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January 12, 2009
Monday tip: Is C-USA finally up for grabs?
John Calipari and his Memphis Tigers have previously dominated the competition in Conference USA. On their way to the NCAA title game last year, Memphis' conference foes didn't exactly prepare them for the rigors of March.
Obviously, it didn't matter.
This season, Memphis doesn't seem to be as dominant as it has been in years past. Additionally, teams in C-USA seem to have made concerted efforts to close the gap between the front-running Tigers.
That leads us to this week's Monday Tip question: Does Memphis have a reason to be worried that it won't win Conference USA?
JASON KING: Yes.
Will Memphis win the Conference USA championship? Probably. Is there a chance the Tigers won't? Absolutely. As league play hits full swing, all we know about John Calipari's team is that it has played three quality opponents - and lost each time. Granted, Syracuse, Xavier and Georgetown are much better than the foes Memphis will face in conference play, but that doesn't mean the Tigers aren't capable of dropping some games over the next few months.
UTEP will probably provide the stiffest test. Led by all-time leading scorer Stefon Jackson - who dropped 44 points on Santa Clara - the Miners also nearly upset Wake Forest before losing by three. They're also the only team to defeat St. Mary's this season. There's no reason to think UTEP can't beat Memphis. Tulsa certainly won't be intimidated by the Tigers after nearly upsetting Illinois and BYU. The book is still out on Houston, which has amassed a 10-3 record against an extremely soft schedule.
The other issue is that Memphis simply may not be all that good this year. Yes, the Tigers have a solid starting lineup with battle-tested veterans such as Robert Dozier, Shawn Taggart and Antonio Anderson. But are any of those players dominant? Do any of them carry a "wow" factor that can intimidate opposing teams. Memphis had that with Derrick Rose, Joey Dorsey and Chris Douglas-Roberts. It doesn't anymore. Memphis, without any inkling of a doubt, is still the best team in Conference USA. But the gap isn't as big anymore. Winning the league this year will require a little more work.
MIKE HUGUENIN: No.
Conference USA is better, top to bottom, than it has been since Marquette and others left for the Big East and the Atlantic 10 a few seasons ago. Still, no one in the league is good enough to dislodge Memphis from the top spot.
John Calipari has better talent and a better home-court edge than anyone in the league. There's not a starting five as good as Memphis' in the conference. And the Tigers certainly have more depth than anybody else in the league.
What the Tigers do have to worry about this season is actually losing a conference game; they have gone through the past two seasons unscathed, but that's not going to happen this season.
And, frankly, that's good. It should all pay off for the league on Selection Sunday, when Memphis won't be the only league team headed to the NCAA tournament. While Memphis is better than anybody else in the league, the battle for second and third – not to mention fourth and fifth – place will be intense. It also will mean something for the first time in a while.
Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.