Memphis vs. UCLA
Josh Shipp and Russell Westbrook's size. Kevin Love's interior presence. These were supposed to be the antidotes for the size and length of Memphis' backcourt offensively and smothering perimeter personnel defensively. Well, scrap that. The UCLA Bruins would have had a better chance winning Saturday night if they ran onto the floor with kryptonite glowsticks in their mouths to the latest sounds of Klaus Schulze blaring over the PA. And unless Keith Lee or William Bedford were suiting up instead of the present day Tigers, it still wouldn't have mattered. Memphis is as good as my eyes told me they were last weekend, and maybe even better based on their sleepwalking 15 point win vs. UCLA.
In Thursday's preview, I brilliantly surmised that Memphis beat Texas because they were bigger. It's true, they are bigger. What I failed to mention and grab onto in my prediction, was Memphis beat Texas because they were mainly just better. And that's why they continue to destroy teams big or small, perimeter oriented or interior oriented, in the state of Texas or third world Arkansas. It doesn't matter who you line up in front of them, the Memphis juggernaut is for real, and may be the best college basketball team I've seen since the 1990 UNLV Running Rebels or Duke's back to back title teams, a declaration I'm sure could be hotly debated.
In case you missed the ball game, though, Memphis seemed to be able to spurt whenever they wanted to. Flip the switch for a 8-0 run. Need a basket to stop a run, attack-attack-skip-attack-attack of the DDM leads to an easy look for CDR, Rose, or Antonio Anderson. Oh, and this was a game that Memphis stud interior player Joey Dorsey was held scoreless and the frontcourt was just 6-17 overall. Just dominant backcourt play offensively.
On defense, the Tiger's length around the arc just suffocated another all-American level guard holding Darren Collison to 1-9 from the field and 5 turnovers, no doubt costing the NBA touted guard millions of dollars in draft position. There's no truth the rumor that Mario Chalmer's agent has asked the Jayhawk guard to fake a bout of ebola before Monday's tilt. And speaking of the Jayhawks...
UNC vs. Kansas
Wow! Has the University of North Carolina ever fought so hard for an 18 point loss in the final four? Because that contest had all the markings of a 30 point face-raping. Sorry Mr. Lapham. In the preview, I typed about the absolute necessity of slowing UNC's transition game down and making the Tarheels a halfcourt basketball team. Well, yes, the Jayhawks did a good job of transition defense, but most of its success slowing the Tarheel's break was simply a function of making shots on the offensive end. This was Louisville's fatal flaw in the regional final. Pitino stubbornly pressed the Heels after made buckets and allowed too many easy buckets off of makes not to mention runouts that occurred from bad misses. Credit Coach Self for limiting easy Carolina transition buckets, yet allowing his team to run when circumstances warranted. In turn, Kansas was able to enjoy the best of both worlds. When the game was played in a halfcourt setting, credit Russell Robinson with his play on Ty Lawson. The defensive specialist was able to get UNC's super guard out of his comfort zone which is drive and create opportunities in the paint. This allowed the Jayhawk helpside defense to focus its efforts more on collapsing to Hansbrough and running Carolina wing shooters off of jump shots. In football parlance "it all starts upfront", well Robinson's job on Law was like a football team winning the battle in the trenches.
Offensively, what can you say about Rush, Chalmers, and Collins? For the most part they took good shots and created good shots for teammates. It's no secret that UNC will make offense available to you if you simply are unselfish and willing to make that extra pass. And despite having several coast to coast run outs the Jayhawks still managed 17 team assists to Carolina's 7. That about says it all. Other than the big 3 mentioned above, my MVP for the game is Kansas' freshman Center Cole Aldrich. You could almost hear Roy Williams saying "Who the hell is this kid?" as Aldrich pulled 4 offensive boards and 7 overall with 8 big points in only 16 minutes when the game was still in doubt. Williams said the same thing about UTEP Miners Eddie Rivera and Prince Stewart. I'm happy the Kansas fans can be on the other side of that equation. In a nutshell, just a dominating performance that was just as impressive as the Memphis win.
