Memphis has tragic flaw in chase for perfect season
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
We have not spoken to Quinn Buckner lately, but we're guessing he, Scott May and Bob Knight don't plan to sit around a television Saturday with a champagne bottle on ice ready to pop the cork if Tennessee beats Memphis.
An undefeated season, considered so unlikely these days in any major sport, seems possible again after the New England Patriots came close earlier this month. They lost the Super Bowl 17-14 to the Giants, allowing the members of the 1972 Dolphins to toast themselves with the bubbly again.
Now No. 1 Memphis (25-0) has a chance, with its home game Saturday against No. 2 Tennessee its biggest remaining test before the NCAA Tournament.
The 1976 Indiana team that featured Buckner, May, Kent Benson and Bobby Wilkerson - all of whom were among the top 11 picks in the NBA draft - is the last college basketball team to go through the season undefeated.
There were some asterisks in the meantime. The 1979 Indiana State team featuring Larry Bird and the 1991 UNLV team with Larry Johnson entered the NCAA Tournament unbeaten, which gives them a spot in the record books.
However, the Patriots can tell you winning all the games leading to the title game doesn't mean much if you lose the last one. What's your memory of the 1971 Penn team, or the 1976 Rutgers Scarlet Knights? They went unbeaten in the regular season only to lose in the NCAA Tournament, not to be heard from again.
Since 1939, 23 major college teams have been undefeated before the start of postseason play, 11 of them finished unbeaten, and seven of those wound up as unbeaten national champs.
We're guessing Memphis will become the 24th team to go unbeaten through the regular season, which includes the conference tournament, but will not be the eighth unbeaten national champion.
The Tigers might believe fate is on their side after they overcame a seven-point deficit in the final 1:42 to beat Alabama-Birmingham 79-78 on Saturday. Being at home, where they have won 47 straight, for the Tennessee game and the Conference USA tournament might carry them to the NCAA Tournament without a loss.
But a team that ranks dead last among the 341 Division I schools in free-throw shooting at 58.3 percent, as Memphis does, is bound to pay for that deficiency at some point in the postseason.
Some lousy free-throw shooting teams have won national championships (Georgetown 1984, 67.8 percent; Connecticut 2004, 62.3 percent; UCLA 1973, 63.0 percent). But not since City College of New York won the NCAA title shooting 57.7 percent from the line in 1950 has a team that shot worse than 60 percent won the whole thing.
Memphis' top four scorers are all shooting under 70 percent from the line, and that includes their three starting guards: Chris Douglas-Roberts (66.7 percent), Derrick Rose (68.8) and Antonio Anderson (58.3). The Tigers made two more field goals and five more three-point shots than UAB, but nearly lost the game at the foul line.
Stat of the week: Road teams have a winning record (32-31) in Pac-10 conference games, and the home teams, including three favorites, lost all five games Saturday and Sunday. Coaches are scrambling to explain it, usually claiming the strength of the conference is somehow responsible. In reality, it simply makes no sense.
Thought of the week: Which tarnished Indiana's basketball image more in the nation's eyes - the dismissal of Knight for repeat offenses the public saw but were not illegal by NCAA standards, or the probable dismissal of Kelvin Sampson for repeat offenses the public did not see but allegedly were illegal by NCAA standards?
Moment of the week: Officials called a technical foul on the San Diego crowd for repeatedly throwing debris on the court during the game against Gonzaga, then Steven Gray missed both technical free-throw tries.
Quote of the week: "I missed 10 shots." - Kansas State freshman Michael Beasley, reacting to getting 40 points (on 12-for-22 shooting) and 17 rebounds in 27 minutes against Missouri on Saturday.
Surprise of the week: Brigham Young, which lost to UNLV by 29 points on Jan. 15, beat UNLV by 26 points on Saturday.
E-mail Jake Curtis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared on page D - 3 of the San Francisco Chronicle