NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Riding a national-best 22-game winning
streak, the Memphis Tigers could be going into the NCAA tournament
talking about getting six more for a national championship.
Coach John Calipari has convinced them otherwise.
"No, no, no," leading scorer Chris Douglas-Roberts said,
smiling and shaking his head for emphasis. "That season is over
for us. ... We're 0-0 right now. Everybody is. That's the mentality
Calipari emphasized the streak in January and February as a way
of getting Memphis a better seed in March. And it worked - the
Tigers (30-3) are second in the South Regional despite having
beaten only three teams that made the NCAA field: Kentucky, Jackson
State and Gonzaga, all seeded eighth or worse.
On Friday, Memphis will try adding 15th-seeded North Texas
(23-10), winners of the Sun Belt tournament.
Those who see the Tigers at tournament time might look at the
record and figure this is a continuation of last year's team that
reached the regional finals. That's hardly the case.
Three key starters are gone, two becoming first-round NBA draft
picks. Now Memphis is led by younger players.
The starters include three sophomores and a freshman. Four more
youngsters come off the bench. Even the lone senior among the top
scorers, Jeremy Hunt, didn't play last season because of problems
away from the court.
Sophomore guard Douglas-Roberts leads the club with 15.4 points
per game and Hunt averages 13.6 off the bench. Five others
contribute between 6.6 and 9.8 points per game, an even
distribution that Douglas-Roberts calls the biggest change from
"We're way more of an unselfish team," he said. "We know
everybody that's on the floor can make a play and we're willing to
let them. There's nobody demanding the ball at the end of the
Sophomore forward Robert Dozier also made a thinly veiled
reference to how last year's team leaned too much on Rodney Carney,
Shawne Williams and Darius Washington.
"We don't have guys forcing shots now and then," Dozier said.
"Everybody finds the open guy. Ninety percent of the time guys are
taking great shots, wide-open shots."
While North Texas has the low profile of most of Memphis' foes,
the Mean Green should put up a fight. They've already set a club
record for wins, topping the 1988 club that was the school's only
other to make the NCAAs, and they're coming in on their longest
winning streak of the season, albeit only a five-gamer.
Calipari compares North Texas to Houston, the team Memphis beat
in the Conference USA finals, with one exception - North Texas is
"I've had different coaches who've talked to me say, `Don't go
out to warm-up lines because you're going to look at them and
they're going to be bigger and longer and more athletic than your
team,"' Calipari said. "They're not going to be intimidated.
They're not coming into this game thinking, `Wow, Memphis.' They
think they're coming in here to whack somebody."
It sure would mean a lot to Mean Green coach Johnny Jones, a
Louisiana native who played on a Final Four team for LSU and spent
more than a decade coaching there. Guess where he worked next?
Memphis, spending two years as an assistant then going 15-16 as an
interim coach in 1999-2000 after Tic Price resigned.
Also, North Texas' Sun Belt tournament title came in Lafayette,
Still, Jones is a realist. He's already told his club that No.
15 seeds were 4-84 coming into this year's tournament, and that
Memphis hasn't lost since Dec. 20.
Guard Calvin Watson, the MVP of the Sun Belt tournament, is
ready to pull off the upset.
"We are finally starting to make some noise," Watson said.
"We need to play solid defense and we should be fine."