MEN'S BB: Memphis to Gauge Sooners in NYC

Oklahoma has a nice, shiny unbeaten record, but against questionable competition. The level of that competition picks up considerably Thursday when the Sooners play No. 3 Memphis at famed Madison Square Garden in New York City.

San Francisco. Denver. Alcorn State.

That's a good way to get a 3-0 start to your season, which is exactly what the University of Oklahoma men's basketball team has done.

However, if you want to find out how good you are, you've got to step up your competition.

That's exactly what the Sooners do tonight.

Oklahoma puts its perfect record on the line at 8 p.m. when it tips off against No. 3 Memphis in the semifinals of the 2K College Hoops Classic at New York City's Madison Square Garden.

The winner will move on to Friday's championship to play the survivor of Gardner-Webb and Connecticut at 7:30 p.m. The losers will meet at 5:30 p.m. Friday. All four games will be televised on ESPN2.

Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel looks at the trip as an opportunity on several fronts.

"When you play against really good players and really good teams, that's where you have an accurate gauge of where you are," Capel said. "Plus, it's a great venue and it's on national TV. It's great for our program."

Despite slow starts, Oklahoma has had little trouble disposing of its early-season foes. But none of the three came close to putting the same kind of talent on the floor that eighth-year coach John Calipari has assembled at Memphis.

"They have so many weapons. They're long, athletic and they get after you defensively," Capel said. "We're going to be playing against a team of pros."

The most heralded Tiger is freshman point guard Derrick Rose, who Capel compared to a "more athletic Jason Kidd." Through two games, Rose averages 19.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists.

"He's a guy that's arguably the No. 1 player in the (NBA) draft next year," Capel assessed.

Chris Douglas-Roberts, a 6-foot-7 junior guard, averages 23.5 points and 8.5 boards. Six-foot-six-inch Antonio Anderson completes the Tigers' three-guard starting rotation with 7.5 points and 5.0 assists.

The Tigers also feature 6-foot-10 Shawn Taggart and 6-foot-9 Robert Dozier in the frontcourt.

Memphis has home wins over Tennessee-Martin (102-71) and Richmond (80-63).

The Sooners are decided underdogs, but aren't going in intimidated.

"It's basketball. They've got five, we've got five," said senior center Longar Longar. "We've just got to go out there and compete. We have to go out and play and not worry about who they are."

Added sophomore guard Tony Crocker: "I'm ready for the game. I'm excited and I think a lot of other people are."

The two teams met a year ago in the first round of the Maui Classic. Memphis pulled away in the second half for a 77-65 win. It was a game that saw the Sooners shoot 35.6 percent from the field and commit 21 turnovers.

Capel and his crew feel the Sooners are better equipped this time around.

"I do feel more comfortable (this year)," Capel said. "We're not going into it completely green. Last year we had so many inexperienced gusy and even the guys that were returning hadn't played big minutes in that type of game."

"I think this year we've got the depth and last year we didn't," Longar added. "I think we're more prepared."

Few people can prepare to play in the historic Madison Square Garden in such a showcase event.

"These types of games are different," Capel said. "It's a different level. Hopefully we can rely on our returning guys to help us out with that and hope our new guys won't be in awe of the environment. Every great player in the history of this game has, at some point or another, played in the Garden. It's kind of like the hallowed ground of basketball."

Don't expect the Sooners to see too many more landmarks in the city so nice they named it twice.

"It's a business trip," Longar said. "We're not going there to have fun. We've got to take care of business."

Capel's got some sight-seeing in mind, but he, too, is going with a goal. "We'll enjoy New York. We'll get to see it a little bit," he said. "But it is a business trip. We're going there to win and I think we're definitely capable of it.

"We'll have to have a special performance. Hopefully we have one in us, or two in us, at such an early time in the season. There's no bigger stage and hopefully that inspires us for two games up there to be special."

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