Memphis roar still expected to be loudest in C-USA hoops jungle
Posted: Friday, October 17, 2008 4:58 pm
MEMPHIS (AP) — Despite losing three starters to the NBA, the Memphis Tigers are still expected to be the best of Conference USA.
Conference coaches made the Tigers the unanimous preseason choice to win the league at Thursday’s C-USA Media Day after Memphis’ run last season to the NCAA championship game before losing to Kansas 75-68 in overtime.
“It’s real simple,” Memphis coach John Calipari said. “We lost Lawrence Taylor (Dorsey). We lost Earl Monroe. Chris Douglas (Roberts) scored a thousand different ways, and we lost Superman (Rose) at point guard.
“Other than that, I think we’re going to be terrific.”
Opposing coaches and players said Thursday that the Memphis domination may not be quite as significant this season.
“Last year, a lot of people thought they were unbeatable, and a lot of people had to use magic or whatever against them,” UAB forward Robert Vaden, the conference’s preseason pick for player of the year, said Thursday. “This year, I feel like we’ve got a pretty good chance of winning the conference championship. That’s our goal.”
But the road to a C-USA title goes through Memphis.
The Tigers (38-2 last season) have won 30-plus games the last three seasons and made the Elite Eight the two seasons before last year’s run to the national championship game.
Memphis lost defensive middle man Joey Dorsey, leading scorer Chris Douglas-Roberts and freshman phenom Derrick Rose, who was the top selection in the 2008 NBA draft.
Memphis regrouped with recruits like guard Tyreke Evans, a consensus top six recruit, 6-foot-11 forward Angel Garcia, and swingman Wesley Witherspoon.
Roburt Sallie transferred from City College of San Francisco.
They join returning senior starters Robert Dozier, a preseason all-conference pick, and defensive specialist Antonio Anderson, the most valuable player of last year’s Conference USA Tournament.
“I’m excited about my team, but I just don’t know who’s playing where,” Calipari said. “…There are so many of those question marks that we’re trying to figure out.”
The preseason selection of Memphis as conference champ is no surprise given the Tigers’ 42-game winning streak in conference play.
The last Memphis loss in the conference was March 6, 2006 at UAB.
Memphis has gone undefeated in C-USA play the last two seasons.
The dominance, including an average winning margin of 20.3 points last season, has made it appear the conference is weak.
Fellow coaches contend that was a misconception that was only proven during the Tigers’ run to the national championship game that included double-digit wins against Michigan State, Texas and UCLA.
“Our league was strong last year,” Southern Mississippi coach Larry Eustachy said. “The problem with our league last year was (Calipari and Memphis). … To say this league was down or just OK last year, I think, was a misnomer. What killed us was that you open the paper and John and Memphis were beating good teams by 30 or 25.”
With the Tigers’ retooling and others making improvement, many think the conference winning streak will end. But the Tigers
talents still mean it will take the right combination to knock off Memphis.
“I’ve always said to beat Memphis, you have to make shots,” Tulsa coach Doug Wojcik. “You have to have a great home crowd, get some momentum. You’re playing well. I think some people have a chance to do that this year, particularly on their home courts.”
UAB and Tulsa, picked second and third respectively by the coaches, could pose the toughest challenges. The Blazers finished 23-11 last season and gave Memphis its biggest scare of the conference slate, the Tigers escaping Birmingham with a 79-78 victory on Feb. 16 on a last-second shot by Douglas-Roberts.
The Blazers boast Vaden, the 6-foot-5 swingman who was UAB’s leading scorer last year. Vaden, who transferred to UAB after two seasons at Indiana, ended up with a cloud over his head last weekend when he was arrested for public intoxication in Bloomington, Ind.
Vaden and UAB officials declined to comment on the Indiana incident.
Paul Delaney III returns for UAB after sitting out last season with a knee injury, as does Lawrence Kinnard, a third team all-conference selection, who averaged 11.1 points and a team-high 6.8 rebounds.
Tulsa, which won the College Basketball Invitational last year, returns guard Ben Uzoh, a second team all-conference selection last season, and 7-foot center Jerome Jordan, who made the conference all-defensive team, the C-USA all-tournament team and was selected the most valuable player of the CBI.