Memphis coach John Calipari scheduled tougher non-conference opponents this season to help offset a traditionally weak Conference USA schedule. A matchup with Siena may unintentionally fit into that plan.
Coming off consecutive wins over top 25 teams, the second-ranked Tigers look to remain undefeated and match the longest home winning streak in school history when they face the Saints on Thursday night.
Memphis (11-0) has rolled through a grueling non-conference schedule, beating then-No. 17 Arizona 76-63 on Saturday night after an 85-71 win over then-No. 5 Georgetown on Dec. 22 to give it three wins over ranked teams this season. The Tigers also have victories over then-No. 24 Southern California, Oklahoma, Connecticut and Cincinnati.
“We’ve been playing the best teams in the nation,” said Memphis guard Chris Douglas-Roberts, who leads the team with 17.4 points per game. “Any one of them we could see in the Final Four. To be able to beat them, we feel like we can beat anyone.”
The Tigers’ last two wins have been at home, where they have won 38 straight games to put them in a tie with Brigham Young for the longest active home winning streak in the nation. A win over the Saints (7-4) would match Memphis’ longest home winning streak, set from the end of the 1983-84 season through the first month of 1986-87.
The Tigers also host Pepperdine on Saturday before opening their conference schedule against East Carolina next Wednesday. But Calipari has gotten what he wanted out of a grueling early season schedule: experience against strong teams that should serve Memphis well come tournament time.
“I love it,” Tigers forward Shawn Taggart said. “Look at who we’ve beat. We still have some really tough games ahead. But to be where we are right now, it’s hard not to be happy.”
Memphis is winning by an average of 19.7 points at home. Now, the Tigers will host a Saints team that is facing its highest-ranked opponent in the regular season since moving to Division I in 1976-77.
“We’re not going to back down from anybody, but we have total and complete respect for Memphis—not only this year, but the job John has done since he went there,” Siena coach Fran McCaffery said. “With all due respect to North Carolina, they are the best team I’ve watched all season.”
Siena may not be a pushover, however. The Saints have already beaten a ranked team with a 79-67 win over then-No. 20 Stanford on Nov. 17, and their last three losses have been by only a combined 20 points—all to winning teams.
The Saints were impressive on Monday, beating Dartmouth 89-54 for their largest margin of victory since a 94-54 win over Rider on Feb. 1, 2001.
Tay Fisher made his second start of the season, and finished with a career-high 23 points while adding four steals, four rebounds and three assists. Fisher went 6-for-11 from beyond the arc, and has made a team-best 48.0 percent (24-for-50) of his 3-pointers on the season.
Second-year swingman Edwin Ubiles leads the Saints, averaging 17.1 points per game while shooting 54.5 percent from the field. He was held to 13 points Monday after averaging 21.7 in his previous three contests.
Forward Alex Franklin, third on the Saints with 15.4 points a contest, is expected to miss his third straight game with a sore back. Freshman Ryan Rossiter started for Franklin on Monday, and had a career-high 10 rebounds.
Siena won its only matchup with Memphis 72-59 on Jan. 21, 1953.
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