Here’s a three-step program for college basketball misery:
1) Decide on a rotation of seven players.
2) Start four guards.
3) Visit a Big East team that lost its last game in early January.
As they did for 40 minutes against Kansas in November, the Tigers played a top-10 team tough tonight, if only for the first 20 minutes. Four first-half treys from Roburt Sallie, combined with some sloppy inside play by Syracuse’s big men, had the score tied at halftime, 32-32.
But when the Orange’s Andy Rautins started the second half the same way he ended the first — draining a triple — Memphis had its fate sealed. The seventh-ranked Orange outscored the Tigers 42-25 over the final 20 minutes, making Elliot Williams’ missed dunk — that would have drawn the Tigers within a point with 14 minutes to play — merely an embarrassing scratch from a street fight won by unanimous decision.
You have to hope the legacy of the 2009-10 Tigers won’t be playing above themselves against top-tier opponents . . . only to lose. They’ll open Conference USA play Saturday at Southern Miss with precisely zero big wins this season. (Sad truth: the biggest victory the U of M can claim is their win over Oakland, currently 59th in the RPI rankings.) The Tigers entered tonight’s game ranked 134 in the RPI (out of 347 Division I teams). The only C-USA teams in the RPI’s top 100 are UAB (21), Marshall (39), and Tulsa (79), and each of those teams’ ranking will drop when conference play begins. The Tigers’ lone remaining chance for an RPI booster will be their game against Gonzaga (currently 17th) on February 6th at FedExForum.
NCAA tournament? Memphis will likely have to win its fifth straight Conference USA championship. (A tournament title would bring an automatic bid.) More than three losses in C-USA will mean NIT time for this bunch.
• I could listen to Hall of Famer Bob Knight all season long. Unlike his buddy Dick Vitale, Knight actually teaches basketball as he analyzes (imagine that, with 900 wins under his belt).
When facing a zone defense, “Never pass the ball in the direction you’re dribbling.” Elementary, and profound.
“The back line of a zone must know what’s behind it.” Pay attention, kids, when Coach Knight is calling a game.