Commentary

Memo to Calipari: Avoid The 'Doghouse

Originally Published: February 5, 2008
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college basketball (where the losing coaches don't jog off before the final gun):

University of Phoenix Stadium -- aka The 'Doghouse


The joint that just housed that unbelievable Super Bowl will be the site of an NCAA Tournament regional in 2009 and might one day host a Final Four, as well.

When the regional arrives, amateur bracketologists should be on the lookout for Cinderella.

University of Phoenix Stadium
Gene Lower/Getty ImagesIt's been home to many important games in its short-lived history, but the University of Phoenix Stadium hasn't been hospitable to the favored teams it has hosted.
There have been four major national sporting events played in the stadium's brief history, and every one has been a stunning upset. The biggest was Sunday, of course, when the 12-point underdog New York Giants mortalized the New England Patriots. The previous month, seven-point 'dog West Virginia blew out Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl 48-29. Last year we had a January twin killing: seven-point 'dog Florida routed No. 1 Ohio State 41-14 in the BCS National Championship, and touchdown 'dog Boise State stunned Oklahoma 43-42.

It's enough to make you wonder whether the place is built on a peyote field or something.

If your team ends up there in '09 as a No. 1 seed, you're in trouble. If your team comes wandering in as, say, a No. 11 seed from the Colonial Athletic Association, go ahead and book travel to the Final Four.

Super Bowl Theme, Cont.


It's hard to ignore the potential parallels between the formerly unbeaten Patriots and presently unbeaten Memphis (1). Mainly because Tigers coach John Calipari (2) admiringly referred to the Patriots' run about 300 times this season.

After dispatching Gonzaga on Jan. 26, Calipari said he thought his team would lose two Conference USA games. Silly statement, but that's not the point. The Minutes asked him then whether it could conceivably be a bad thing if the Tigers don't lose between now and Selection Sunday.

"It depends on if the Patriots win," he said.

Now the Patriots have lost. Which means it's time to ask Calipari again about carrying the burden of unbeaten.

"I don't think they're overwhelmed," he said of his players the day after the Super Bowl. "I think they're driven by it. But is the other team more driven? …

"I still think we'll lose a couple league games."

And The Minutes still thinks that's as likely in Conference DOA as Jim Calhoun (3) releasing a stand-up comedy DVD. But know this: Calipari isn't waiting for a loss to try to sharpen his team's focus.

"We're starting a new season today," Calipari said Monday, adding that he'll mentally dispose of all the accomplishments to this point: the unbeaten record, the long winning streak, the home winning streak, the time spent at No. 1. "It's inconsequential. Let's not have it hanging over us."

So Memphis is going back to an early-season practice regimen: They'll go longer, reintroduce some preseason drills and put an emphasis on even more aggressive defense. Whether that's enough to insulate his team from the big-picture pressure of a perfect record remains to be seen.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
Rob Tringalli for ESPN.comCan Memphis sustain its unbeaten run, or will the Tigers' quest for perfection go the way of the Patriots come championship time?
But New England resembled a team that eventually wore down carrying that "-0" through the year. And if you ask the Patriots today whether they'd trade a loss then for a title now, you know what the answer would be.

Championship six pack


Just as the early primaries have weed-whacked the 2008 presidential candidate list to a manageable size, conference play has reduced the list of legitimate title contenders to half a dozen. So long, Rudy Giuliani, adios John Edwards, see ya later Michigan State (4).

The Minutes takes a look at the dandy half-dozen with a chance to win it all, plus four live long shots:

Memphis -- What's to love: A defense holding opponents to 40.6 percent shooting from 2-point range and 28.8 percent shooting from 3-point range. Plus, the Tigers have two guys -- Chris Douglas-Roberts (5) and Derrick Rose (6) -- who can take over a close game when everything is on the line. They also have a coach with Final Four experience, and every champion this century has been coached by a guy who had been there before.

Nagging concerns: The Tigers missed 20 free throws against UTEP on Saturday, turning a double-digit victory into an unexpected home stress test. If they win it all, they'll have to outperform their 58.1 percent season average from the line. You also have to question the seasoning. Calipari says his team has played the nation's best nonconference schedule "and it's not even close." RPI begs to differ, rating Memphis' nonleague run to date the 13th toughest in the land. Will the rip-and-run Tigers be battle-hardened enough to handle a half-court grinder in a regional final?

Duke (7) -- What's to love: All that perimeter skill and defensive pressure. In quintessential Mike Krzyzewski (8) fashion, the Blue Devils are spreading and shredding opponents with penetration, passing and shooting. They win the turnover ratio almost every night, too, jumping passing lanes and frustrating ballhandlers. Plus, Krzyzewski is another coach who has been there before -- more than anyone else currently coaching, in fact.

