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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Should They Stay Or Should They Go?

Your basic evaluations as to which high profile freshmen should be declaring for the Association or should decide to stick around for another season in the college ranks.

Derrick Rose, Memphis – Guaranteed lottery pick, and depending upon the franchise that lands the first overall pick, could go #1 in the draft. Regardless of what happens against Kansas tonight, should punch his ticket to the Association.

Michael Beasley, Kansas State – If you are averaging 26 points and more than 10 boards a game in your freshman year in college in a conference like the Big 12, you are probably ready to go pro. Those are numbers beating Carmelo Anthony’s marks, and if Beasley had someone else to play with outside of Bill Walker the Wildcats might have gotten further.

Jerryd Bayless, Arizona – Already declared, might have wanted to stay another year. It may not be fair or right, but he reminds me a lot of a bit less polished version of Gilbert Arenas (and no, it isn’t necessarily because he wore “0” at Airzona too.)  He’ll probably turn out fine, but a year actually being coached by Lute Olson and a more open offensive system would have been better for him.

Eric Gordon, Indiana – I really don’t know if there was any other choice than for Gordon to leave.  There was too much instability and uncertainty about NCAA violations that Kelvin Sampson left with that Gordon might have been stuck with a school that could be punished severely. He was consistently good in conference, but faded when hitting the Big 10 and NCAA tourneys.

O.J. Mayo, USC – Started out his freshman year flat, got much better as Pac-10 conference play rolled on and grew into his role as leader.  Honestly, he needs to stay one more year and then he’ll be set to go. There are some shot creation situations he could use some more work on, at least from what I could see when I watched USC games this season.

Kevin Love, UCLA – After watching him just get boxed in by Memphis’ front-court tandem on Saturday, he needs to spend another year in Westwood lifting weights and focusing that post game further. The Tigers had players that are the caliber of guys Love will see in the Association — and he just looked kind of schlubby in comparison.

Photo: AP/Matt York

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

Rock Chalk Jayhawk (Bruin, Tiger, and Tar Heel Too)

Maybe having all #1 seeds play in the Final Four for the first time ever will ensure us some close, interesting games — because watching three of the four teams whoop up on their opponents in Elite Eight games isn’t the most scintillating viewing.

UCLA was expected to win the West easily — playing a series of what could have been considered home games in Anaheim — and took apart the #3 seed Xavier with the precision Ben Howland teams have become known for in Phoenix.  Double-doubles for Kevin Love and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute represented ownership of the post and the boards, and Darren Collison showed his development as a point guard and a scorer by putting up 19 and turning Drew Lavender into a non-factor. Also important: UCLA got Josh Duncan in foul trouble early and kept B.J. Raymond from getting hot — which offset the apparent loss of Josh Shipp’s mojo.

I didn’t watch UNC-Louisville; I wasn’t sure it would be a double digit win, but apparently I did not miss a ton here. If the Tar Heels are clicking on all cylinders, that’s scary.

Memphis just flustered Texas completely, with size and strength inside and guards Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts just being bigger than D.J. Augustin and Damion James. Apparently John Calipari has figured out how to get this team to shoot from the stripe in the tourney, and Derrick Rose has probably shot up to where it has become a discussion of who would go first in the NBA lottery should he choose to go — him or Michael Beasley, and it would be a total toss up. Rose plays like UCLA’s Collison and Russell Westbrook combined and grew a couple inches: on the defensive end, he sees passes coming and is already going down the other way as soon as you’ve made the pass.

Bill Self is a very lucky man. Very lucky that Sasha Kaun bashed in the paint and Stephen Curry had a hard time getting open off screens all day, only shooting 9-for-25.  The one glaring fault with Curry’s game is that he does not have the ball-handling skills to create his  own shot, without the assistance of at least a screen or two — and when Self decided to go to the box-and-one defense, he couldn’t get those screens.  Kansas survived off nights from both Sherron Collins and Brandon Rush, but they had better show up against UNC next weekend.  As for Davidson’s future: the Wildcats will be back next year, and they may be better if Curry does learn a better handle.

Photo: AP/Eric Gay

Ill-Advised Elite Eight Predictions

Eh, like I’m not already in the hole and my bracket’s busted for good. Oh well.

Xavier vs. UCLA — the Bruins squeak this one out by the barest of margins. Ben Howland’s team has been scaring its fans from the beginning of the tournament with either comebacks or having teams get to very close margins. Xavier is the first threat of a team; one that people could actually see knocking off the Bruins. It essentially comes down to how Josh Duncan will play Kevin Love. I’ll enjoy watching two good point guards square off, too.

