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Joey Dorsey powered Memphis into the Sweet 16, but the Tigers' mercurial star is just one of several key players left in the field who have something to prove

Posted: Tuesday March 25, 2008 2:03PM; Updated: Wednesday March 26, 2008 12:05PM
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The notoriously up-and-down Dorsey (top) went sky-high in Memphis's win over Mississippi State with 13 points and 12 boards.
The notoriously up-and-down Dorsey (top) went sky-high in Memphis's win over Mississippi State with 13 points and 12 boards.
David E. Klutho/SI
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With his braided cornrows and thick Baltimore accent, Memphis senior forward Joey Dorsey looks and sounds a lot like a character from HBO's crime drama The Wire. But unlike Dorsey's favorite TV show, the NCAA tournament doesn't have to be a Greek tragedy, its actors doomed by the cruel Fates. And so, in the days before last week's games in North Little Rock, the notoriously downbeat Dorsey ignored the negatives -- his February swoon, the Tigers' two straight Elite Eight exits, his backfiring smack-talk toward Ohio State's Greg Oden in last year's tournament -- and at the behest of his coach, John Calipari, wrote his own fairy-tale script in the pages of a blue spiral notebook.

Needless to say, it had Memphis, the South's No. 1 seed, advancing to its first Final Four since 1985. "It relieved a lot of pressure," says Dorsey, the mercurial big man whom teammate Chris Douglas-Roberts calls the Tigers' most important player. "All my life I've been told, 'You can't do this.' But I could just sit down and write the story on my own."

That's the beauty of the NCAA tournament: Nothing is inevitable. The first step in achieving any goal is to imagine it, history and conventional wisdom be damned. It's a powerful idea, and the newly optimistic Dorsey -- Proposition Joey, if you will -- isn't the only figure aiming to reverse his checkered past this week and reach the Final Four in San Antonio.

To win The Chip -- Joakim Noah's felicitous phrase for the national title he claimed twice at Florida -- it helps to have a chip on your shoulder. And in a round of 16 that features only one player with a Chip on his résumé (North Carolina guard Quentin Thomas, a veteran of the Tar Heels' 2005 victory), the brackets are filled with up-and-down performers who have something extra to prove this week. Stanford's junior guard Mitch Johnson hopes to erase the perception that the Cardinal is nothing more than the 7-foot Lopez twins, Brook and Robin, and a bunch of perimeter stiffs. Xavier guard Drew Lavender and Wisconsin forward Brian Butch, two fifth-year seniors, want to show that patience has a place in an era of one-and-done college superstars. And it's hard to fathom that UCLA, Tennessee and Michigan State can make it to San Antone unless the Bruins' Josh Shipp, the Volunteers' Chris Lofton and the Spartans' Drew Neitzel find their long-range shooting strokes after an inconsistent Week 1.

Fair or unfair, the NCAA tournament defines a college career, and while cuddly upstarts like 10th-seeded Davidson and 12th-seeded Western Kentucky can celebrate remarkable seasons even if they lose this week, the favorites enjoy no margin for error. Few have as much at stake as Bill Self, the coach of Midwest No. 1 seed Kansas, who's seeking to shed the title of Best Coach Never to Have Reached the Final Four. The 45-year-old Self, now in his fifth season with the Jayhawks, has always been a golden boy: As a high school junior he predicted to his family that he'd be a Division I head coach by age 30, which is exactly what happened when he took over at Oral Roberts in 1993. His first season with the Golden Eagles, Self recruited a walk-on who was working behind a Subway restaurant counter, and ever since he has had success wherever he's gone, with a lifetime .716 winning percentage and Elite Eight runs at Tulsa, Illinois and Kansas (twice). Yet he's never landed on the sport's biggest stage.

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