Nagging concerns: Duke's field goal percentage differential of plus 6.1 percent over its opponents would be the lowest of any NCAA champion in 11 years. Of specific concern is its interior defense. Someday (Wednesday?) someone (Tyler Hansbrough?) will do to the Devils what Pittsburgh wide-body DeJuan Blair (9) did back in December. Namely, eat them alive and pick his teeth with the bones of Duke's undersized frontcourt. Blair had 15 points and 20 rebounds, and it could have been a 20-20 if he hadn't shot 7-for-15 at the foul line.

North Carolina (10) -- What's to love: The Tar Heels are 11-0 in road/neutral games, which means they not only left home but lived to tell about it. They eat glass on the offensive end (they're No. 1 nationally in offensive rebounding percentage, according to stat guru Ken Pomeroy). They get to the free-throw line -- and make them (76.1 percent). They can hurt an opponent inside and out. They have a guy capable of willing his team through close games in Hansbrough. And Ol' Roy knows the dadgum way.

Nagging concerns: Like Duke, Carolina is only plus-6.1 percent in field goal differential, owing mostly to laissez-faire defense. Now you must add Ty Lawson's sprained ankle to Bobby Frasor's blown knee for a potential crisis at point guard. Lawson's game is predicated on speed and quickness, and if he's limping around at less than 100 percent without an adequate backup, Carolina is in trouble.

UCLA (11) -- What's to love: Make that uppercase Love. Kevin Love (12). Some cynics speculated that Love's mega-recruit status coming out of high school was Great White Hope Hype, but he's legit. With a true post presence, the perimeter trio of Darren Collison, Josh Shipp and Russell Westbrook are much harder to defend. And on the other end, the Bruins help on defense as if their scholarship checks depend on it.

Nagging concerns: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute's sprained ankle (out a week) is the latest addition to an injury list that never seems to end under Ben Howland. If they're not healthy, they're beatable. The Bruins still struggle at times matching up with superathletic opponents, especially in the frontcourt.

Kansas (13) -- What's to love: Gloriously balanced Jayhawks are excellent at both ends of the court. They can score inside or outside. They will swat your shot and take your rock. They have as much experienced talent as anyone nationally.

Nagging concerns: This is the only member of the six pack whose coach doesn't have Final Four experience. With Bill Self (14), you have to figure it's only a matter of time before he gets there -- but his teams have found some ghastly ways to lose every March since he arrived in Lawrence. This team generally takes good shots -- but you wonder whether they'll stray from that in a tight game with the season on the line.

Georgetown (15) -- What's to love: The cavernous field goal percentage differential, for starters. The Hoyas shoot 50.3 percent from the field, while opponents shoot 35.2 percent. Shot preference always tilts in Georgetown's favor, largely because Roy Hibbert (16) gets good shots and helps keep opponents from getting the same. Playing the Hoyas is like driving behind an Amish buggy on a one-lane road: You're not dictating pace; they are.

Nagging concerns: Georgetown has been more lucky than good in several Big East games. It also has made only eight more free throws than its opponents and only attempted 21 more -- areas where most good teams have a pronounced advantage. There isn't lavish depth here, and you wonder how much they might miss Jeff Green's crunch-time creativity in tight games.

Teams that stop short of championship caliber but might not stop short of San Antonio:

[+] EnlargeJerome Dyson
AP Photo/Bill KostrounWill the absence of sophomore guard Jerome Dyson be a blessing or a burden for the Huskies as the season progresses?
Tennessee (17). Not on the big-boy list because of interior questions. They don't defend the post brilliantly and sometimes struggle to get points in the paint. Getting Duke Crews back up to speed will help in those areas.

Connecticut (18). The Huskies are really coming on, which is why they're mentioned at all. But unless suspended guard Jerome Dyson's absence turns into a Jeremy Shockey-esque addition by subtraction, their potential does not extend all the way to San Antonio.

Wisconsin (19). The Badgers have been remarkable replacing Alando Tucker and Kammron Taylor and look like the class of the Big Ten. But the Big Ten is nothing to hyperventilate about this season.

Xavier (20). The Musketeers have been good enough to blitz Indiana by 15, Kansas State by 26 and Dayton by 26. They've also been bad enough to lose to Temple by 19. But consider this: They should have beaten eventual national runner-up Ohio State in last year's tourney, and most of the key parts from that team are back.

If you're looking for a team with the potential to catch fire for three weeks and make a big tournament run, X marks the spot.

Louisville (21). Now that they've overcome early-season injuries, the hot Cardinals have the talent to get there. They also have the coaching and the commitment to defense. If they continue to run their occasionally balky offense through brainy center David Padgett instead of fractious point guard Edgar Sosa, they could make a major run. They still might shoot too many contested 3s to win four straight games, but don't count them out.

Hitting the wall or hitting their stride?


