Kansas Chalks Memphis’ Outline On Court

Yes, Memphis did blow this game. You can’t be up by 7 with two minutes left, have the opportunity to put the game out of reach by hitting free throws and missing four of the last five attempts, and you certainly can’t fuck up an obvious chance to foul and force Kansas to intentionally miss a free throw. That said, it means nothing if Kansas isn’t good enough to take advantage of the errata, the wear and tear on a six-man Memphis rotation, and the absence of Joey Dorsey late due to fouling out. And let’s not forget: Chris Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose are two of the team’s better charity stripe guys, hitting at 70 percent or better.

Mario Chalmers’ shot was absolutely incredible. He had a hand in his face and was on the move, and then helped contribute to a dismantling of the Tigers, who appeared as if Chalmers’ 3-point bucket to send it to overtime had inspired spontaneous bowel movements on the entire team (and given Derrick Rose’s diet, that image would have been an utter mess.) The Tigers looked like a dominant, championship team for 38 minutes — but you have to play 40. When you go against a team as deep as Kansas on the bench, it’s hard to compete and follow through, never mind finish, when you’re so dependent upon the starting five.

Chris Douglas-Roberts joined Darius Washington and Dorsey as the latest Tiger whose free throw woes cost his team the game, and while it’s fun to mock coach John Calipari about free throws not mattering, anyone can crack in that situation — especially when exhausted. The final two minutes with the turnovers caused by Chalmers, Rush, and Sherron Collins, along with Kansas’ depth, has Bill Self not only getting the Final Four monkey off his back, but the national championship to add to his resume (whether he uses it to pry more money out of Lawrence for an extension or takes T. Boone Pickens’ oil cash back to his alma mater in Stillwater.)

Let’s not make the errors of, say, Bill Plaschke or Stewart Mandel, and say Memphis chose flash over basic basketball, because outside of the free throws, that’s kind of inaccurate. This whole ideal of purist versus modern reeks of hoops Luddite-ism at its worst, as both the running style and half-court have merit — and, as SI’s recent article on Dribble-Drive Motion proved, there is a method behind the Memphis O’s madness. 38 minutes of basketball will show you that’s not true. Teams will break down when pushed, and it’s proof of how deep Kansas was with blue-chip athletes like Rush and Chalmers, as well as Darrell Arthur and Sasha Kaun, that they broke down the tough defense and incredible offensive work that Memphis had performed throughout the tournament.

Kansas had its trial by fire when it had to match up with Davidson and keep Stephen Curry from lighting them up. The Jayhawks got out to a massive lead against North Carolina only to fend off a comeback that cut a 20+ point lead to four. This team rolls nine deep and had to use everyone who could get double digits to do so. Kansas beat Memphis because they were able to wear their athletes down, and the Tigers didn’t have the bodies to compensate — thus, Memphis got tired when it mattered most.

Photo: AP/Eric Gay

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Like A Tiger, Defying The Laws Of Gravity

I’m burnin’ through the sky yeah
Two hundred degrees
That’s why they call me Mister Fahrenheit
I’m trav’ling at the speed of light
I wanna make a supersonic woman of you

– Queen, “Don’t Stop Me Now”

I’m more than conscious of the mantra that defense wins championships and KU’s dismantling of UNC early in the late Saturday game was a thing to behold. I was watching that game in a sports bar, and our jaws were dropping as the Jayhawks built margins of 20+ points, only to let the Tar Heels back in — but they eventually exposed the biggest weakness in Tyler Hasnbrough’s game: an inability to pass out of double teams effectively rather than try to bully his way in. Plus, the Jayhawks have enough depth to bear offensive struggles by some of their stronger players. I think Bill Self has exorcised his Final Four demon whether his team wins on Monday night or not — at least Kansas has dealt with the specter of Roy Williams’ departure by getting back at its old coach.

