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2/24/2008 02:42:00 PM
The Weekend That Was: Parting Thoughts From Memphis
Sitting in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel on Sunday afternoon, reflecting on what might have been the most chaotic high-stakes college hoops game I've ever seen, and admiring the killer photo of J.P. Prince above (taken by SI's Bob Rosato) ...
1. I liked Bruce Pearl's admission that he wasn't sure coming into Saturday's game -- and still might not be sure -- that Tennessee is the nation's best team. He said that all he kept telling his Vols was, "I don't know if we're the best team in the country, but can you believe we're 40 minutes away from being No. 1?"
Now that Tennessee has dethroned Memphis 66-62 and is less than 24 hours away from officially being named No. 1 in The Associated Press and Coaches' Polls, it's worth revisiting the subject: Should the Vols now be considered the favorites to win the national title?
There's only a small pack of legitimate title hopefuls: Tennessee, UCLA, North Carolina, Duke, Kansas, Memphis and Texas. Our national champion won't come from outside that group, because the drop-off to the crowd that includes the rulers of the Big East (Georgetown, Louisville, Notre Dame, and UConn) and Big Ten (Wisconsin, Purdue, Indiana) is too big. Of the seven contenders, none has the mix of athleticism and quality depth that the Volunteers do. But if I were to fill out a bracket today, I'd be inclined to set up a Tennessee-UCLA title game with the Bruins winning, for three reasons:
• Much of UCLA's roster already has either one or two Final Fours under its belt ... • Florida, the only team the Bruins have ever seemed to cower and hide from, is finally out of the picture • The lone UCLA starter without Final Four experience, Kevin Love, gives them an interior dimension that the Vols simply do not have.
2. In ascending order of craziness, the memorable things that happened in or around Saturday's game:
• Pearl conducting an interview with Entertainment Tonight -- yes, ET -- after he finished talking to basketball reporters. Pearl, never turning down the opportunity to ham it up, asked the reporter for a "J-O-B" and told them that entertainment news might be his true calling instead of coaching.
• That Memphis' final possession while it had a lead, at 61-60 with 43 seconds left, ended with teammates Joey Dorsey and Robert Dozier tying each other up on an offensive rebound, and being called for a travel. Dorsey's stat line: one point, six boards, four fouls.
• That Tennessee won without Chris Lofton making a single three-pointer.
• The awkward silence of Memphis locker room, in which packs of media members trying, mostly in vain, to get any comments on the loss. The players are not required by any NCAA rule to speak, and Chris Douglas-Roberts, Joey Dorsey and Antonio Anderson in particular opted not to -- which was unfortunate, considering how loud they had been before the game, "woofing" (as Tyler Smith put it) into Tennessee's huddle in the tunnel of FexEx Forum.
• Pearl giving some "love" (or at least that's one way to describe it) to Erin Andrews in the halftime interview. I didn't witness Pearl's defensive demonstration live, but it has spread like wildfire on the Web. The man is single now: you have to give him some credit for trying.
• That Memphis, the 225th-ranked three-point shooting team in the country, attempted 27 threes. The Tigers were 0-for-7 in the second half.
• Looking up from my computer during a first-half timeout to see Lindsay Davenport and James Blake, both clad in Tiger tees, hitting tennis balls (rather aggressively, it may be noted) into the crowd as part of a promotion for a Memphis tournament.
• That Antonio Anderson, and not Chris Douglas-Roberts or Derrick Rose, took Memphis' final meaningful shot.
• That in the media room at halftime, the person behind me in the pretzel-and-popcorn line was Priscilla Presley. She took a look at the ravaged serving dishes of snacks and decided to pass.
3. About Memphis: One loss obviously doesn't mean the Tigers should be written off. It's still going to take an extremely unfavorable Elite Eight matchup for me to keep them out of the Final Four. But after seeing Saturday's game, it's a lot tougher for me to envision Memphis cutting down the nets in San Antonio.
Tennessee was the first team the Tigers have faced this year that could match their level of athleticism (as much as Georgetown, Arizona, UConn or USC would like to believe they could, they're not in the same league). Without a considerable advantage in quickness on the perimeter, Memphis' much-discussed (and SI-featured) offense, the Dribble-Drive Motion or DDM, devolved into a couple of things: An epidemic of out-of-the-flow three-point shooting swept over the Tigers in the first half, and they made enough treys (8-of-20) to give them false hope that they would win the game that way. In the second, the offense was better described, as I did in the game column, with the acronym DRD. That stands for Derrick Rose Driving -- because he was the only guard who still had the quickness to beat his man off the dribble every time.
