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Why Memphis will win

With Rose and CDR, the Tigers will 'hoop' past Kansas

Posted: Monday April 7, 2008 11:42AM; Updated: Monday April 7, 2008 1:53PM
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Derrick Rose outscored D.J. Augustin and Darren Collison 46-18 in the past two games.
Derrick Rose outscored D.J. Augustin and Darren Collison 46-18 in the past two games.
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Read Stewart Mandel's Five Reasons Kansas Will Win here.

SAN ANTONIO -- There's a term in the Memphis vernacular, taught to the press by one Derrick Rose, that sums up much of what the Tigers do. Just hoopin', he called it on Saturday.

Memphis, despite some misconceptions, does get coached by John Calipari; some sets are run within its Dribble-Drive Motion offense, and its players are schooled in making reads off of their teammates' penetration. But very often in this NCAA tournament, if you believe Rose -- and after seeing it in person for the past three games, I do -- Memphis' edge is not tactical. "Going out there and just hoopin', that's what it's all about, really," he said. "Call[ing] all the plays? Whatever. If you're just hoopin', you got nothing to worry about."

Here are five reasons why Memphis will cut down the nets on Monday night:

1. The prime reason why the Tigers will win is that they have Rose hoopin' for them, and Kansas doesn't.

There is no Memphis player who embodies this free-wheeling mentality more than its 19-year-old point guard, who left Texas and UCLA -- teams with All-America guards, mind you -- overwhelmed by his speed. Taking a defensive rebound and going coast-to-coast in four dribbles for a layup, as Bill Self said he watched Rose do on tape recently: That qualifies as just hoopin'. Some of the things that happen around Rose when he does it -- Joey Dorsey rotating over to the weak side to free the lane and crash the glass; Chris Douglas-Roberts setting up to receive kick-outs so he can create open shots -- are tactical, but it's all made possible by a kid who sets land-speed records on hardwood.

It's not as if Kansas lacks athletes; it's that Rose is a whole different class of athlete. Such was the hard lesson learned by Texas and UCLA. Rose outscored D.J. Augustin and Darren Collison 46-18 in those two games, and the reasons why he'll run over the Jayhawks remind me of lines from that new Nike commercial: My reaction reacts faster. ... Your speed moves like a gravy boat. ... My quick smells like French toast. ... My better is better than your better.

Never mind that both title-game teams wear Adidas; the Tigers' floor general would fit right into Nike's campaign: His quick smells like French toast, and Memphis' better is better than Kansas' better. Play One Shining Moment as the background track, and you've got a nice new advertisement for hoopin'.

2. Again, it's about the guards: Neither Mario Chalmers nor Russell Robinson is physical enough to stop Rose from getting to any spot on the floor that he desires. UCLA's Darren Collison and Russell Westbrook were helpless against Rose, and while Chalmers (who's listed at 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds) and Robinson (who's listed at 6-1 and a hard-to-believe 205) are bigger, I think they'll have the same problems. Said Tigers assistant coach John Robic, "A lot of our opponents have not seen a size-and-quickness combination of guards like we have."

While 6-6 Brandon Rush does have the size to match up with the 6-7 Douglas-Roberts, it's unlikely he'll be able to do what so many other guards haven't: contain CDR off the dribble. This is a guy, mind you, who claims to have never lost a game of mano-y-mano basketball. "If I'm able to go one-on-one," says Douglas-Roberts, "my eyes light up."

3. Free throws won't be an issue. The line out of the Tigers' machine lately is that they're making free-throws -- 87.0 percent against UCLA! -- because they're actually concentrating now. "We make them when they matter," Calipari has said, and you know what? I'm starting to buy it. The Tigers really may have been the one of the nation's worst free-throw shooting teams (61.3 percent on the season) because they didn't feel like it was necessary to care much about the charity stripe while they were rolling through Conference USA. "All it ever was was the concentration level," said forward Robert Dozier. "Guys have great form; it's not like anybody's out there shooting curveballs. They're just concentrating more [now] because we didn't want to lose."

The other key has been keeping the ball in the hands of the right players: Over the past three games, Douglas-Roberts shot 34-of-40 from the line and Rose was 24-of-27. That duo has taken 71.3 percent of Memphis' attempts from the stripe, and is hitting 86.6 percent combined. Considering that CDR and Rose seem to handle the ball about 90 percent of the time late in games, the Tigers shouldn't have too many problems.

4. The Memphis Machine is on a mission. Just listen to Self about the Tigers: "They've been the best team in the tournament so far," he said. "There's no question about it." Kansas' throttling of North Carolina on Saturday was stunning, obviously, but that was one blowout. Memphis has had three in a row of a No. 5 seed (Michigan State, by 18), a No. 2 seed (Texas, by 18), and a No. 1 seed (UCLA, by 15). The Tigers carried the most momentum of any team coming into the Final Four, and the Bruins did nothing to halt it. In each of the past three rounds, Memphis has become even more surprisingly dominant.

"We've sort of peaked," said Douglas-Roberts. "We've sort of found ourselves in this tournament. Because at the end of the year, you know, everybody has their role, everybody knows what they're supposed to do."

5. This 2007-08 season, it seems, has been about Memphis more than any other team. So why shouldn't it end that way, too?

The Tigers starred in the marquee game of the early season, against Georgetown on Dec. 22. They were ranked No. 1 for five weeks in January and February. They took a 26-game undefeated streak into the most-anticipated regular-season game of '07-08; a loss to Tennessee on Feb. 23. They set the NCAA's single-season wins record, with 38 and counting.

All the while, off-court controversies involving Dorsey, Dozier, Jeff Robinson, Shawn Taggart and Andre Allen -- plus a near-riot at UAB in which Pierre Niles slapped a fan -- sparked debates about whether Memphis was truly a team the country could embrace. The Tigers' deficiencies -- namely, poor free-throw shooting and a weak Conference USA schedule -- were cited as reasons they couldn't compete in the NCAA tournament.

But their offense, the Dribble-Drive Motion, also became the sport's hottest new innovation. And Rose, who's been hailed as the ingredient Memphis was missing when it lost in two straight Elite Eights, has emerged as the nation's most dazzling freshman in March, as well as the possible No. 1 pick in June's NBA draft.

Like it or not, Memphis has been front-and-center in the college basketball universe, and Monday night should be the culmination of it all. Former Tigers star and Memphis product Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway, who was in the team's locker room after the game Saturday, said he thought the Tigers were "destined" to win a title here in San Antonio. "They're here for a reason," Hardaway said.

I'm not sure if destiny will be the reason the Tigers cut down the nets, though. It'll simply be because no one could stop them.

The pick: Memphis 70, Kansas 66