Memphis and Louisville Overrated Heading Into Tournament
by Robert Ferringo - 03/16/2009
Hey, I'm not here to knock either Louisville or Memphis. These were two teams that I had pegged as "Play Against" teams heading into this season because of all of the talent that they had lost from last year's clubs. And through the first month-plus of the season I was right on the money and had been banking against them.
However, then the switch got flipped somewhere around the time Santa Claus came to visit (did he bring them cohesion?) and despite being two of the most public, most highly rated, most dominating teams in their conferences and throughout the country this season these two schools combined for an absolutely amazing 43-23 record against the spread. Each won their regular season and conference tournament and they were rewarded with two of the top five seeds in the NCAA Tournament.
Right now both clubs are favorites to not only make the Final Four but to cut down the nets in Detroit. Louisville can be bought at anywhere from +450 to +850 and are the No. 3 bet on the board (behind North Carolina and Pittsburgh) to win the title. Memphis is a pretty solid No. 5 at anywhere from +800 to +1200.
Well, I'm still not buying into these teams.
Maybe I'm stubborn. Maybe I'm ridiculous. Maybe I'm a drunk, sex-crazed demon. I've been called all three things. But I'm still just a little hesitant to jump on board with these clubs and - gasp - I will not be surprised if at least one of the doesn't make it out of the opening weekend and if neither makes it to Detroit Rock City.
Everyone was throwing around praise for Louisville over the weekend for "dominating" the Big East this season. True, they slid into the regular season title when Connecticut lost to Pitt twice and then Pitt lost to Providence. And yeah, Louisville won the Big East Tournament and took all three games by double digits. Good for them. They're a very good basketball team and I would never say that they weren't.
However, the Cardinals didn't play Pittsburgh or Connecticut on the road. They actually got waxed by the Huskies at home and they were losing to Pitt when DeJuan Blair got in foul trouble. Further, Louisville didn't go to Marquette and they only beat the Golden Eagles - without Dominic James - by four points. It took overtime to beat Notre Dame at home (that was a game they were losing by double digits in the second half) and they got absolutely smoked when they went to South Bend.
Further, the Cards only played Villanova once during the regular season - a one-point win in which Villanova missed four chances for a bucket in the last 10 seconds - and they caught them after a grinder with Marquette in the conference tourney. Also, they beat Syracuse without Andy Rautins and just after Arinze Onuaku injured his knee during the regular season (and that was a game SU was winning with less than eight minutes to play) and then Louisville beat Syracuse in the Big East Tournament, but only after the Orange had been through the ringer in back-to-back-to-back nights. Oh yeah: and Syracuse was up eight at halftime before they completely ran out of gas.
Also, Louisville only played four nonconference games against teams in the Top 90. They were 2-2 against those teams (UAB, Minnesota, Kentucky, UNLV).
I know - that's a lot of excuses. But the fact of the matter is that it's not like Louisville has been out there rolling North Carolina, Connecticut, Michigan State, Oklahoma or other top teams. In fact, besides their cupcake Big East schedule the Cardinals lost to Western Kentucky, Minnesota and UNLV and their top nonconference win was over feeble Kentucky (by just three points at home). So let's ease up on Louisville as a national championship favorite. Essentially, I see them as the Tennessee Titans of the regular season this year: the stars aligned for them, they are solid but not spectacular in all facets of the game, and they had a regular season to be proud of. But neither is a true champion.
The same thing goes for Memphis. Right now the computers love Memphis. The selection committee loves Memphis. The commentators and bobbleheads love Memphis. But - and I know I'm alone here - I still don't love Memphis.
I know that I incorrectly predicted that the Tigers would finally lose a Conference USA game this year. Well, I was wrong. But I was only wrong because UAB underwent a massive attrition on their roster, Robert Vaden dropped the 0-for-17 and those ridiculous technical fouls in Alabama, and because the Tigers only had to play UTEP once. But that is neither here nor there.
What is important is that, as always, Memphis dominated a worthless conference and hasn't been tested. I mean, doesn't anyone else find it odd that there wasn't even another CUSA team on the bubble? There wasn't even another team in consideration for the NCAA Tournament. Hell, the Atlantic 10 (ranked as the No. 9 conference to CUSA's No. 8) and the Missouri Valley (No. 10) both had several bubble teams and actually received several at-large bids. The Mountain West (ranked just above CUSA at No. 7) actually got two teams in the field but had five (BYU, Utah, New Mexico, SDSU, UNLV) that warranted consideration.
So, once again, Memphis has beaten up on cupcakes. And I know that people want to point that that dominating performance over Gonzaga as proof that the Tigers are legit. Well, I'm not impressed. The Zags were screwed in that game because Memphis is a terrible matchup for them. Gonzaga is soft on the inside and the Tigers just keep attacking the rim. Bad matchup. Also, as good as Gonzaga is they still lost to Utah and Portland State and haven't made an Elite Eight in a decade, so let's not treat the Zags like they are Duke or UCLA.
However, other than that one win over Gonzaga the Tigers didn't do much to impress me in the nonconference. Besides Gonzaga, the next highest ranked nonconference team that Memphis beat was...wait for it…Seton Hall (No. 75). Memphis beat Seton Hall and Cincinnati on a neutral court and at home, respectively. Besides that they played just three teams ranked in the Top 70 - Xavier (No. 24), Georgetown (No. 26) and Syracuse (No. 15). Memphis lost all three games.
So, again, I am not trying to hate on these teams. Louisville and Memphis have made their backers a boatload of money this year at the window. They are very good teams and have had exceptional years. But as a handicapper I'm here to look a little deeper at performances and to sift through the noise of public perception. In this space I haven't even talked about how neither team shoots well from the free throw line (a killer in The Big Dance), or how neither of them has a legit go-to guard that can take over a game offensively. Those are factors as well.
I am going to say that I don't think these teams, collectively, have two of the top five chances of winning a national championship. I think both are overrated - which means that they could win some games but not cover the spread - and I think both are ripe for upset.
But then again, I've been wrong before…