Thursday, March 10, 2005

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Conference USA Tournament--First Round
Memphis 79 Saint Louis 59

It's always a risk to disturb the status quo. Always. But sometimes it's the only way anything ever gets done. In the case of the Memphis Tigers, John Calipari took that risk and deviated from the norm, because he started Jeremy Hunt and left Rodney Carney on the bench to start Wednesday night's game. Ballsy move.

It paid off. The Tigers got their best all around effort of the season from Jeremy Hunt in his starting role (22 points, 7 rebounds), and shook Rodney Carney out of his shooting slump (23 points on 8-9 shooting). In the end, it was an easy win over an overmatched Billiken team. Of course, that's what the Tigers should have done, but after a 4 game losing streak (including that horrific loss to that same St. Louis team), any win is welcome and needed.

I overheard John Calipari telling R.C. Johnson, "It's amazing how much better you look when you make shots." Couldn't have said it better myself. The team shot 60% in the second half and 53% overall. They shot the ball very well; shooting covers up a lot of problems.

Why did they shoot the ball so well? Part of it has to be mental--the team looked looser and fresher than I've seen them in a while--that was evident at Tuesday's walkthrough and spilled over into Wednesday night's game. Long may it continue. However, that resolve is going to be tested tonight against Charlotte.

Charlotte's got Brendan Plavich taking (and making) stupidly long 3's, physical inside play from Curtis Withers and the C-USA Player of the Year Eddie Basden, and good coaching from the (now hated) Bobby Lutz. It's a tough matchup any way you look at it. Basden is such a good efender, too--he's managed to get over 3 steals a game from the interior on a team that doesn't really press. His hands are remarkable for his size. He does all the dirty work a team needs to have done, and he does it every single game.

All that aside, the Tigers can win. And they'll need the fans to show up if they're going to get the job done. Last night was embarrassing. The attendance has got to be better than 9,014 for the Tigers' conference tournament action--it's the last chance to redeem a disappointing season! Where were you last night, Tiger fans? You want to be a big-time program? Quit making excuses and just show up. Louisville sold more full tournament ticket packages than Memphis! And the tournament's here. That's just wrong. Just show up and be loud, Tiger fans.

It should be noted that the fans that were there last night were loud, which created a good atmosphere. Shame the arena was half-full.

Other C-USA Tournament thoughts:

--I thought Tom Crean was supposed to be a good coach--how can a team look that bad against a press? Marquette looked like a bad 8th grade girls' team yesterday afternoon against TCU's press. 23 turnovers? Here's how bad it was--TCU shot just 15% in the second half from the field...and they won.

--Marquette's got some loyal fans, though. I felt bad for those that made the trip to see their team look like crap.

--DePaul cruised yesterday over Tulane. Sammy Mejia has NBA written all over him--he's just a sophomore, but he's got great size (6' 6'') at the PG position, can penetrate at will, and plays good D. He needs to work on the jumper a bit, and he's not aggressive enough, but all of that will improve. Tulane's Ivan Pjevcevic is the biggest stiff in basketball. He's not unlike a dump truck--big, slow, and just in the way. Yet all he does is shoot 3's. Weird.

--Houston blew it hard. The Cougars had the game in hand, but South Florida just flat out took that game from them in the second half behind a great performance by Terrence Leather (25 pts. and 14 rebs.) and inspirational point guard play from Brian Swift. Cincinnati may be in for a harder game than they expect tonight.

--South Florida's cheerleaders (the Sundolls) are by far the best I've seen in the tournament so far. Not a bad one in the bunch--usually every squad throws in one or two clunkers among the hot women. Not so with South Florida--the Sundolls are each and every one gorgeous. DePaul and Houston had really below average cheerleading squads. Disappointing. Of course, the Memphis pom squad is solid as can be.

Predictions for today:

1) Louisville vs. 8) TCU: Louisville
4) UAB vs. 5) DePaul: DePaul
2) Charlotte vs. 7) Memphis: Memphis
3) Cincinnati vs. 11) South Florida: Cincinnati

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