Here in the Year of the Freshman, it's time to check in and see which rookies are wearing down in conference play, which are holding steady and which are getting their second wind.

Michael Beasley (22), Kansas State. Holding steady. Beasley had his first two single-digit rebounding games of the season within the past five games. But he also was 4-for-4 from 3-point range in that huge upset of Kansas. Beasley might just be passing through the college game, but he seems to be buying into the experience this season and is legitimately driven to take the Wildcats somewhere they haven't been in years. Namely, the NCAA Tournament.

O.J. Mayo (23), USC. Coming on. Yes, Mayo backslid into gunner territory in the Trojans' loss to Arizona last week (on the season USC is 3-7 when Mayo attempts 17 or more shots in a game, 11-0 when he shoots six or fewer). But he's getting to the line more often and distributing the ball more consistently, too.

DeAndre Jordan (24), Texas A&M. Hitting the wall. Jordan has had eight straight single-digit rebound games and has scored in single digits in six of those games. Needs to diversify his offensive game, and that probably won't come until the offseason.

Austin Daye (25), Gonzaga. Coming on. After being shut out at Memphis, the slender and skilled Daye has averaged 18.7 points and 7.7 rebounds in the Zags' past three games. He badly needs to add strength, but Daye is a matchup nightmare who could see his star rise in March.

[+] EnlargeDonte Greene
Chris McGrath/Getty ImagesSuper frosh forward Donte Greene's impressive production hasn't slipped despite logging heavy minutes for the Orange.
Donte Greene (29), Syracuse. Holding steady. He has been productive and invaluable all season, and that hasn't diminished during Big East play. He's played at least 35 minutes in each of the past four Orange games.

Andrew Ogilvy (26), Vanderbilt. Hitting the wall. Scored 20 or more points nine times in the Commodores' first 16 games. Hasn't gotten there in their past six games, as he's shrank from contact in SEC games. He's also had more than six rebounds only once in league play.

E'Twaun Moore (27), Purdue. Coming on. Shot selection is improving (26-of-43 from the field the past four games). Not coincidentally, he scored a career-high 24 points at Illinois the last time out. The point guard is the most important Baby Boiler on the Big Ten's biggest surprise team.

J.J. Hickson (28), North Carolina State. Coming on. Four straight double-doubles for the big man on the block.

Mac Koshwal (30), DePaul. Coming on. The 6-foot-10 post man has stepped forward as a key offensive option for the Blue Demons, averaging better than 15 points and 8 rebounds per game the past five.

Kosta Koufos (31), Ohio State. Hitting the wall. The 7-footer had nine games of 16 or more points in the Buckeyes' first 14 outings. Since then he's had none, and he hasn't had double-figure rebounds in a month.

Matt Howard (32), Butler. Coming on. The 6-8 forward knows where his bread is buttered -- inside. He's made more than half his shots in each of the Bulldogs' past seven games and has scored in double figures in 12 straight, taking the pressure off the backcourt duo of Mike Green and A.J. Graves.

Color coding


For better or worse, coaches wearing school-color suit coats have become all the rage. The Minutes provides a fashion critique:

[+] EnlargeTom Penders
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesTom Penders: Ready for the red carpet with a red blazer.
Bob Huggins (33), yellow ensemble. The West Virginia coach's attempt to go gold against Cincinnati came off looking like a super-sized bottle of mustard. His players must have been traumatized, because they scored only 39 points. The suit should be in a Morgantown dumpster as of this writing.

Sidney Lowe (34), red blazer. The North Carolina State coach wore a bright red coat every day of the ACC tournament last March during the Wolfpack's surprising run. The magic has not carried over to this season with State struggling.

Tom Penders (35), red blazer. The coach of the Houston Cougars wore a red blazer and black turtleneck against Memphis last week. Combine that with Penders' '80s perm and you have a look that should be replaced with a throwback Guy Lewis polka-dot towel.

Roy Williams (36), sky-blue blazer. Thankfully, Roy has not broken out the matching pants. That would qualify as a leisure suit, missing only a white belt and white shoes.

Bruce Pearl (37), Day-Glo orange blazer. And, on occasion, orange suspenders. Horrifying.

Stealth performance of the week


Minutes kudos to Austin Peay senior guard Derek Wright (38), a career eight-points-per-game scorer who went insane in a triple-overtime loss to Southeast Missouri State on Jan. 29. Wright scored 43 points, making five 3-pointers and 16 free throws, and added seven steals. At 5-9 and 160 pounds, Wright hurled himself into the lane over and over and kept getting to the foul line. He has scored a total of 22 points in the Governors' two games since that explosion.

Buzzer beater


When hungry in Memphis (39), The Minutes recommends the old reliable Rendezvous (40) ribs. Fabulous dry rub, plus zesty sauce you can add if you want. There are plenty of other barbecue options in the mid-South, but you can never go wrong with a full slab here.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.