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.
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.