Memphis Chasing History?

Posted by rtmsf on April 7th, 2008

If you’ve read this blog before, you know that we have an affinity for historical context when it comes to college basketball.  We like to think about how teams and players match up statistically in the NCAA Tournament given the parameters of greatness already set by precedent.  For example, much has been already written about this year’s F4 perhaps being the strongest of all-time, illustrated by the combined 143-9 record coming into last weekend and the four #1 seeds.  We love that stuff. 

To that end, we could be on the verge of another historic college basketball event the likes of which we haven’t seen for a generation.  Memphis currently sits at 38-1, which already gives the Tigers the record for most wins in a season, but if they win their 39th tonight versus Kansas they’ll be able to make a claim of greatness that only one team has been able to make since the UCLA run ended in 1975 – with a victory, they will become the first one-loss team in the post-UCLA era to win a championship.  Only the 1976 Indiana team (32-0) would surpass the final record that Memphis is contemplating tonight.

Memphis players Joey Dorsey (32), Andre Allen (15) and Kareen Cooper (42) celebrate with teammates during the closing minutes of a victory against Rice. The Tigers players live together in two adjacent houses and also work and eat with each other.  

Memphis Tigers – All Time Great Team?

Now, why does this matter?  We think it is important because a 39-1 record would squarely place 2007-08 Memphis into the argument of one of the greatest teams of the post-UCLA era.  This is especially true given the caliber of opponent that they have beaten in the last three rounds (#5 Michigan St., #2 Texas, #1 UCLA) and how they have beaten them.  A 50-20 halftime score against Michigan St.; a clamping down of Texas and DJ Augustin in their home state; and rendering the vaunted UCLA defense completely ineffective on Saturday.  Additionally, Memphis’ scoring margin of +18.6 this season would rank it #2 in the last ten years of champions (Duke 2001: +20.2), so this team is all kinds of legit in historical terms.     

It’s also interesting to consider that outside of the unbeaten 1976 Indiana team, no other team in the modern era has managed to win a title with less than 2 losses!  Here are the results for the group of teams with zero or one loss entering the Tourney.

1977 – San Francisco (29-1) – lost first round to UNLV
1979 – Indiana St. (33-0) – lost title game to Michigan St.
1988 – Temple (29-1) – lost regional finals to Duke
1990 – Lasalle (29-1) – lost second round to Clemson
1991 – UNLV (34-0) – lost semifinals to Duke
1996 – UMass (35-1) – lost semifinals to Kentucky
1997 – Kansas (32-1) – lost regional semifinals to Arizona
1999 – Duke (37-1) – lost title game to UConn
2004 – St. Joseph’s (27-1) – lost regional final to Oklahoma St.
2005 – Illinois (37-1) – lost title game to UNC
2008 – Memphis (38-1) – ???????

Without question, Indiana St., UNLV, UMass, Kansas, Duke and Illinois were on the verge of greatness had they won the national championship.  We think Memphis is on that same plane.  While it’s true that CUSA sucks and doesn’t provide much in the way of competition for the Tigers during the regular season, Memphis challenged itself this year with nine OOC games against NCAA Tournament teams, including UConn, Arizona, Gonzaga and Tennessee.  They certainly have the talent to be in the argument with many of those other one-loss teams, and their performance to date (despite all the naysayers, ourselves included) substantiates its inclusion among the pantheon of great teams should they pull it off tonight. 

rtmsf (3954 Posts)

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7 responses to “Memphis Chasing History?”

  1. HoyaSaxa says:

    “including UConn, Arizona, Gonzaga and Tennessee”

    Those are worth mentioning but not Georgetown, arguably their biggest Non-Conference win?

  2. rtmsf says:

    Good catch, HoyaSaxa. No offense intended on GTown’s omission. Just didn’t name them all.

  3. what? says:

    while their records don’t fit in with your completely statistical basis for the best teams of all time, you have to look at back-to-back national titles. go gators.

  4. YouRSoUncool says:

    Only loser-geeks make the kinds of comparisons you made above. For a site that thinks it’s hip, you’re pretty square. Real men don’t think “All-Time Greatest?” Ever. Live it, love it, but most of all, learn it.

  5. YouRSoUncool says:

    Who wastes time with “arguments” such as the ones you suggest above? Dork-meisters and the like. If readers wanted dorkmeister material, they’d go to ESPN.

  6. nvr1983 says:

    While I consider the Noah Gators to be a very good team, I have a hard time putting them up there with the all-time greats. I think they are more the result of having good players stay longer than others of their talent level would in an era where all the great players go to the NBA after a year in college if they go to college at all. That said I would give them the benefit of the doubt and put them in my top 10 teams of all-time just for winning back-to-back titles. We may write a post about this some time during the off-season.

  7. rtmsf says:

    Well, the record holds. Only 1976 Indiana has had 0 or 1 losses and won the title in the modern era. We would suggest that maybe Memphis should have lost that UAB game back in mid-February, but that still wouldn’t have improved their FTs last night.

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