Memphis Tigers (30-3) vs. North Texas Mean Green (23-10)
When: Friday, 12:15 p.m.
Where: New Orleans
Memo to all television announcers and sportswriters: Now that we're back around to tourney time, and the Memphis Tigers are a good bet for a high seed, it's highly likely at some point over the next month that you'll find yourself writing or talking about Memphis. You will be tempted to make all kinds of Elvis references, throwing around "thankyuhverramuch"es and "hound dawgs" like Pacman raining singles at the club. Don't do it. It's not funny, and you're not clever. Whatever you can possibly think of, it's been done before. Now, let's talk Tigers.
1. Perfecto. Memphis ran off a perfect 16-0 record in Conference USA play this year, which is not — despite what big-conference snobs would have you believe — as easy as skipping through daisies on a pleasant spring day. Going into the Conference USA tourney, the Tigers owned a 19-game winning streak-the nation's longest-and an amazing 29-game string of home wins. Over the last two years, only Florida has matched the Tigers' 58 victories.
2. Release The Hounds! How do you replace 40-plus points and 10-plus boards? Last year, Memphis rode Conference USA Player of the Year Rodney Carney, Darius Washington Jr., and Shawne Williams all the way to the Elite Eight. But Carney's in Philadelphia, Williams is in Indiana and Washington's in Greece. But Memphis coach John Calipari hasn't notched 20-plus wins in each of his seven seasons at Memphis by freaking out. He simply released the hounds, cutting loose a team that now ranks ninth in the nation in scoring offense (80.4 ppg) and averages almost an 18-point margin of victory. Guard Chris Douglas-Roberts and forward Joey Dorsey, both first-team All-Conference, rank among the C-USA leaders in points and boards, respectively, and are the Tigers to watch as the tourney unfolds.
3. Bring The Cash. Fun fact: Guess who's the richest former Tiger basketball player. Penny Hardaway, who amassed about $120 mil over the course of his now apparently over career? Not even close. Michael Wilson, the Tiger-turned-Globetrotter who set a world record when he dunked on a 12-foot rim? Getting colder. The answer is ... Bill Laurie. (Who?) Seems while he wasn't running point for the then-Memphis State Tigers of the early-'70s, Laurie was romancing a young coed named Nancy Walton. Nancy's pop Bud started a little family business — maybe you've heard of it, goes by the name "Wal-Mart." Laurie held on tight to his college sweetheart, and he now counts his wealth by the billion. Makes Memphis State's '73 NCAA championship loss to Bill Walton's UCLA team a bit easier to stomach, we'd think.
And with that, Jay Busbee has left the building.
(Dammit!) — Jay Busbee
NORTH TEXAS MEAN GREEN
1. Green Eagle. Although we all know UNT as the Mean Green, the school mascot is actually Scrappy the eagle. And Scrappy he is. In 1974 (back during Vietnam, when college students used to protest war in between bong hits), the school scrapped "Scrappy" because the flower children thought his name was too warlike. They renamed him "Eppy" the Eagle. That name stuck until December 2, 1995, at the UNT vs. Alabama Crimson Tide game, when the college announced that Eppy was Scrappy once again, no doubt pleasing many-a-confused fan who'd spent two decades wondering what the hell "Eppy" even meant. As for the "Mean Green" moniker, it's usually associated with 1969 UNT graduate "Mean" Joe Greene, but there is another story that links it to a couple of jokers starting a chant at a game back in the '60s. Understandably, most Mean Green fans prefer to stand by the Joe Greene story.
2. Cannon! North Texas loves its victory cannon. It's as much a part of the UNT family as Eppy, er, Scrappy the Eagle. They love that cannon so much, he even has a name! It's Boomer. Boomer the cannon. Boomer has been blowing his explosive wad to signal touchdowns since 1970. The original Boomer was retired in 1996 when the U.S. Field Artillery Association for Texas deemed him unsafe to fire, but the school promptly had him replaced. Which means that today's Boomer, a scale replica of a Civil War model, is actually Boomer II. The Son of Boomer. Boomer Strikes Back. The Wrath of Boomer. And so forth.
3. New To Hoops. Mean Joe reps UNT's respectable football program (they also have a decent soccer team, not that Leitch cares), but the Mean Green has never really been considered a national basketball powerhouse. This is UNT's first visit to the tourney since 1988, when they lost to second-seed North Carolina, which went on to the Elite Eight that year. The NBA standout to come out of their program is probably the mighty Lee Winfield and his 7.2 PPG through seven seasons with Seattle, Buffalo and Kansas City in the early 1970s. Things are looking up, though, with the Mean Green winning their first Sun Belt Conference title this season with a 23-10 record, the most wins by any UNT team. — Mike Bruno