No defender in the country can keep up with Rose, but when a team like Tennessee or Kansas or UCLA can keep the rest of the Memphians in check, is this what will happen again in the NCAA tournament? That's a scary thought, because we know the Tigers can't win a game from the three-point line or the charity stripe.
4. All of the Memphis fans wearing those shirts that say "Associated Press No. 1" on the front -- many of the folks not wearing the "I HATE ORANGE" shirts had these on -- shouldn't pack them away for the rest of the season. The Tigers will probably be back in the top spot by the final poll before the NCAA tournament. I don't see them dropping any lower than No. 3 in the polls that come out Monday; and Tennessee and North Carolina, the first two teams behind them, are hardly guaranteed to run the table from here until the dance begins.
5. A good point made by Andy Cox at the Crashing The Dance blog this week: If Tennessee wins the SEC and holds onto No. 1, the Vols, and not Duke or North Carolina, would likely get slotted into the Charlotte regional of the NCAA tournament. The bigger question, and the scary thing for Tennessee is, would the Blue Devils or Tar Heels get to stay in the state of North Carolina as a No. 2 seed? The crowd making the trek from Tobacco Road, especially if the team were UNC, would make for quite the unfair advantage. Would the selection committee really be that cruel to the Vols?
If there ever was a time to say "GO VOLS" it is now,so "GO VOLS"!!!!!!!!! ROCKY TOP YOU WILL ALWAYS BE................... HOME SWEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEET HOME TO....................MEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!GOOD OLE ROCKY TOP..........!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!ROCKY TOP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!TENNESSEEEEEE
I think you are giving Louisville not enough credit. Their is not any of those "Big Seven", that want to play the Cards in the tournament. I see the Cards as a 3seed right now. Rick P will have his press in rare mode in the Tournament.
"No defender in the country can keep up with Rose"
I beg to differ. Rose is a great player, but were you watching when UCLA's Russell Westbrook completely dominated OJ Mayo? Mayo had 2 inches on him, but his stat line for the night: 2-8 FG, 4 pts, 10 TO's Mayo's only 2 buckets came with Westbrook out of the game.
I think Westbrook is the best one on one defender in the nation. He could definately keep up with Rose. Maybe not stop him, but he could at least prevent him from getting into the lane
UCLA has been a #2 seed in the west two years running, with the regional being in Cali both times. I think it is very unfair to the respective one seeds in that situation but the NCAA has shown they will do it so I wouldn't be surprised to see it again.
Luke is probably right that Memphis will regain the top spot prior to the tournament. The worst part of Memphis' schedule is over whereas the others on his list all face their toughest challenges in their tournaments. It does seem that the mid-majors have an easier road to travel.
It's all about Peaking at the Right Time! UW did beat Texas, doesn't mean they would do it again. Texas beat Tennessee, Kansas and UCLA, doesn't mean they'd do it again and doesn't mean they wont'. Tennesse beat Memphis. Go Figure, that's why we have MARCH MADNESS! Need I say more :)
Arizona also lost to Memphis without their best player, Bayless.
And from what I saw, I don't think Memphis is a final 4 team. If they can't pressure you defensively and get out on the break, they really have trouble scoring. And there seems to be some problems with maturity on Memphis. All that talking before the game and not a peep afterwards? Cowards, pure and simple. If you are going to talk big before the game, be a man and step up after the game.
LOL, if you think a rematch between Tennessee and Texas would end the same way as the first one, you're kidding yourself. Texas shot an absurd 64% from the field and seemingly could not miss that night - I'd like to see ANYBODY beat them under similar circumstances. In addition, it was the sixth game of the season - much has changed since then. The Vols now have J.P. Prince in the lineup, and they've improved tremendously as a team since late November. Remember that Texas is not immune to playing poorly - they lost by 13 points to a bad Missouri team, nearly giving up 100 points in the process. So yes, Texas did beat Tennessee, but another game between the two would be entirely different.
A good entry overall, Luke. I agree with much of what you said. One thing that struck me as humorous/ironic: you mentioned that Florida was the only team UCLA has shied away from in the past few seasons. The funny part? The team Florida had a lot of trouble with in both of their championship seasons was none other than Tennessee. They were 1-3 against the Vols in 05-06 and 06-07, with their only victory coming in Gainesville last year against a Lofton-less Tennessee team.
