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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Monday blog by Dan Wolken

Monday blog
Posted by Dan Wolken

As John Calipari talked to the team after practice Monday, he hit on a point I noticed watching the Gonzaga game. I’ve never seen the Tigers run as fast as they did Saturday. They made Gonzaga look slow, and Gonzaga isn’t slow. But you can point to at least 10 or 12 plays in that game where the Tigers’ speed was simply overwhelming, where they got buckets simply because they sprinted down the court and beat the defense. That’s the advantage Memphis has over most teams, and I’m not sure any team in the country can run with them when they operate at that speed.

There was an Internet rumor that 2009 recruit Lance Stephenson — a big-time player out of New York — was at FedExForum for the game. Not true. The only big-time guy coming in from out of town is Tyreke Evans for the Tennessee game.

After the game, Calipari mentioned that he’s working with Kansas and Arkansas for possible games at neutral sites. The Arkansas thing may surprise some of you, especially in light of comments a couple weeks ago about not wanting to play SEC teams unless they publicly supported Memphis being invited into the SEC (and Cal’s comments years ago about not wanting to play the regional teams like Arkansas). It’s a nuanced position, and I’ll try to make it as simple as possible. Calipari wants to play the “national” teams (Arizona, Ohio State, Gonzaga, Syracuse, West Virginia, etc.) as home-and-home games. He wants to play the regional teams, but only on neutral/NCAA Tournament sites, where they aren’t given a platform to recruit in Memphis (like playing Arkansas in North Little Rock or Tennessee in Nashville). Apparently, Arkansas has expressed a willingness to play Memphis at Alltel Arena in Little Rock with the tickets split in half. While the crowd would lean more Arkansas, I’m sure, it would be an interesting experiment to see how many people Memphis would bring down there to play the Hogs.

Meanwhile, I loved what Calipari did in the Gonzaga game with Doneal Mack, whose playing time had been down a good bit. The reality is, if the Tigers had a player like Lee Humphrey — just an absolute cold-blooded 3-point shooter — I don’t think they’d ever lose. Now, those kind of guys aren’t easy to find, but Mack can be a reasonable facsimilie. I’ve seen him in practice enough to know how good he can be; in fact, there are days when the second team beats the first team simply because Mack goes crazy making shots. Mack went 2-for-8 from 3…If the Tigers can get 3-for-8 from Mack in some of these games, they’d take it and run with it.

Also, I talked to Tom Penders tonight about his Houston team. One interesting thing about their 85-71 loss to Arizona is that Jerryd Bayless wasn’t supposed to play in that game, but he did play, and Arizona came out with entirely new offensive sets. In other words, Houston prepared for something and got something else, which is one reason why they weren’t able to guard Arizona. Penders thinks his team is still in the NCAA Tournament race, even if it doesn’t beat Memphis, which I don’t necessarily agree with. On the other hand, I took a quick look at filling out a bracket yesterday and I came up two teams short, so it’s not like the at-large pool is overflowing this year.

Also, a quick FYI. My regular time slot on AM 560 has been moved to Tuesday for this week, due to the Super Bowl so I’ll be in studio at 11:20 a.m. tomorrow to talk Tigers.

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