The Memphis Tigers wanted to be the top-ranked team in the country so much that it surprised coach John Calipari. He believes they're ready to prove they deserve to stay there.
``These kids are on the Internet and watching more than we've ever watched in our lives,'' Calipari said in a conference call Tuesday. ``They know everything that people are saying and writing, and they see it all. I was surprised that they took this much pride. They really believe they deserve it.''
The Tigers are enjoying a piece of school history after moving to the No. 1 spot in The Associated Press' rankings Monday for only the second time in the program's history.
The last time the Tigers were ranked No. 1 was Jan. 10, 1983. Six hours later, they lost at Virginia Tech. The Tigers beat Cincinnati later that week, but the damage was done. They dropped to sixth the next week and took them more than 25 years to get back to No. 1.
These current Tigers hope to prove they're a little different.
They feel motivated after watching North Carolina lose last weekend, then watching analysts and TV announcers speculate that Kansas would jump Memphis for the top ranking.
``Those guys saw that. They were tuned into it,'' Calipari said.
The Tigers are only the fourth program from a non-Bowl Championship Series league to be ranked No. 1 and the first since UNLV in 1990-91. The other two were Saint Joseph's in 2003-04 and Massachusetts in 1994-95 and 1995-96 - when Calipari was the coach.
That makes Calipari the fifth coach in Division I to take two different schools to the top ranking. He joins Roy Williams (Kansas and North Carolina), Frank McGuire (St. John's, North Carolina and South Carolina), Ralph Miller (Wichita State and Oregon State) and Eddie Sutton (Arkansas and Kentucky).
``Yet being No. 1 is a responsibility they haven't faced yet,'' Calipari said. ``The one thing I do say is they won 25 straight last year, and it was the same team with a couple of additions. We'll see.''
This ranking also helps Conference USA. Memphis is only the second team from the conference ranked No. 1 since Cincinnati, which now calls the Big East home. Cincinnati was the preseason No. 1 for the 1996-97 season, a spot the Bearcats held for two weeks, and again for most of the 1999-2000 season with Kenyon Martin.
That team lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament without Martin, who broke his leg in a league tournament game in Memphis.
The Tigers are in a tough stretch that will test their 21-game winning streak in league play. They visit Tulsa (9-6, 1-2) on Wednesday night. Tulsa has won seven of its last nine.
Calipari said he knows the game is sold out and expects fans to be scalping tickets.
``All of a sudden, they're on the right track. We're walking in, and they're ecstatic about it,'' he said.
Memphis hosts Gonzaga on Saturday morning before hitting the road again to visit Houston on Jan. 30.
``We've got a tough road ahead of us,'' Calipari said.

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