I'm always amused by people who say UCLA had an unfair advantage in the NCAA Tournament due to playing "in California." If you look at a map, you'll see that California is far bigger than many of you seem to realize.
Distance and time from UCLA to (per mapquest.com):
2005-2006 1st/2nd Rounds in San Diego: 135 miles (2 hours 15 minutes -- LOL, early on a Sunday morning, maybe!)
2005-2006 Regionals in Oakland: 366.4 miles (5 hours 32 minutes)
2006-2007 1st/2nd Rounds in Sacramento: 380 miles (5 hours 42 minutes)
2006-2007 Regionals in San Jose: 336 miles (5 hours 10 minutes)
Those distances and highly optimistic travel times are FAR greater than many of the other highly seeded schools' fans have to travel to watch their teams.
Name the team that has beaten 3 of the current top 6 teams? If you said "Texas Longhorns" you are correct. Wonder what it takes to get a 1 seed these days? Oh yeah, you have to be Duke. Hook 'em Horns!
If there is a Tennessee-UCLA match-up in the finals, then I have to ask "what happened to Texas"? As the last poster noted, Texas blew out Tennessee earlier in the season on a neutral court and handed UCLA its first loss at home in forever. Texas seems to be hitting its stride after a mid-season slump and has a pointguard in consideration for national player of the year. Who knows...
What I cant believe is the number of teams in his top tier that are supposedly so much better than the lower tier. I am not surprised by Memphis's loss at the hands of the Vols. Memphis has not played anyone good away from home. C-USA, SEC, Pac10, Big12 are no where near as strong as the Big East (perhaps the most difficult conference -the basketball analogue of SEC in football). Every teams of a tough conference knows what it means to play quality opponents at home and on the road. Something most of his top tier simnply have not done. How did the Vols do in Ky? How about Louisville?
Texas vs Tennessee was at the start of the season (wasn't it in November?) at the end of a tournment. Also Texas wanted revenge after losing to Tennessee the last couple of years. Texas was the best team that night but to think that makes Texas the better team in March shows a lack of understanding of college basketball. I have a feelling the Vols will lose tomorrow night but I also have a feeling if the Vols face Texas again the outcome would be different.
As someone pointed out, Wisconsin already beat Texas. In Texas. And it was a close game throughout.
They play a great team ball. If Butch is healthy down low he can be one of the best in the country. The guards are hitting threes like it's going out of style, and that's the great equalizer in college ball.
Talk about no credit! Texas has beaten UCLA, Tennessee and Kansas. I believe teh only team that has knocked of 3 of the Top 5 this season. Any mention of Texas in the Final Four? Noooooo! And the Badgers? Whatever, that was a 1 point game and I don't hink they'd give that away now.
I'm not sure how you can leave Xavier off the list of legit title contenders when they're 24-4 and have won 10 straight. They killed Indiana and K-State and almost beat Tennessee. Is it just because they're in the A-10? Maybe time to start giving them some credit.
I agree that Tennessee would have a bit of a disadvantage in Charlotte (particularly with UNC as their 2-seed). Despite the fact that Tennessee would be pretty well represented, you must remember that UNC fans bought up a lot of those tickets very early on because they felt the Heels were a virtual lock for the 1-seed in the East (due to their preseason ranking). I wonder, in the event that UNC finishes strong enough to warrant a 1-seed, would the committee give the Heels the 1 in the East, the Vols the 1 in the South, and Memphis the 1 in the midwest (Detroit, I believe). This leaves Kansas, UCLA, Duke, and (perhpaps) Texas to fight it out for the west. Admittedly, UNC has a long way to go to prove themselves worthy of a 1 (Cameron Indoor and the ACC Tourney will go a long way in determining this) however the above may be a reasonable solution rather than sending UNC (or Duke for that matter) out west as a 1-seed. Frankly, as a Heels fan, I'd much rather have the 2 in Charlotte behind UT than the 1 out west ahead of UCLA.
Xavier is one of the deepest and most balanced teams in the country with six players averaging over 10ppg. With the way they have been rolling through a decent A10 this year you have to give them some consideration.
Don't forget practically the same team took Ohio State to the buzzer in the tourny last year.
HIGH ON ROCKY TOP! vols are #1 in all the land when the polls come out tn didnt even have jp prince when they got beat by texas and tyler smith was still getting use to the new offense tn would whip texas on their home court jsut liek they did two years ago,remember when lofton hit a 40 footer over kevin durant? i do because it was right in front of me! GO VOLS! SAN AN or bust!
