForum between the Memphis Tigers and Southern Miss.

It could be a slice of history. It could be part of a perfect set.


Thirty-one games in the regular season, three in the Conference USA Tournament and six more in the NCAA Tournament.

That adds up to forty.

Forty games, forty wins.

"It's not significant," said Memphis coach John Calipari, because what else was he going to say?

The guy was livid after the Tigers beat Rice by 27 the other night. Coaches like to take things -- you may have heard this before -- one game at a time.

"We need to focus on the next opponent," said Antonio Anderson, and that's absolutely right.

But you are under no such obligation. Fans are allowed to contemplate the glory of it all.

Especially when the alternative is a string of schlock games against teams from Conference USA.

Tonight's game against Southern Miss could be another blowout win over another overmatched team -- or it could be another step on the way to immortality.

"We have to come out and play hard every night," said Memphis shooter Doneal Mack.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

The Tigers have two tricky nonconference games remaining on their schedule: Gonzaga and Tennessee. Beyond that, the schedule is cake.

Don't try telling this to Calipari, mind you, as he gamely tries to motivate his team.

"If we had played the way we played against Rice against seven other teams in the league, we would have lost," said Calipari, who went on to identify Houston, UAB, Tulsa and Southern Miss among the Tigers' remaining "danger" games.

Houston is 12-3 against the 232nd-ranked schedule in the country and lost to Arizona at home by 14.

UAB is 12-5 against the 176th-ranked schedule and lost to Wichita State by 11 and South Florida by 10.

Tulsa is 8-6 against the 140th-ranked schedule and lost to Hampton by 17, Arkansas-Little Rock by 11 and Oral Roberts by 14.

And Southern Miss, well, Southern Miss is 5-8 against Division 1 opponents and lost to McNeese State and Savannah State.

It's possible that Southern Miss could still beat Memphis tonight, of course. But it would be a monumental upset.

Ken Pomeroy, who writes for Basketball Prospectus, has calculated that the Tigers' best chance of losing will come on the road against UAB. The Tigers still have an 81 percent chance of winning that one, according to Pomeroy. Don't ask me about the math.

So the odds are the Tigers will roll into the Tennessee game undefeated. And the odds are they'll win that one, too. And if you're one of those people who think it might be good for the Tigers to lose before that point, stop thinking that.

Even Calipari isn't buying the sure-would-be-nice-to-lose theory. And he's been there before.

His 1996 UMass team started 26-0 before being upset at home by George Washington.

"It was a burden that year because we hadn't been there before," he said. "This team, we've been solid the last few years. I'm not worried about it becoming a burden. We won 25 straight games last year."

Not only that, the core of the team put together an undefeated season at Laurinburg Prep in North Carolian before arriving at Memphis.

"It was a blast," said Anderson.

Like all the Memphis players, Anderson wouldn't talk about going undefeated this season. He knows better than that.

But ask him about the team's record at Laurinburg, and he can't help but smile.

"Forty and oh," he said.

To reach Geoff Calkins, call him at 529-2364 or e-mail

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