• 43°

USM has its hands full with Memphis

By Staff
Jan. 18, 2002
Frantically fumbling through the files on a Friday while remembering what it was like to watch Jody Hurst run down a fly ball in the outfield …
A national television audience will tune in to ESPN at 8:05 tonight for several reasons.
Some will want to take a look at freshman sensation Dujuan Wagner, as he leads his University of Memphis Tigers into war against the homestanding Golden Eagles of the University of Southern Mississippi.
Some will be checking out the Tigers, to see if at 14-4 and 4-0 in Conference USA, perhaps Memphis is worthy of some national attention.
Some will just want to get a closer look at Memphis coach John Calipari and to see if he can take Memphis to the same level he had the University of Massachusetts back in the mid-1990s before he bolted for the NBA.
Few will be tuning in expecting to see USM pull off the upset and beat Memphis.
And despite the recent history that points to the Golden Eagles being a tough foe for the Tigers, the chances of USM winning are low. Very low.
In fact this game, which will be played at Reed Green Coliseum, is pretty much a college basketball intersection.
The Memphis program is on the way up, and at least temporarily the USM program is on the way down.
Southern Miss coach James Green has managed to get a lot out of very little talent over the past few years, but that only goes so far.
His work ethic and attention to detail helped guide the Golden Eagles to a 22-9 record last year and a tie for first for the regular season title in Conference USA with an 11-5 mark.
But this year the Golden Eagles are 6-8, and quite frankly, really haven't beaten anybody.
The most impressive wins for USM so far this season have come against the University of South Alabama and the University of Alabama-Birmingham. Both are respectable programs, but neither are Top 25 fixtures.
The other wins are against Jackson State, Alcorn State, Morris Brown and Millsaps, not exactly big boosts to your power ratings.
There have been some unexpected losses as well, including a 15-point setback against the University of The Pacific and a 24-point road loss to Arkansas State.
Green is 93-71 during his tenure at USM and has done a solid job of getting the most out of the Golden Eagles. But the problem with basketball at USM is that when it is good the Golden Eagles have to scratch and claw to get noticed and land a spot in the NCAA Tournament, and when it is bad well it is really bad.
Going into tonight's matchup between USM and Memphis, the Golden Eagles have lost five of six games, including a key home Conference USA setback to Tulane on Tuesday.
The Tigers have won eight of their last nine.
And the Tigers are young, very young.
Calipari has not just captured the attention of the Memphis area with his move into Elvisville two years ago, he has also made his mark on the South and on the nation.
The college basketball world made note that Memphis would be a force to reckon with in the Calipari regime when the Tigers landed Wagner who many tapped as the best prep player in the land last year.
The fans who choose to trek down to Hattiesburg for the game tonight will see too different styles.
One will be disciplined and hard-nosed and blue collar. The other will be wide-open, energetic and athletic.
Memphis, which made it to the NIT Final Four last year, will likely land a spot in the NCAAs this year, barring a total collapse.
USM, whether Green his coaching staff and his team wants to admit it or not, will be in the fight of its life just to finish better than .500.
After tonight's game with Memphis, USM has road games at Houston and TCU and a home game with Saint Louis to wrap up the month.
Then comes seven conference games in February, heading into the conference tournament March 6-9.
But, before you decide not to spend the few bucks it takes to get into tonight's game, or even bother to turn on the television, there are a few facts that should be noted.
USM has owned Memphis on the hardwood in recent years, especially in Hattiesburg.
While the Tigers beat the Golden Eagles 75-53 in Memphis earlier this year, USM had won seven of the last eight meetings going into that contest.
Since the 1989-90 season, Southern Miss has beaten Memphis seven times in nine tries at Reed Green.
So while the contrast in the ability and the direction of the two teams is obvious, the outcome may not be.
USM just seems to have Memphis' number.
But, for right now at least, Memphis has the talent and the program on the rise.