But the real impressive assault from Saturday night was the one Memphis performed on UCLA. Darren Collison gave up five inches and major wingspan to Derrick Rose as Russell Westbrook was assigned mostly to handle Chris Douglas-Roberts — this was a situation where basic man-to-man match-ups would be completely useless, as the two guards turned into absolute dynamos of fluid movement on the court — Rose’s gyrations, off-balance shots, and other ephemera to put the full arsenal of NBA-ready moves on display for anyone watching, along with CDR’s acrobatics, including the pictured facial of UCLA center Kevin Love, defined the game. As for Love: being frustrated by Robert Dozier and Joey Dorsey should make this perfectly clear for NBA scouts: his game is good, but he needs to spend another full season in Westwood hitting weights and pounding that post game into higher focus.

That said, what’s coming during tonight’s championship game, with another variety of offense vs. defense match-up? If Calipari and his recruits can break down UCLA’s vaunted defensive game, they can certainly do it to Kansas as well, particularly if both guards and Joey Dorsey can avoid early foul trouble. Kansas is a touch deeper than Memphis, and the interesting thing to see will be how much Self goes to Sasha Kaun off the bench to battle in the paint wiht Dorsey. Rose is this team’s own Mr. Farenheit. Memphis might as well be singing “Don’t Stop Me Now” at this juncture, but they’ll be trading it for another Queen standard in the sports world: “We Are the Champions.” This, despite Science Daily providing us with knowledge of a computer system that has predicted 30 of the last 36 Final Four teams — and it’s picking Kansas.

Hey, I always said these picks were ill-advised.

Photo: AP/Matt York

The Revised Ad Campaign

(Cue music, with various shots of players during practice.)

I don’t see myself as a coach. I am a leader who happens to coach losers in first weekend upsets. When my players go out into the workplace, they’re armed with not just a dependency on jump shots or the ability to flop on cue. I want you armed for life. I want you ready to know what failure is like, whether you fail in the NBA or need to come crawling back to me for a slot as an assistant on my bench because you had no notable skills in a 9 to 5 job. I want you to develop as a player, but not so much that you have enough talent not to be bent to my will. I want you to develop as a student, and I want you to develop as a human being, because no one in the Association will want your lack of skills. My life isn’t about winning meaningful games — not any more. That’s why my card is American Express.

Photo: AP/Susan Walsh

Ill-Advised 1st Round Tourney Predictions

We’ll just be going round by round here; expect a fresh post with 2nd round stuff on Saturday.

EAST REGIONAL

  • UNC beats Mount St. Mary’s — duh
  • Arkansas over Indiana — I don’t like the way the Hoosiers have basically limped in and expect them to be done quickly unless the refs want to see a UNC-IU matchup as much as CBS does.
  • Notre Dame whacks George Mason — No answer for Luke Harangody, it appears.
  • Winthrop over Wazzu – one Pac-10 team is going to bite it in the first round. This is as good as nay.
  • St. Joseph’s over Oklahoma — The Hawks are not exactly what they were a few years ago, but I don’t think OU is ready yet to do a second round.
  • Louisville tops Boise State — not really close at all.
  • Butler over South Alabama — in a squeaker, because the Bulldogs got screwed on the draw and have to play in Birmingham.
  • Tennessee beats American — 15 over 2 won’t happen here either.

MIDWEST REGIONAL

  • Kansas vs. Portland State – easy KU victory.
  • UNLV over Kent State – I rode hard on the Rebels last year and was proven right. I’ll do it again.
  • Clemson vs. Villanova – I think Oliver Purnell can get his squad to keep it together for a decent stretch unless they get in foul trouble. Nova needs all their shots to fall. Tigers.
  • Vanderbilt vs. Siena – Siena steals like crazy and Vandy has a turnover problem, so i’ve read. This is the trendy upset and I’ll be a lemming too.
  • USC vs. K-State – Mayo takes on Beasley, but it’s really about whether USC can keep Bill Walker and the rest of the Wildcats off the scoreboard. I say the odds of this are very good, and the Trojans move on.
  • Wisconsin vs. CSU-Fullerton – Sorry, Titans, it’s one and done for you in the most boring of fashions.
  • Gonzaga vs. Davidson – Davidson is a nice 10 over 7 here, and any team with Stephen Curry draining shots is a good upset pick. Watching Gonzaga lose to San Diego in the WCC final only makes this easier.
  • Georgetown vs. UMBC – Just a question of how much G’Town wins by.

