Memphis eyes another deep NCAA run
Seniors Robert Dozier and Antonio Anderson have won 12 NCAA tournament games, second only to UCLA's duo of seniors Darren Collison's and Alfred Aboya's 14 (senior Josh Shipp was injured for one of the three straight Final Four runs). The dozen postseason wins ties the run Florida's junior class had over a two-year period from 2006-07 in winning consecutive titles.
"We're used to it now and it's what we expect around here,'' Dozier said on the eve of Memphis' second-round game against No. 10 seed Maryland on Saturday at the Sprint Center (3:20 p.m. ET). "Anything else is a disappointment. We expect the Final Four and a national championship. Those are our goals.''
Memphis lost to Kansas in overtime in the national title game a year ago in San Antonio. The Tigers lost in the Elite Eight the previous two seasons. The Tigers are a No. 2 seed this season, were a No. 1 a year ago, a No. 2 in 2007 and a No. 1 in 2006. The seeding and the NCAA tournament finish are related.
In 2004, the Tigers were a No. 7 and lost in the second round. In 2003, the Tigers were a No. 7 and lost in the first round.
"It's hard to advance when you're in a non-BCS league to get in position to get a higher seed,'' Memphis coach John Calipari said.
Calipari went on to say that non power-conference teams have to play one of the top schedules in the country, win almost every game and then win the conference tournament. Memphis did most of that the past few seasons. The Tigers lost three non-conference games this past season, but didn't lose a Conference USA game.
"Whether it's fair or not, that's the way it is,'' Calipari said. "For us to get a high seed four years in a row shows how the committee has been fair to us. We've proven them right by how far we've advanced.''
But advancing to even the second round was a bit harder than Memphis imagined against No. 15 Cal State-Northridge. The Matadors jumped on the Tigers and had them on their heels early and often.
"I wasn't ready for us to play that way,'' Calipari said. "So I got on guys and then with six minutes to go I told them to just make plays.''
Conference affiliation means nothing in the NCAA tournament. Advancing to the second weekend normally means a team has played quality competition.
"They've been playing against really good teams to do that,'' Maryland coach Gary Williams said of the Tigers' recent run to three straight Elite Eights, including one national title game. "At this time of the year, conference affiliation doesn't matter.''
The Tigers expect to be playing the second weekend. Getting to the Sweet 16 can take a solid season and turn it into a great one.
"That's where you want to be, the second weekend and nobody sneaks in there,'' Williams said.
Michigan is playing in its first NCAA tournament since 1998. Beating Clemson in the first round gave the Wolverines immense confidence. Beating No. 2 Oklahoma in Saturday's second game (5:50 p.m. ET) would elevate the program, and coach John Beilein's rebuilding process to another level.
"Hopefully we can become like the [Bill] Frieder, [Steve] Fisher and Johnny Orr teams that are always there in March,'' Beilein said.
To do that then they'll have to get past Oklahoma's Blake Griffin, the favorite for national player of the year. Griffin was fine Friday after Thursday's flip by Morgan State's Ameer Ali. The take down got Ali ejected. Morgan State coach Todd Bozeman apologized to Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel on the Sooners' team bus late Friday night and Ali issued a statement Friday through Bozeman saying there was no malicious intent and that he hoped Griffin and the Sooners had a great run in the tournament.
Griffin wasn't that sore Friday. He did say his mother, though, was quite ticked. So much that after she saw the takedown she was ready to head onto the court.
"She said she almost tackled a security guard to get down there,'' Griffin said. "That's the first time [I've been flipped] since my brother Taylor did that to me when we were kids.''
Griffin said his tail bone was a bit sore, but "it shouldn't slow me down.''