Louisville vs. UNC — the Tar Heels roll too deep on the bench to lose, in my eyes. Louisville makes it close — very, very close, and if this game goes to OT I won’t be shocked at all — but UNC will be in the Final Four come next weekend.  Also: please make note of how many times Tyler Hansbrough and David Padgett are referred to as “gritty” or “gutty” or “hard-working.”

Texas vs. Memphis — I give Memphis credit; they’ve lasted one round longer than I expected, but after watching the Longhorns destroy Stanford I think the Tigers will somehow manage to fuck it up, either via bad free throw shooting or being forced out of their game.

Davidson vs. Kansas – I don’t see this upset happening. Kansas is way too talented on both ends of the floor to get knocked off by a #10 seed. But if Sunday night ends with watching the Wildcats celebrate a trip to the Final Four, I won’t be surprised. Eventually we’re going to get used to Stephen Curry being amazing. Bill Self needs to get over the no Final Four hump here, but I have to admit, I’d like to see if Davidson’s trustees will cough up the funds to send students to the Final Four like they sent students and lodged them in Detroit for these games.

Photo: AP/Pat Sullivan

Ill-Advised Sweet 16 Predictions

Just the usual quick and dirty here. My Final Four is still intact, but I can’t say that I think it will be after the next two days.

East Regional:

  • UNC over Wazzu — this’ll be a slog of a game, I think, because this is the best defensive team the Heels will see unless they play UCLA in the final. UNC has enough talent to get by the Cougars, but they won’t be scoring 100 this time.
  • Tennessee beats Louisville — the Cardinals are streaking right now and the Vols look vulnerable. My pick of Tennessee is pure sticking with my bracket; it could go either way.

West Regional:

  • UCLA tops Western Kentucky — Nice run, Hilltoppers, but UCLA gets calls and plays defense too well. The Bruins can overcome a bad start.
  • Xavier over West Virginia — Like L’Ville/Tenn, this is a bracket pick that I’m sticking with because I think this will be a close game and don’t really know how it will go. I think Xavier’s defense will be the defining factor.

Midwest Regional:

  • Kansas over Villanova — Jayhawks, although it will not be a walkover and Villanova will give them a very good game.
  • Wisconsin ends Davidson’s run — On a Sweet 16 bracket, I picked Davidson for fun, but really, Bo Ryan’s defense seems to smother all and I don’t see another upset for the Wildcats here.

South Regional:

  • Michigan State upsets Memphis — Watch. The Tigers will kill themselves with bad free throw shooting and being forced to take jumpers that don’t fall.
  • Stanford beats Texas — Guard play is a big thing in the NCAA tournament, but having the Lopez twins to get points and clean up the boards will be crucial in a close Stanford win.

Photo: AP/Ted S. Warren

So, We’ve Got 16 Left

What did I screw up? Plenty, but all my Final Four choices are still in.  Let’s look at the less than obvious choices. UNC was expected to be at this level and are playing lights-out ball right now.  That’s about as simple as it gets. Tennessee and Memphis are serious liabilities at the free throw line, UCLA scared the crap out of just about everyone who’d picked them to win it all.  Kansas made short work of its first two opponents.

I should know better after watching the Pac-10 all year to have dismissed Washington State so easily. That’s a bad oversight, because I forgot that they played lockdown defense. Do I think they will beat UNC? Probably not, but it’s more validation for Tony Bennett.

Michigan State looked really inconsistent all year and then reels off two solid games to get back to the 16 — beating a Pitt team that was a very popular choice to go to the Final Four in the East. Now they get Memphis, and this is the round where no one will be surprised if Memphis loses to any of hte teams left.

I knew nothing about Western Kentucky going into the tournament. I guess I better know now.  I don’t have the same excuse for Davidson — I knew Stephen Curry was good, but 70 points in two games good? That I wasn’t aware of.

Wisconsin is consistent. They play Bo Ryan’s style and do it well enough to get back to the 16 even though they were a popular upset target.

Xavier worries me, they’ve had to make comebacks, and they’re going against a West Virginia team that’s overachieving in ways no one expected this year (this is one of the only feathers in my cap that I get to claim, predicting that WVU would beat Duke in that exact game.)

Texas has great players, but they’re just as likely to shoot poorly at the line as Memphis and Tennessee — and they have to play Stanford, who shoots well from the line, has better inside presence. Rick Barnes better hope Trent Johnson gets pissed off for no reason again.

Villanova, I completely passed on, and forgot that Jay Wright had gotten Wildcat teams to the Sweet 16 twice, now three times in four years as head coach. Oh well. Beating Siena wasn’t the hardest road into the 16, but who expected Villanova to be here right now?

Photo: AP/Chuck Burton