(I worked as a Sports Editor from late 2004 until the summer of 2006. This is one of the many columns I was able to save that were originally published in The Sun-Times of Heber Springs, Arkansas.)
Ok. I’ve kept quiet long enough. You knew it was just a matter of time before I went on a Memphis Tiger rant. I think I’ve showed remarkable restraint up till now, seeing as how they’re the third-ranked team in the country.
That’s right, third. My elementary math skills reveal that means there are only two teams considered better than Memphis. And each week they receive one or two votes for first place. (None of which are mine by the way.)
So, there are only a couple of other writers out there that feel Memphis should be considered as the best team in the country. An obvious point considered they are enjoying the school’s highest ranking in 20 years.
But apparently, it’s not so obvious. Being the sports talk junkie that I am, I regularly tune into shows like Pardon the Interruption, Around the Horn, Cold Pizza, Drive Time Sports, The Jim Rome Show and 24. (Wait, 24 isn’t a sports talk show. It’s the Jack Bauer Power Hour, and if you’re not watching it then you’re afraid of cool.)
When college basketball is the topic for these on-air pundits, Memphis is rarely mentioned, if at all. The talk always centers on Duke and Connecticut, like they are the only teams capable of winning the whole enchilada.
If they aren’t talking about the Dukies and the Huskies, then schools like Tennessee, Georgetown, Gonzaga, West Virginia, and Florida are getting much love as the darlings of the moment.
Meanwhile, the Tigers keep rolling along. They’ve won 10 in a row and 18 of their last 19 games, which includes victories over Gonzaga and Tennessee. They’ve also won eight straight road games.
So why the disrespect? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because they play in Conference USA. Even though that shouldn’t matter, because they’re running away with that league and tore through a non-conference schedule that had them with the second highest RPI in the country.
Recently John Calipari suggested that senior forward Rodney Carney should be mentioned in the same breath as J.J. Redick and Adam Morrison for National Player of the Year honors. The ensuing media reaction would have led one to believe that Calipari had relieved himself on the gates of Graceland after saying he loved and admired Nathan Bedford Forrest.
Sports writers from across the nation were quick to point out Calipari’s folly by intimating that Carney didn’t have the right to be in the same gym as the two great white hopes of college basketball and shouldn’t be considered as the top player in college hoops.
Now I’m sure that Calipari knew then and now, that there is no way Carney would be awarded that honor. And before you get your dander up, I don’t think he’s the Player of the Year either – it’s got to be Redick, he’s playing out of his mind right now.
But when Carney went head-to-head with Redick, the Tiger senior shut him down. Duke went on to win in the final seconds, but it wasn’t because of ‘Just Jumpers’ Redick.
And after the game, no less an authority on excellent college players than Mike Krzyzewski stopped Carney and talked to him for a couple of minutes. He told Carney that he was an unbelievable athlete and that he wished he had been afforded the opportunity to coach him.
Pretty high praise if you ask me. Then when ‘porn ‘stache’ Morrison and the Zags visited Memphis, Carney and the Tigers held him scoreless over the last nine minutes of the game.
Carney doesn’t play as many minutes or take as many shots as Redick and Morrison because he doesn’t have to. The Tigers are loaded with 10 guys that get minutes and would probably start on most teams throughout the country.
The point to all this is Memphis should be talked about with Duke and Connecticut as a national championship contender, and Carney should be a National Player of the Year finalist. That’s all I ask.
They’re having a spectacular year, and I just want them to get their props.
I went through something like this with Auburn during the 2004 football season. All they did was go undefeated in the SEC, finish the year ranked third in the country and summarily got no consideration for the national championship.
The Tigers have a better chance at controlling their own destiny than Auburn did, but part of the fun of being a fan of a contender is that everyone in the country keeps your team’s name on their lips.
And for a season you’re finally rewarded for all the years of heartbreak with justification from the talking heads that your team is one of the best.
I’ve considered this over the length of this column and have come to this decision: I hope none of this changes. I hope that Memphis isn’t talked about until tournament time. I hope they keep prowling along under the radar until the time is right to pounce.
And since I don’t want this column to be a jinx, let me end it by saying Memphis shouldn’t be ranked third, won’t win C-USA and will be fortunate to even make the NCAA tournament.