You’re not supposed to look ahead to an opponent on your schedule.
Easy to say, much harder to do, when that opponent is ranked
No. 2 in the country and is undefeated, having beaten the likes of Oklahoma, Connecticut, Southern California, Cincinnati, Georgetown and Arizona — all before the year was new.
The 800-pound gorilla is finally out of the room and into the open for the Siena Saints, who will play at 9 tonight at Memphis’ 18,400-seat FedEx Forum.
The game will be televised live on Time Warner Ch. 3.
The young Saints (7-4) have already played Syracuse and
20th-ranked Stanford this season, so they’ve been exposed to big-time programs, but this game will raise the competition a notch or two.
That’s exactly the kind of game head coach Fran McCaffery wanted Siena to face before getting into the meat of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference schedule.
“I told my players that, when they came here, I was going to schedule the best teams, and we were going to go on the road, and we were going to play on television, and that’s why they come here,” he said. “So we’re not going to back down for anybody, but we have total and complete respect for not only Memphis this year, but the job that [head coach] John [Calipari] has done since he went there.”
In NCAA history, Calipari has the third-most victories for a coach in his first 15 seasons, with a record of 473-134 in eight seasons at the University of Massachusetts and seven at Memphis.
The Tigers have reached the Elite Eight the last two seasons, and Calipari went to the Final Four with a 35-2 UMass team in 1996.
His college stints bookended three seasons as a head coach of the New Jersey Nets.
This year’s Tigers (11-0) have one of the best players in the country, 6-foot-7 Chris Douglas-Roberts, and a freshman, Derrick Rose, who has been rated the best incoming point guard by many scoting publications.
“They could easily be No. 1,”
Siena senior guard Tay Fisher said. “We’re going to go out there, and we’re going to give them a battle. Regardless of whether we win or lose, we’re going to play hard. It doesn’t get any better than that going into conference play.
“Not many people get the opportunity to play against a top-ranked team such as Memphis, so we’re just going to make the best of it, do the best that we can and keep moving forward.”
“They’re the best team I’ve seen this year, with all due respect to North Carolina,” McCaffery said. “I think Memphis is the best team that I’ve seen, when you look at talent, style of play, coaching, and they’re particularly tough at home.
“I coached against them in the NIT in 2002. They won it that year, and pretty much from then on, it seems they’ve won 30 every year.”
McCaffery faced Memphis in 2002 when he was coaching at UNC-Greensboro.
The Tigers’ most impressive victory this season was an 85-71 win over then-No. 5 Georgetown on Dec. 22, when they held the Hoyas’ Roy Hibbert to six points, and since then, they have beaten No. 17
Arizona, 76-63, to extend their home winning streak to 38 games, second best in the country. The Wildcats were the third ranked team beaten by Memphis this season.
“We haven’t been thinking about it, but those are the type of teams that you see every day on TV,” Fisher said. “When you watch those teams on TV, you say to yourself, ‘Well, we’re going to be playing them one day.’
“But we haven’t been looking past teams, because we knew the day was going to come. And it’s coming right now. So all we’re
going to do, because we don’t have any school, we have nothing else,
we’re going to really focus and do our homework on them.”
“We just have to be mentally
focused the whole week, and come out and practice hard and get ready to go in there and beat a really good team,” freshman Clarence Jackson said.
Jackson and fellow freshman Ryan Rossiter could see a good deal of action against Memphis, with power forward Alex Franklin not expected to play as he continues to work through a back injury.
Rossiter and Fisher started in an easy win over Dartmouth on Monday, and McCaffery said he would keep the same starting lineup, which also includes guard Kenny Hasbrouck, point guard Ronald Moore and small forward Edwin Ubiles.
Ubiles has moved into the scoring lead for the Saints, at 17.1 points per game, followed by Hasbrouck (16.0).
“Obviously, Alexander Franklin was a big part of it [lineup shuffling],” McCaffery said. “We experimented in the Saint Joe’s game with Edwin at the four, and have been playing Tay Fisher and Clarence Jackson more minutes.
“I felt like Ryan Rossiter had
really established himself as our best rebounding post player and our best offensive threat in the post. And I think he’s going to continue to get better.”
Josh Duell of Scotia started against Holy Cross, but returned to the bench for the Dartmouth game, a role that McCaffery prefers for one of the more experienced players on the team.
At 24.2 minutes per game, Duell has by far the most playing time of anyone other than the big four of Hasbrouck, Franklin, Ubiles and Moore.
“He can make shots, he’s a seasoned veteran,” McCaffery said. “And I thought Cory Magee may be more comfortable in the role he had last year, which was an energy guy off the bench. He gets a chance to watch the game unfold at the start, and then come in and impact the game with his energy level.
“I think our team will flow better, and it will also enable me to get Clarence Jackson more minutes, which we need to do. He’s an explosive threat, and he gives you a longer athletic wing player who can get you some rebounds.”
This is the first meeting between the teams since Siena moved to
Division I in 1976-77, and Memphis will be the highest ranked opponent the Saints have ever played in the regular season.
Siena lost to top-ranked Maryland in the 2002 NCAA tournament.
Siena beat Memphis in 1953 at the Washington Avenue Armory as a Division III team.