LOUISVILLE -- This is the reason John Calipari came to Memphis. This is the reason the University of Memphis hired him.
The Cincinnati Bearcats.
If Tiger basketball is to reach the heights Memphis basketball fans desire, the team has to beat the University of Cincinnati. It's that simple.
Memphis plays Cincinnati on a neutral court tonight at 8:30 p.m.
The Bearcats have ruled Memphis and every other team in this league since the two schools broke with Louisville and helped form the Great Midwest in 1991. It took five years before Louisville could be persuaded to come on board -- in a brand new configuration called Conference USA.
Second verse same as the first. Cincinnati is the undisputed king of the conference; no one else is close. The consensus is that the league will only get a single invitation to the NCAA tournament if the Bearcats win the automatic bid that goes with the C-USA tournament trophy. The league has gotten at least three bids every year since it formed in 1996.
The main objective for Tiger basketball is returning the program to the status it held in the early Eighties and periodically in the Nineties. But Memphis has to rule its neighborhood before they can conquer the college basketball kingdom. For Calipari this is a statement game.
Earlier this season, Cincinnati seemed like they were slipping. When Cincy came to The Pyramid on February 15th, the team was 6-5 in their past 11 games. Four of the five losses were in Conference USA, where the Bearcats usually dominate.
It was the first meeting between Huggins and Calipari since he came to Memphis. Bearcat guard Kenny Satterfield nailed a three to give the Bearcats the lead, Shamel Jones got it back for Memphis with 10 seconds to go in the game, and then Satterfield won the game on a driving jump shot.
UC looks today a lot like they always do. An overtime loss to Marquette is the only blemish on their record since they beat the Tigers 66-65. They have won 9 out of their last 10 games. Huggin's teams always defend and rebound aggressively. This team does not rebound as well as some previous Bearcat squads but they present a formidable test for Calipari's Tigers tonight.
You know Calipari is going to be pumped. So will Huggins. Before the last match, Calipari called his team together in the locker room. He told them that all the hard work had paid off and that they were ready to beat Cincinnati. Then he held out his perfectly steady hands. "Remember, hands of a surgeon."
This time the surgeon is looking for a breakout game.
SCOOTER IN BOOT
Scooter McFadgon did not dress for the Marquette game. He sat on the bench, with his injured ankle in a protective boot. Before the game, McFadgon said that his ankle felt better and that he hoped to be able to play some in the C-USA tournament. The freshman said the final decision would be made by him and trainer Ray Burr.
ADDITIONAL TEAMS MEAN SCHEDULING CHANGES
The league announced the format for next yearÕs tournament when the league will expand from 12 to 14 teams with the addition of TCU and East Carolina. The same format will be followed as this year. The two teams with the worst conference records will not participate in the tournament.
In a related matter, the league announced that East Carolina would be a member of the American Division and TCU will go to the National. The league will maintain its 16-game conference schedule with each school playing every team in its division twice -- home and away, accounting for 12 of the 16 games. The other four games will come from the other division and will be scheduled by the conference office. League officials have the leeway to match up two of those games, with the other two being part of a systematic rotation.
Look for Memphis to continue playing Louisville and Cincinnati every year as part of the TV package.
DENNY CRUM AND THE ALTERNATIVE PRESS
Denny Crum owns stock in the Louisville Eccentric Observer
a member of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. In this week issue LEO's executive editor John Yarmuth wrote about being a friend and partner with someone who is a newsmaker:
"After all the spinning, posturing, demonizing, sermonizing, agonizing, rationalizing, euphemizing, factionalizing Ñ and finally, harmonizing Ñ of the past month, the communityÕs attention has turned from Denny CrumÕs future to the future of the program he is leaving. ThatÕs as it should be.
For me this was an interesting but awkward situation. At various times during the controversy, I bounced between roles as journalist and advocate, sometimes in the same setting. While I do not feel the need to offer a defense of my activities, it might be useful for me to do some self-analysis for you readers, to whom I owe my primary responsibility. . . .
Crum has been a stockholder in this publication since its birth in 1990, and a friend for more than 20 years. He has never received any income from LEO, although his stock has grown in value. Not once has Denny ever asked me to publish, or avoid publishing, anything about him or the U of L basketball program.
Judging from my mail, the vast majority of LEO readers understood my position and appreciated the perspective we provided. A few were disturbed, to put it mildly, at my admitted bias. The good news is that I am not a friend of Rick Pitino, so unless he wants to invest in LEO, I can write about him with a clear conscience."
In the huge media room here at Freedom Hall there are a number of TV sets. At one point Thursday afternoon while Saint Louis was playing Southern Miss none of the sets were tuned to the C-USA game. Instead the SEC and Big Ten tournament games were on the screens. This goes a long way in illustrating the problem that the conference faces.
RUMOR OF THE DAY
Several people close to the fan support group "The Rebounders" express concern that John Calipari wants the group disbanded. The group was called "The Assistant Coaches" under Dana Kirk but returned to the origianal name when Larry Finch took over in 1986.
"On his first day of retirement from his 30-year job as the University of Louisville's basketball coach, Denny Crum endorsed the candidacy of former Kentucky and Boston Celtics coach Rick Pitino as his successor.
While noting that he is not involved in the process of hiring the next coach, Crum called Pitino "an excellent choice" and added that "I hope they get him."
"He's been successful and brings a lot of energy," Crum said. "He's a great candidate. There are a lot of good candidates out there that could have an interest. Of course, you don't know until you ask." --From Friday'sThe Louisville Courier-Journal
SCOOTER NAMED TO ALL-FRESHMAN TEAM
Memphis guard SCOOTER McFADGON has been named to College Basketball InsiderÕs
All-Freshman Team. RODNEY WHITE also made the team. White is the nationÕs leading freshman scorer (19.6 ppg), while McFadgon is averaging 9.6 points and 3.5 rebounds while shooting 78 percent from the free throw line.
20001 OCG CONFERENCE USA TOURNAMENT
(All Times Eastern)
Wednesday, March 7th
(6) South Florida 63 (11) DePaul 59
(7) Saint Louis 78 (10) Houston 65
UAB 74 (9) Louisville 64
(5) Marquette 72 (12) Tulane 67
Thursday, March 8th
(3) Charlotte 77 (6) South Florida 74
(2) Southern Miss 63 (7) Saint Louis 54
Game 7, 7 p.m. - (1) Cincinnati 73 UAB 70
Game 8, 9:30 p.m. Marquette vs. (4) Memphis
Friday, March 9th
5:30 p.m. - (2) Southern Miss vs. (3) Charlotte (ESPN Plus)
8 p.m. - (1) Cincinnati vs. Memphis
Saturday, March 10th
Game 11, 12 p.m. - Semifinal winners (CBS)