SOUTH REGIONAL

  • Memphis vs. Texas-Arlington – Yawn. Memphis will lose by the Sweet 16, but not this early.
  • Mississippi State vs. Oregon – Ernie Kent ekes out one more tourney win with Malik Hairston and keeps the rabid Duck base off his back for maybe one more year.
  • Michigan State vs. Temple – Drew Neitzel’s career gets one more game after this.
  • Pitt vs. Oral Roberts – A question of how badly the Panthers beat the televangelist’s university.
  • Marquette vs. Kentucky – I don’t even think Kentucky should be in the tournament. It’ll be close, but I think the Golden Eagles will be able to send the Wildcats home.
  • Stanford vs. Cornell – If they matched up SAT scores, Cornell has a chance — but not dealing with the 7-foot Lopez twins.
  • Miami vs. Saint Mary’s – Another 10-7 upset right here. The Gaels will bust the Canes.
  • Texas vs. Austin Peay – double yawn. Horns hook ’em easy.

WEST REGIONAL

  • UCLA vs. Mississippi Valley State — this is just mean. Bruins win.
  • BYU vs. Texas A&M — the half-decent Aggie team will show up for this one.
  • Drake vs. Western Kentucky — the secretly awesome game of the first round. Rooting fro Drake to pull it out.
  • UConn vs. San Diego — every time I think the Toreros can’t win a game, they pull a win out of their asses. I know it’s been against WCC competition, but that’s still something to take into account, and fluke wins happen a lot (I don’t have the winner of this game going to the 16 anyway.)
  • Purdue vs. Baylor — Baylor shouldn’t be here either, and Purdue will prove it.
  • Xavier vs. Georgia — it’s been a nice run and Dennis Fulton has saved his job, but Xavier will make it stop here.
  • West Virginia vs. Arizona — I must be one of the few people that thinks WVU is going to do well in this tourney and sneak up on teams. When they shoot well, they are not easy to stop. Arizona has Bayless and Budinger, but there have been plenty of games where they’ve looked awfully listless — and don’t think it doesn’t make a difference to have Kevin O’Neill instead of Lute Olson behind the bench.
  • Duke vs. Belmont – The Blue Devils aren’t going to meet up with UCLA later on, but they’ll survive one round.

Ill-Advised Early NCAA Tournament Prediction

I think you can tell by the photo who I’ve picked to win it all in my brackets. I don’t do a lot of variation in them in order to win different ones; I just pick one system and ride it in every one I enter.

My Final Four at this point is essentially UCLA, Tennessee, Kansas, and Stanford, with UCLA and Tennessee meeting in the title game.  Memphis doesn’t shoot free throws well enough to make it out of the South, and Rick Barnes has coached enough Texas teams and choked with them at every opportunity. This leaves an opening for the Cardinal — who are very, very good when their guards hit their shots.  UCLA has the easiest path to the Final Four (especially with a serious Pacific Time Zone advantage). Tennessee will get there by knocking off UNC, and if UCLA has an easy path, so does Kansas until the Jayhawks face the Georgetown Hoyas in my regional final in the Midwest.

I may make some shifts in the early rounds, particularly if I can figure out more about schools like Siena (I really don’t like either Clemson, Vanderbilt, or Villanova out of that grouping in the Midwest), but some of the basic stuff is pretty clear. There may be some round-by-round predictions coming before Thursday gets started.

Oh, and I’ll take Mount St. Mary’s in the play-in game today.