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Talk hoops all year long in Luke Winn's blog, a journal of commentary, news and reader-driven discussions about the college game.
11/16/2007 01:31:00 AM

The Early Word On ... Memphis

Derrick Rose and the Tigers' three starting guards tallied 38 points and 12 boards against the Sooners.
Nick Laham/Getty Images
Three things we learned about No. 3 Memphis after its 63-53 win over unranked Oklahoma in the semifinals of the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic on Thursday at Madison Square Garden ...

1. The Tigers' most valuable player isn't Derrick Rose. It's Joey Dorsey.

The on-court aura of the 6-foot-9, 265-pound Dorsey, according to Rose, a soft-spoken freshman, is "scary." Memphis has a surplus stock of speedy point guards (Rose, Willie Kemp and Andre Allen) and slick wings (Chris Douglas-Roberts, Antonio Anderson and Doneal Mack); but what it does not have is multiple big men who put fear in the hearts of opposing posts. This is solely Dorsey's department. He's chiseled, relentless on the glass and has a crazy streak that leaves him liable to commit a technical foul at any moment (he had one against Oklahoma, for a shoving altercation with freshman Blake Griffin). Dorsey is also capable of regularly putting up bullish stat lines like he had on Thursday: Nine points on 4-of-5 shooting, 12 rebounds and five blocks in 33 minutes.

The fact the Sooners were intent on playing a grind-it-out, bruising style -- keeping Memphis under 80 points for the first time this year -- made Dorsey the most important Tiger on the floor. Afterwards, with an ice pack strapped to the sprained right shoulder that kept him out of the first two regular-season games, Dorsey said, "I love the physical play. This is what I want. That's what type of player I am -- physical."

Dorsey also played the role of Memphis' sparkplug on Thursday, igniting a rally that turned a 20-18 game with 7:34 left in the first half into a 35-25 contest at halftime. It all started with his tip-in of a missed layup by Rose with 6:32 left to put the Tigers up 22-18; he'd later add an alley-oop dunk from Rose to extend the lead to 30-23. Dorsey also erased two shots on the other end; on the possession after his tip-in, he swatted away a close-range attempt by 5-10 Sooner Omar Leary. Less than a minute later, Dorsey flew across the lane to stuff a much larger foe -- 6-11 Longar Longar -- and caused an older, female Memphis fan sitting courtside to say to her husband, in a thick Southern drawl, "You see Joey block that? Wheeeeeeeeew."

2. Rose has some absurd moves in his arsenal ... but he's still a freshman, not a superhuman.

Immediately after the buzzer sounded, Dorsey sidled up to Rose and said directly into his ear, "[There's] no pressure. This is what you want right here." Dorsey was referring to the stage -- Madison Square Garden, on national TV -- and the sometimes-shaky, sometimes-brilliant performance delivered by his five-star freshman point guard. Rose finished with a game-high 17 points, but five came on free-throws in the final eight minutes. He also had only three assists against four turnovers, often driving too wildly to the rim without a quality outlet option.

This was the least impressive game of the three he's played, and yet it still contained numerous highlight-reel moments. The most stunning of those was the first, which came just 1:39 after the tip: Standing one step inside the free-throw line, Rose rebounded Oklahoma's second shot attempt of the game -- and within four dribbles (and seemingly only a couple of seconds), he had reached the other end of the floor and laid the ball off the glass for two points. It was no run-of-the-mill layup, either: Rose had to lean into 6-9, 240-pound Blake Griffin to create space in the air before putting up the shot. The one-man fastbreak, said Rose, is something coach John Calipari strongly encourages: "If I don't do it, he'll stop me in practice and yell at me, and make me do the play over again."

Oklahoma kept itself in the game -- or at least within six points in the final two minutes -- by limiting Rose's fastbreak opportunities. Multiple Sooners would run back ahead of the speedy floor general and clog the middle of the floor before dropping into what, for the most part, was a 2-3 zone defense. "One person can't keep Derrick Rose in check," OU coach Jeff Capel said of the strategy. "The only person who can do that is Cal [John Calipari], and he ain't gonna do it."

