Team of the 2000s: #8 – Memphis

Posted by jstevrtc on August 11th, 2009


Ed. Note: check the category team of the 2000s for our other entries in this feature.

We already know that this selection is going to cause some consternation among teams that weren’t selected as high.  It’s ok.  We get it.  The selection process ultimately comes down to a matter of taste, and Memphis blended with our palates a little better than the others.  If you disagree, let us know…

#8 – Memphis


Overview. In the period from 2000-2009, few college basketball programs “felt” bigger than Memphis.  John Calipari showed up to run the show in 2000 and everyone knew what was to come — big-time recruits, lots of one-and-done types, scads more wins, deeper advancement in the NCAA.  Also on the way, whether justified or not, was that dirty feeling that comes with knowing that your program is being led by a fellow on whom you always feel you — or maybe a private detective you’ve hired — need to keep a close eye.  In terms of the on-the-floor expectations, Calipari delivered exactly what was expected of him; after a couple of warm-up years things improved and then really took off in the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons when Memphis and their collection of ridiculous interchangable-part type athletes rode Calipari’s Dribble-Drive Offense to consecutive regular-season 30-3 records and Elite Eight apperances.  As a basketball power, Memphis was taken more seriously than it ever had been and it looked like Calipari was building a Leviathan.  The 2007-08 squad validated this by putting up such impressive numbers as achieving the school’s second-ever #1 ranking, a 38-win season (jeez), and its first Final Four since the days of Keith Lee and Dana Kirk back in 1985.  Then, in the championship game…well, in case you didn’t see it….about two minutes to go, up by nine, they….um….well, just check this out.  Even with this, even if you didn’t agree with all of their methods, the Memphis program had still reached elite status in the college hoops world.

calipari coaching memphis

Pinnacle. No question, things were sweetest in Tigerland when they posted that 37th win and made it to that 2008 Final Four.  That particular Memphis team, with Chris Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose and a litany of other high-flying gazelles — you remember the likes of Joey Dorsey, Antonio Anderson, Robert Dozier, I’m sure — was so athletic that you forgot about any possibility of, er, shadiness.  For the most part, you just enjoyed the show.  A case could definitely be made for a co-pinnacle for this program mere days later when they were, as noted above, up by nine in the final with only a couple minutes left between them and the true goal inherent in any lofty expectations — a title.

Tailspin. The 63-63 tie that resulted from Mario’s Miracle.  When Mario Chalmers hit that jumper, things were never the same therafter.  You could feel it coming.  Kansas was on fire in that stretch and Memphis couldn’t hit a free throw, but it was that shot, that boot to the forehead, that has started the Tiger program on its tailspin.  The next season (2008-09) was a disappointment by comparison, ending with an upset loss to Missouri in the Sweet 16 even though Memphis was again a popular and sexy pick for the Final Four.  Then came the departure of John Calipari to Kentucky and the NCAA allegations of Derrick Rose’s test-taking naughtiness.

Outlook for 2010s:  Grade: C. While Calipari seems to be pretty much off the hook in this Rose business — and Derrick Rose as well, just because he moved on — in the near future the Memphis program could still possibly feel the NCAA’s bitch-slapping pimp hand, and that Pinnacle as described above could be erased from the history books altogether, meaning Memphis might have to pack up the Aerostar and vacate their ’08 Final Four and all 38 of those victories like they never happened.  Enter former Arizona (and single-season at Memphis) assistant Josh Pastner.  Already known among coaching insiders as a hell of a recruiter, he knows what it takes to win; he was a walk-on on Arizona’s 1997 championship team.  It’s not like he’s going to let the post-Calipari roster totally collapse, and he’ll most certainly bring in his own high-level studs.  The question is, given the recent achievements of this program, how much time will he be allowed?  It’s difficult to speculate as far as an outlook for this program until the NCAA decides what they’re going to do to them, if anything.  The buzz around the program is more positive than you might expect, and that’s because of Pastner.  If he’s allowed the time to get over any penalties the NCAA might unload on the program, it will still be quite a while before they return to the level they achieved in the late 2000s.  But, in the end, I’ll bet that this program will do a little better than, say, to go the way of their former home — the now-empty Memphis Pyramid, previously the residence of the NCAA’s Tigers, NBA’s Grizzlies, numerous concerts and conference tournaments, and more recently (but no longer) the home of the biggest and most oddly-shaped Bass Pro Shops you’ve ever seen.

jstevrtc (547 Posts)

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11 responses to “Team of the 2000s: #8 – Memphis”

  1. TMNJ says:

    SHENANIGANS!!! No National titles + 1 final four +crappy conference = waaaaaaaaayyyy overrated. Although I think that everyone always overrated those Memphis teams, so I don’t think that you are the only one who is guilty of this crime.

  2. nvr1983 says:

    I think the stronger argument may be how weak Memphis was at the beginning of the decade becaue in the past 4 years they have been a top 5 program at the very least. Very few teams have put together a stretch during that time period that matches 1 Sweet 16, 2 Elite 8s, and 1 national runner-up.

  3. jstevrtc says:


    I’ll be honest, when each of the RTC writers did our individual rankings before this series was started, I had Memphis in the 9-13 range. I probably moved them 3 or 4 times before I turned in my official rankings to the others. I think this is because once you get to that 8th team, there’s little difference between them and, say, team #13. To be sure, there’s enough there in the numbers to put Memphis here in my opinion, but if you wanted to make that argument for a few other squads I probably wouldn’t disagree with you, depending on who you nominated. I agree with NVR that Memphis had a heck of a run there in the late part of the decade and, by the numbers, it’s tough to beat. I’ll be interested to hear what you think of the list when it’s complete in a week or so, and where you would have put everyone, including any teams that didn’t make it onto our list. Many thanks for the comment.

