C'mon, Coach, this game is big

By Brian Landman, Times Staff Writer
Published February 23, 2008

Memphis coach John Calipari quipped that folks holding a couple choice seats for tonight's game against Tennessee might do well to put them on eBay and perhaps pay off a year of their child's tuition.

"It's crazy what's happened. It's taken on a life of its own," he said.

But then the game between the No. 1-ranked Tigers 26-0 and No. 2 Tennessee (24-2) has become the biggest thing to hit Memphis, well, since Elvis was in the building.

"These 1-2 matchups are usually reserved for Tobacco Road or someplace in Indiana or Ohio," Volunteers coach Bruce Pearl said, "and the fact that it's in Tennessee is something all high school basketball players and high school coaches and different folks who love basketball in the state of Tennessee are certainly proud of."

Perhaps it's just coach-speak (from these two guys? Nah) but Calipari and Pearl are downplaying what this game means in the short term - the Tigers' last major hurdle to a perfect record entering the NCAA Tournament and Tennessee's bid to move to No. 1 in next week's poll for the first time in its history.

Both see this as a test for what might come during March Madness. Heck, Pearl said Tuesday's game at Vanderbilt is more important since the Volunteers are trying to win their first SEC regular-season title outright in 41 years. And Calipari insists he's most interested in the "big picture."

"How about if it were a neutral site in Nashville and they had half the tickets and we have half the tickets and it becomes the event of events and it takes the state of Tennessee college basketball and high school basketball (in the state) absolutely to another level?" he said. "It's not about my team. It's about what is great for the state of Tennessee basketball."

The nation's top two teams have been from the same state and met four other times. No. 2 has won each time.


Date Site No. 1 No. 2 Result

March 25, 1961* Kansas City, Mo. Ohio State Cincinnati UC 70-65

March 24, 1962* Louisville, Ky. Ohio State Cincinnati UC 71-59

Feb. 3, 1994 Chapel Hill, N.C. Duke UNC UNC 89-78

Feb. 5, 1998 Chapel Hill, N.C. Duke UNC UNC 97-83

Feb. 23, 2008 Memphis, Tenn. Memphis Tennessee ?

* National championship game

A time to heal

Northern Illinois coach Ricardo Patton has heard from countless people since the Feb. 14 shooting at his school that left five students dead and 16 others injured.

Among them, a coach who can empathize like few others: Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg, the former USF coach who endured a shooting tragedy on his campus last year.

"I called him that evening just to let him know we were thinking of him," said Greenberg, adding that hearing of the NIU shooting was a "pretty intense" flashback, including those frantic moments before he reached his daughter Paige, who was on campus.

"There's no manual to deal with this type of tragedy. ... I just told him the first thing is, 'Let your guys know it's all right to grieve.' Just because you're a male and an athlete doesn't mean you're not going to go through a wide range of emotions. That's healthy. It might hit them at different times, but they need to address it."

NIU cancelled or postponed 25 sporting events through Sunday, including a men's basketball game against Tennessee State that was part of the made-for-TV "Bracket Buster" event.

Not that Patton is fretting about losing a game from the schedule.

"For me, it just confirms what I've always believed and that's that our charge as coaches is greater than playing games," said Patton, who was the coach at Colorado when a rampage at Columbine High in 1999 left the sister of one of his players dead. "Our charge as coaches is to help mold and shape young people's lives and give them direction. For me the games are certainly secondary. It's more about going through a healing process that our student athletes need."

By the numbers

3 Consecutive games Arizona freshman G Jerryd Bayless had scored more than 30 points until he had a mere 22 in a loss Thursday at Washington

8, 16 Current AP rankings of Butler and Drake, who meet in a "Bracket Buster" game today

47 Memphis' home-court winning streak, tops in the nation


Brian Landman can be reached at landman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3347.