There’s a scene at the end of the original Karate Kid where the evil Sensei – Kreese – tells Johnny to “finish” Ralph Machio, while the equally evil and unsportsmanlike dojo partners are yelling “no mercy” in the background and laughing hysterically like the villains that they were cast to be. It’s an unsettling display.
My friend referenced this scene at the end of the Tigers-UCF game today as Tiger fans (some, not all, of them) booed Memphis for not trying to win by 22 instead of 20. It was an appropriate comparison – not because UCF turned the tables with a crane kick to win the trophy…and the girl…while inspirational music started in the background. That didn’t happen. The comparison works because the fan reaction today was unsportsmanlike, aggressive and weird. I guess that’s why they’re called “fans” – short for fanatic. More on that in a minute.
Memphis drummed UCF on Saturday at FedexForum by the score of 99-79, and it didn’t have to be that close. Memphis coach Josh Pastner treated the last 10 minutes like an open practice, getting guys minutes who might not otherwise play as much and resting Austin Nichols and Avery Woodson – both of whom were banged up.
The cast of characters we hear from after Tigers games continues to grow and change. As you may know, Positive Paul died after the Tulane loss a few weeks ago. We continue to hear periodically from Realistic Ralph, Philisophic Phil and Negative Nellie – depending on the circumstances. Tonight we meet a new Tiger fan character, Embarrassed Eddie. Eddie felt very uncomfortable today – and he wants an opportunity to talk.
First, let’s hear from Ralph:
- The Tigers out-rebounded UCF by 29. Now, UCF is about the 200th most efficient rebounding team in the country according to ESPN.com, so no reason to get too excited – but on the heels of a strong interior performance against Cincinnati it appears Memphis may be establishing, to some degree, its identity as a hard nosed, aggressive, rebounding outfit. Quite a change from the last few years.
- Caveat to the above statement is that against a more physical, disciplined SMU team Memphis was exposed on the interior – so Memphis fans shouldn’t get ahead of themselves because the Tigers blitzed a pretty bad UCF team. Still, it was nice to see Memphis impose its will on a 3rd straight conference opponent.
- Good sign for Memphis that Shaq Goodwin can at least still be counted on to show up every once in a while. He registered 16 pts / 10 rbs in 20 minutes of action. If he can deliver that kind of energy consistently, then Memphis really does have a dangerous front line combination (Goodwin, Calvin Godfrey, Austin Nichols, Trashon Burrell, Nick King).
- Trashon Burrell, whose good friend Kuran Iverson left the program this week, showed up in a big time way against UCF. There was some concern that Burrell might go into the tank in light of the recent turmoil, but he was all over the place today in 28 minutes – registering 11 pts, 12 rbs and 5 assists. He is a key piece of this team going forward.
- Other Tigers with impressive days included Pookie Powell (8 assists, 1 turnover) and Markel Crawford, (13 points, 5 rebounds). Woodson and Godfrey continued their strong play as well.
- Memphis has an opportunity to climb right back into the conference race and make a massive RPI jump on Wednesday at Tulsa. Tulsa is currently 5-0 in the American after winning at USF today and they’re ranked 37th in RPI.
- It was an odd – very odd – scene at the end of the game as many of the fans left booed loudly, apparently expressing displeasure at Pastner for not allowing his team to run up the score and try for 100 on the last possession.
- I can understand wanting to see the team break 100. I can understand wanting to see Tiger walk-on Jake McDowell get the opportunity to score. I might even agree with those sentiments. But I don’t understand booing your own coach and / or players for trying to show class and sportsmanship. It was really a very weird and uncomfortable thing to witness.
- There’s an argument to be made that maybe it shows less class to pull back and not score – and I suppose I understand that. But booing was still very odd and uncomfortable.
- It’s starting to look like maybe, just maybe, all the Tiger fans who were apoplectic a few weeks ago were a little premature in writing the season off. Heck, we even killed off Positive Paul after the Tulane loss. The Tigers have now won 3 in a row and have pushed their record to 11-6 (4-2). There’s a lot of basketball left to be played and Memphis is going to have ample opportunities to continue building momentum heading towards March. Or they may fall back to who we thought they were a few weeks ago. Time will tell.
- Of note: Stephen F. Austin has not lost since they beat Memphis. They have won 13 in a row and sit atop the the Southland Conference. The loss that really still stings Memphis at this point is the setback against Tulane in which Memphis led by 5 late. The Tigers are just a turnover or two away from being 5-1 in the AAC.