High flying Brandon Rush must come up big to pull the upset.
Memphis vs. Kansas
Robinson vs. Rose
Chalmers vs. Anderson
Rush vs. Douglass-Roberts
Defensively for Kansas I'm interested to see if Self plays his wings soft allowing for better helpside position to cut off dribble penetration. Self has taught traditional M2M including wing pressure and denial since his Tulsa days. On an individual level, I wonder how Robinson/Collins will handle the sheer size and strength of Rose. Augustin and Collison were both overwhelmed by it. I think CDR, on the other hand, will be a bit surprised with his own matchup. Rush will be the most athletically gifted wing CDR has faced all year. Rush's quickness, length, and leaping ability might give the Tiger's best scorer his toughest challenge to date.
Flipping the court, the key to the ballgame may be Rush and his ability to get to the rim or shoot over smaller defenders. The Tigers haven't faced a dynamic wing player like Rush, a big quick forward that can get his own shot off the dribble and knock down deep jumpers like no one else in the land. I expect the Jayhawks to run a lot of their offense through Rush and take advantage of the mismatch he creates. Collins is another important piece because for the first time since the Tennessee game, the Tigers will be facing a backcourt with similar depth. The likelihood of Memphis wearing out the Jayhawk backcourt is slim.
Jackson vs. Dorsey
Arthur vs. Dozier
Kaun vs. Taggert
I don't think this is as big a mismatch for the Kansas frontcourt as most think. Dozier and Dorsey's defensive ability is perfectly suited for defending the Jayhawk bigs. Dozier is quick and athletic enough to comfortably drift 15 feet out to defend the athletic Arthur. I think Dozier's overall athletic/size package is something that Arthur hasn't had to face all year. He's used to out-athleting plodding power forwards. On the other block, Dorsey is also plenty strong enough to push Jackson off of the low block and out of his comfort zone. Dorsey's athleticism will also make it difficult for Jackson if he doesn't get deep position and get contact to negate the shot blocking ability of Dorsey.
On the offensive end, I think Dozier and Taggert's ability to hit the midrange jumper or half hook is one of the biggest surprises of the tourney. They've knocked down these shots at a very high rate and it gives the Memphis offense a different weapon. Dozier's ability to float away from the goal specifically should have Jayhawk fans worried. I do think Kansas has a depth advantage with their ability to bring in Kaun and Aldrich and perhaps get the Tiger bigs in foul trouble, which they are prone to do. If Kansas does want to establish its low post game it will more than likely have to get post entries from the high post or in the secondary break because Memphis does a really good job of preventing teams from reversing the basketball and getting angles to the post from the perimeter. The trade off with this defensive style is its susceptibility to dribble penetration which is why the Kansas guards getting to the paint is so important. It was a puzzle UCLA and Texas could not solve.
Games like this make me think Kansas can win. Sean Taggert's neck tattoo makes me feel differently.
Look, I'm a basketball traditionalist. I hated Tarkanian's "amoeba zone" and think the Dribble Drive Motion offense is horseshit. Give me 5 NBA players and I'll win running the Mikan drill as an offense. I'm cool like that. Go win a National Championship with Keith Smart, Dean Garrett, and Ricky Calloway, then get back to me.
What do I like? I like experience. I like interior and perimeter balance. I like coaches that do it the right way. I like coaches that coach defense. I like Coach Self and all the Jayhawks except Sasha Kaun because he's a Euro. Remember I'm a traditionalist. Me and Steven A. Smith are cool like that. But I do, I really like the Kansas Jayhawks.
That said, there ain't no way in hell Kansas is beating Memphis. Memphis looks less like a team that has skated by a weak conference slate and more like a team that has been quietly biding its time to get a shot at its one shining moment. Much like Jordan's Bulls that would sleep walk through the regular season only to come out full of piss and vinegar come playoff time. It's just Memphis' time. The Tigers look like a champion and they've met every challenge with a resounding answer Mississippi State, Michigan State, foul shooting, Texas, and UCLA. Kansas has next. Tigers by 10.