A game that would have pitted mentor against former assistant has lost some of its luster for John Calipari and Memphis, who will play a Drexel team without its suspended coach James “Bruiser” Flint.
Flint served as an assistant under Calipari for seven seasons at Massachusetts from 1989-96, helping the Minutemen reach the 1996 Final Four and succeeding Calipari after he left to become coach of the New Jersey Nets. Flint guided UMass to NCAA tournament appearances his first two seasons, but resigned in 2001 before landing at Drexel (2-5), where he is 120-99 in seven-plus seasons.
But Flint will not be on the sidelines for this game. On Monday, the Colonial Athletic Association suspended the coach for this game for violating its sportsmanship standards. He was ejected after getting two technicals in Saturday’s 81-75 defeat at Bucknell, and will miss a chance to coach against Calipari for the first time.
With that potential distraction gone, Calipari will further focus on solving his team’s inconsistency. The Tigers, who reached the NCAA tournament title game last season, lost 72-65 to No. 11 Syracuse on Saturday for their third defeat in the last five games.
Poor shooting and sloppy play have plagued Memphis recently. It has shot 34.2 percent its last three games, including a woeful 20.8 percent (15-for-72) from 3-point range. The Tigers also matched a season high with 20 turnovers Saturday and have averaged 17.3 in their last three games.
Memphis missed 17 of its first 18 3-point attempts and finished 7-for-33 from beyond the arc. Freshman guard and leading scorer Tyreke Evans has paralleled the Tigers’ struggles, going 12-for-42 the last three games and went 0-for-5 from 3-point range against Syracuse.
Evans finished with a season-low five points, ending a streak of eight straight games in double figures, and dropping his team-leading average to 14.9 points.
The struggles have left Calipari struggling for answers. After Saturday’s loss, the Memphis coach said his team seemed “a little shook, and they shouldn’t be,” and he also referenced the 2006-07 team that started 8-3 but went on a 25-game winning streak that ended in an Elite Eight loss to top-ranked Ohio State.
“I am just trying to figure out what are we, what kind of team do we need to be and how do we need to play to win,” he said. “I have not figured that out yet, obviously. But we’ve been here before. … The difference was, guys never pointed fingers. They got hungry and they went back to work, and they went and played.”
Calipari said sophomore guard Roburt Sallie will get more playing time. He has averaged only 10.5 minutes and 4.8 points, but may be the team’s best 3-point shooter, having made 11 of 26 (42.3 percent).
Saturday’s loss was Drexel’s fourth straight as it began a six-game road trip. Senior Scott Rodgers and sophomore Gerald Colds combined for 45 of those 75 points, with Rodgers scoring a season-high 24.
The two guards are the team’s top scorers with Rodgers averaging 14.6 points and Colds contributing 11.3 per game.
The Dragons have gone 1-8 over ranked opponents in the past 11 seasons, with its only win coming over then-No. 23 Syracuse 84-79 on Dec. 19, 2006.
Drexel won the only meeting between the teams, a first-round 75-63 upset as a No. 12 seed in the 1996 NCAA tournament.