3. The Tigers are loaded with talent, but need to prove they're not vulnerable to zones.

If Oklahoma, an average team that doesn't have a strong backcourt or regularly play zone D, could hold Memphis to 63 points and 38.6 percent shooting from the field, what will more formidable perimeter defensive squads be able to accomplish? The blueprint for slowing down the athletes in Calipari's AASAA (Attack Attack Skip Attack Attack) offense is no secret: Settle into a zone and force them to beat you by hitting jumpers rather than layups. Rose, Kemp and Mack are all passable perimeter shooters, but none is an elite gunner; on Thursday they were a combined 4-of-14 from long distance.

"We thought coming in, if they have any Achilles' heel, it's shooting," Capel said of the Tigers. "And one of the things we talked about was we wanted to make them contested jump shooters. We did a good job. We just had to score more."

Jump-shooting -- and whether or not Memphis is proficient enough at it to win a national title -- is no new topic in Tigerland. It was discussed ad nauseam last season, but it's not going to go away in '07-08. The Tigers' speedy, slashing attach is nearly impossible for lesser foes to defend with anything other than a zone. Following the game, Calipari said, in what seemed like a lament, "I hope, at some point, someone plays us man-to-man." Good luck with that.


posted by Luke Winn | View comments (9) |


Posted: 9:38 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Joey Dorsey shoved Blake Griffin "to the ground"?? Give me a break. Did you even watch that play, or did you just assume because it's Joey Dorsey that he probably went crazy in a fit of rage and threw somebody on the ground? If you would WATCH the play, you would see that Griffin instigated the contact by turning into Dorsey and using his left arm to push Dorsey out of the way. Dorsey did respond with a small shove oh his own, which he shouldn't have done, but Griffin fell because he backed into Robert Dozier who was running up the court. Not because Dorsey shoved him to the ground. Answer me this, if Dorsey shoved him to the ground, why did Griffin fall towards Dorsey? Doesn't make sense. This is just crappy journalism and I'm not even a Memphis fan...
Posted: 9:50 AM   by Blogger Dano
Not to get to technical Luke but Dorsey pushed him and Griffen acted like he was going out for the Oscar... this was after Dorsey had taken an elbow to the neck by Griffen.
Posted: 10:35 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Winny, will you PLEASE stop giving the competition scouting reports! Do you still think Tennessee is better than Memphis solely based on a contest last year during their worst part of the season at Tennessee? The problem with Tennessee (and UNC) is that they can't seem to put teams away...
Posted: 12:14 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Just remember, every year a couple good teams look bad playing some team like Oklahoma that appears average and pay for it in the polls, until the end of the season when that average team turns out to have been pretty good. For years now Oklahoma has been at its best in games where both teams looked terrible, that's just the kind of game they play well.
Posted: 12:44 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Watched part of the OU-Memphis game on TV. Wasn't very compelling. Memphis looked good, but not elite. The talent clearly is there, but the execution?
Posted: 1:03 PM   by Blogger Luke Winn
Griffin did get shoved by Dorsey -- and fell down. Without the luxury of instant replay (the video board at the Garden did not show a replay at all), I missed that it was Dozier who tripped Griffin. Thanks for pointing it out. It has been updated in the text.
Posted: 1:08 PM   by Blogger wmhein
Ahh, to look at the incident through "innocent" Memphis eyes. How is life in la la land? The Memphis front line played physically all night, pushing and shoving all over the place. They just got caught once.
Posted: 2:13 PM   by Blogger Theo
Luke, couldn't agree with you more about Rose. While he is talented, he has to work on some parts of his game. I was impressed with how much better the Memphis offense flowed when he was on the court. They looked lost when Rose was out. Also, the kid works hard on defense. You have to admire that.
Posted: 4:18 PM   by Blogger the_sports_dude
Memphis looks ultra-athletic, but I have to wonder how they would fare in the tournament when a defensive team wants to slow the game down and make them pay everytime they drive into the paint, like what UCLA did to them two years ago. Memphis looks athletic enough to win 30 games and be a #1 seed for sure, but those don't necessarily translate to a Final Four.