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SHANNON RYAN / ON COLLEGE BASKETBALL : BULL'S-EYE IS ON THEM : Kansas and Memphis, who play each other tonight, remain among nation's elite programs

November 17, 2009|SHANNON RYAN

The Kansas-Memphis matchup tonight in the Hall of Fame Showcase in St. Louis doesn't shape up to be the hold-your-breath-until-the-buzzer game that these teams played for the 2008 NCAA championship.

In that game, Chicago point guards stared each other down, with Kansas' Sherron Collins taking the trophy instead of Memphis' Derrick Rose.

While Rose is a star in his second season with the NBA's Chicago Bulls, Collins is still a college kid trying to claim his second championship in three seasons.

Rose's absence won't be the only difference this time around. The Tigers are full of unknown players and trying to rebuild after John Calipari left to coach Kentucky following nine seasons in Memphis, the last three of which he recorded perfect Conference USA records.

"Over the last four years, the success here at Memphis has been unmatched as those teams did things never done before in NCAA history," new Tigers Coach Josh Pastner said.

"Now everybody is thinking that this is the year to get Memphis. So we are the underdog, but we also have that bull's-eye on our back."

That bull's-eye is a tiny dot compared with the archery-sized one Kansas has embroidered on its jerseys. With all five starters back from a team that advanced to the Midwest Regional semifinals last season, the Jayhawks are widely considered the preseason favorite to win the national title.

"Playing Memphis will remind our fans of a special time for us and our program," Kansas Coach Bill Self said.

"Even though some of the pieces may have changed, Memphis is still an elite program."

For those who think Memphis may be slipping, it won't be for long. The Tigers recently signed shooting guard Will Barton, a top-five prospect in the nation.

They meet again

Before the Kansas-Memphis game, Louisville Coach Rick Pitino will face off against John Pelphrey, now the head coach at Arkansas. Pelphrey was a forward at Kentucky when Pitino was the head coach there.

"John is one of the brightest players I have ever coached," Pitino said. "I am very proud of his accomplishments as a player and certainly as a coach."

Pelphrey and Pitino helped restore Kentucky in the 1990s after the program was hit with probation. Pelphrey can apply some of the lessons he learned then.

Pelphrey suspended five players indefinitely, including three who reportedly were identified but not charged in a rape investigation.

Now he has just six scholarship players available to contend with Louisville.

"We understand exactly who we are and what we are up against," Pelphrey said.

Swish of the week

Rotnei Clarke. The Arkansas sophomore guard is certainly a featured part of Louisville's film study after he scored a school-record 51 points, made a Southeastern Conference-best 13 three-pointers and connected on 15 of 21 shots Friday against Alcorn State.

Brick of the week

Mississippi State. The Bulldogs fell out of the polls from their No. 18 preseason ranking after losing, 88-74, to Rider in the opener. And forward Kodi Augustus called out Coach Rick Stansbury after Augustus played only 15 minutes.

Game of the week

No. 15 Ohio State will skyrocket in the rankings if its skilled backcourt can dominate No. 6 North Carolina's impressive frontcourt when the teams meet Thursday as part of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at Madison Square Garden.

--

sryan@tribune.com

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