During the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, life as a No. 1 seed is generally like the VIP package at a chi-chi day spa.
You get the pampered treatment: Play close to home, in front of as many fans as you can bring; play a suitably lame opening opponent; field questions about your seeming invincibility. Everything but a mud bath and cucumber slices for the eyelids.
This is not the case for the Memphis Tigers. They're getting the Motel Six treatment here in Big D(isrespect). Mud in the eye, not on the pores.
The first affront came from the selection committee. It sent the Tigers as close to home as possible in Dallas -- but it also sentenced them to share the building with No. 2 seed Texas and, perhaps more importantly, potential second-round opponent and neighboring rival Arkansas.
The Pig People could own more than 25 percent of the American Airline Center's 20,000 tickets Friday, and that could double by Sunday. And they will cheer vigorously against Mississippi River neighbor Memphis all weekend. The two teams played each other every year from 1991-2003, have battled for many of the same players over the years and have no love lost for one another.
Rarely, if ever, has the No. 1 seed ceded potential homecourt advantage to a No. 8 seed.
Then the committee added to the degree of difficulty by pairing Memphis with one of the toughest No. 16 seeds ever, Mid-Continent Conference champion Oral Roberts. Not only can the Golden Eagles play (46 wins over two years, RPI of 130), but they're also more local than Memphis. Tulsa is 3½ hours from Dallas, and four ORU players are from the Dallas area.
Rarely is the No. 16 seed this good -- and rarely is it more at home than the No. 1.
In part because of those two factors, there has been a notable lack of sucking up to the Tigers from the fourth estate. A number of national analysts have identified Memphis as not just the most vulnerable one seed in this tournament, but perhaps the most vulnerable one seed since the field expanded to 64 in 1985. Plenty of people (yours truly included) have picked Oral Roberts to slay the giant, and Memphis is definitely the least popular Final Four pick of the No. 1s.
"They are saying this is the upset because they are not the typical 16 seed," Tigers coach John Calipari said.
They're also wondering whether Memphis is too young (four starters are freshmen or sophomores), too unseasoned after rolling through Conference USA and perhaps too prone to quick-trigger offense to survive the NCAA grind. Starting with experienced and confident Oral Roberts.
Yet Calipari dismissed the notion that he might use this sacrilegious doubting of a No. 1 seed as motivational fuel with his team.
"If I have to do that to get my team to play," he said, "this thing is short-lived."
(Of course, Calipari refraining from pushing every motivational button at his disposal is about as believable as Billy Packer cheering for Wichita State Thursday. There's no way.)
From one source or another, the Memphis players have heard the chatter -- about the invading Hog fans, about Oral Roberts' prowess, about their own vulnerability. They know that Duke and Connecticut are being fawned upon, while the Tigers are not.
"It's been constant motivation, because throughout the season we've been doubted like that," splendid Tigers wing man Rodney Carney said. "It motivates us a lot."