    John Stevens (who, like Rush The Court, is now on Facebook)

  4. Kiff says:

    Interesting pick. Initially, I’ll say that the guys at RTC always do a better job of looking objectively at the numbers over time than is usually seen in historical rankings (everyone typically gives a huge edge to the most recent event – see any voting results for Best Movies of All Time). I am an admitted Cuse fan, but I still think that the relative conference strengths give Cuse the edge here – and maybe even UMD over Memphis. Part of the issue is that they only made the Tourney 6/10 years – and missed the NIT in one of the other years. That has to be taken into account when calculating thir average NCAA Seed (e.g. give teams a “17 seed” for years they miss the tournament or something like that). Final point – I think a sub-.500 year should be an almost instant disqualification from the Top 10 Teams of the Decade list – like requiring a .500 record to get into a bowl game. I am interested to see the rest of the list – looking forward to the debate regarding who was “last out.” Nice work overall – love this analysis during the downtime while I wait for the NFL to start up again….

  5. rtmsf says:

    Kiff – needless to say, but as Nvr and JStev alluded to, the differences between 8-12 were statistically almost nil. You make a good argument for Syracuse and Maryland over Memphis, and believe me when I say it was very tough to rank all three of those teams (+ the two left out in that cohort). But I do have one disagreement, which is the sub-.500 rule. If you have 8-9 really good years with multiple F4s and possibly even championships, having one really poor year shouldn’t necessarily disqualify you from contention for team of the decade. I’m thinking back to the 90s, when Duke had two titles, two runner-ups and of course a slew of other great seasons, but they did have one losing year in 1995. No way that Duke wasn’t one of the top two teams of the 90s, though.

  6. Kiff says:

    Fair enough – I’ll grant you the sub-.500 argument. I clearly tried to make one last argument to round out my comment and failed miserably at making it at all compelling, ha ha. I also think (with a reminder from Wikipedia) that another good argument against my original statement is that Memphis’s losing season was under an interim coach, taking over for a coach who had a 2-year stint – all before Calipari.

  7. Gerne Blanston says:

    I don’t think Memphis fans have unrealistic expectations for Pastner. Barring a complete fall-off from relevance in the upcoming season (as in finishing 3rd or 4th in CUSA), Pastner should make the transition from assistant to head coach rather smoothly. Why? He’s been after this since childhood and to help prepare himself for this moment mentored with some great coaches along the way, most with different approaches to playing the game….the whole game.

    For now, he’s surrounded himself with people he knows and trusts and upon whom he’ll rely more heavily than Cal did with HIS assistants (Robic aside). We jokingly refer to Josh as the anti-Calipari, meaning a great big bundle of humility and positivity who talks TO people and not THROUGH them. I believe he could have the Tigers in the Sweet Sixteen conversation by late winter/early spring of the ’10/’11 season.

    In his brief time as head coach there, he has done a masterful job of keeping the program relevant on the national recruiting scene (the Bartons?!?), while at the same time rebuilding the program’s relationship with the city’s high school programs. In his efforts to make Memphis a national recruiting power, Calipari opted to let the local ties slide a bit. Can’t fault his sucess, obviously. I mean, if you study what Calipari previously had coming to Memphis this fall, there’s a greater understanding of why it was so difficult for Memphis fans to stomach his abrupt departure. The class he had coming to Memphis was better than the one he took to Kentucky.

    For that same reason, Josh won’t get beat up by the media or the fans (well, at least not by the fans; Memphis print media tries too hard to inject itself into the discussion). I say he won’t get beat up by their fans, because their expectations were greatly tempered by the jolt of Calipari’s leaving them. They know that with Wall, Cousins, Henry, Coleman and Dennis added to a pretty solid roster of returning players that they were going to be a preseason favorite with KU to win it all. Their fans were licking their chops for a rematch with the Jayhawks–their hopes were obviously dashed.

    Wishes aside, Pastner’s connections in Texas, out west and via his father’s AAU leadership should help Memphis remain a prominent national player, sooner rather than later. I foresee Josh having his Tigers once more annoying folks all over the country within twenty four months. I wouldn’t be too surprised to see a conference change for the Tigers within the next two years, too, something that could kill the “overrated” talk once and for all, should they keep it rolling.

  8. Doug says:

    No way Memphis is ahead of Syracuse & Maryland. You missed that one.

    *Weakass conference
    *No title
    *Missed tourney several times
    *sub .500 record 1 year

    Seriously. Put them in the Big East or ACC and they might not even be .500 for the decade.

  9. Truth says:

    Congrats Doug, you just won the dumbest college basketball post of the decade.

  10. MTigerBlue says:

    “Seriously. Put them in the Big East or ACC and they might not even be .500 for the decade.”

    Prior to their four-year run of Elite 8, Elite 8, NC runner-up, and Sweet 16 (probably only because Cal was already itching to go to Lexington and phoned it in against Missouri), they were in a power basketball conference and had one sub .500 year. I don’t really care whether they’re ahead in this poll or not, but the “put them in the Big East or ACC” argument is truly baseless.

    I believe that one of the points made against their inclusion was that they had no title. I’d assume, from that, that the poster thinks that NCAA tournament performance is important. You can’t have it both ways. Either their tournament performance indicated that they were a national power even when playing in a weak conference, or tournament performance (lacking a title) is irrelevant. Personally, I’d have to agree with the others — when you get past the top 5 or so, it’s hard to fairly rank the next 10.

  11. Gerne Blanston says:

    MTBlue, Cal didn’t just mail it in with the Missouri game; he FedEx’d it in. He absolutely, positively had to have that Kentrucky job.

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