A lot is being made of Texas' wins over Tennessee and UCLA early in the season. While they are great resume wins, they are hardly a barometer of how those teams would match-up in March. I'll give credit to Texas for going into Pauley Pavilion and beating UCLA, but let's not forget that it was Darren Collison's 2nd game back from a sprained knee and DJ Augustin had a field day against him. Even though the Horns had a great shooting night they still needed Mbah a Moute to miss the front-end of a 1-and-1 and then a last second put-back off an off-balance airball at the buzzer to escape Westwood with a hard-fought win. Texas is a talented team that's as quick as any team in the nation, and it has the guard play for a deep run if they avoid the bad shooting night. Can they get past the Sweet 16 in March without their "A" game? Probably not. The two teams that stick out in my mind that can win on an off-night are UCLA and Kansas. Kansas is more talented while UCLA is more experienced. UCLA has the defensive reputation while Kansas actually has the stats to back up their dominant D. The Bruins got the better of the Jayhawks in last year's Elite 8, but Arron Afflalo had a monster game and is in the NBA now. That said, all the prognostications don't mean much as anything can happen in March.
Texas fans need to get a life. Oh, they've beaten such good teams. They also lost to MSU, Wicsonsin, Missouri (seroously?), and Texan A&M. The Big 10 is never as good as they think they are, nor is the Big 12. Sorry, but get over yourselves.
Memphis athletic ? No doubt, but when did athleticism win a national title. A solid 2-3 zone with quick perimeter defenders will give Memphis fits. And by the way, don't ever count out the Big East !!!!
As the original poster about Texas way up at the top, I need to point out that I was not saying that Texas is better than Tennessee today; or UCLA or Wisconsin. As others have pointed out, that's why they have the tournament. My point was in response to the statement that no one can match Tennessee's athleticism. TX lacks size, which may do them in at some point, but they DO have the best pt guard in the country and are in excellent condition, as pointed out by the ABC commendator on Saturday. They have changed their style of play in the past couple of weeks both inside and defensively, with excellent results. They are also just getting used to last year's TX player of the year joining the team mid-season after medical issues. Are they No. 1? Probably not; but I'm going enjoy seeing them continue to get better over the next few weeks....
I've looked at many of the comments. Can Texas fans spell? I live in Texas and look forward to the tournament. Texas will be a quick exit. It's not hard to out coach Rick. Texas fans keep being ignorant or arrogant--that's what the rest of the country is used to.
To the person who put up the stats on the distance from UCLA to different parts of California: A stat for you-
2007 Tournament: Kansas: ONE SEED in West Regional Campus in Lawrence, Kansas 1,451.1 miles from San Jose, California (Location of West Regional Final)
UCLA: TWO SEED in West Regional Campus in Los Angeles, California 305.8 miles from San Jose, California (Location of West Regional Final)
I'm not one to make excuses for my team losing, but it's pretty obvious KU got screwed in this setup. In effect, the committee might as well have switched seeds between the two based on how they were placed. Sure, KU got the 4-seed instead of the 3, but theoretically you're placing seeds assuming the 1 and 2 will play each other. If this is the case, it's ridiculous to allow the 2 what is essentially home court. Now the Tennessee getting a 1-seed with either UNC or Duke in their region as a 2 is almost unavoidable (unless, of course, if Duke manages to continue it's losing of late) and really not all that bad. Yea, it sucks for Tennessee, but it's not like Tennessee is over 1400 miles from Charlotte while UNC or duke are only 300. This would be almost as bad as making UNC the 1-seed in the Midwest with my Jayhawks at #2. Granted the regional game wouldn't be played in western Kansas, (basically the equivalent of the west regional situation last year) rather Michigan, but as much as it would help my 'hawks it is entirely unfair. I think the NCAA needs to look at this much more when deciding seeding arrangements. The ability of students to go to games is very important, (why do you think home court advantage is so much more important in college than in the pros? THE STUDENTS!) so why not give the 1-seed the advantage they deserve?
if dorsey or dozier call same two on the rebound memphis wins the game with 43 seconds left, what da hell is everyone talking about. Memphis played poorly second half and was one play from winning the game if the travel is not called! go tigers go!!
I know Luke likes to watch the games and make decisions, but this time of year statistics can tell you a lot, especially their rankings in offensive and defensive efficiency (from kenpom.com) and their strength of schedule rank.
So, with regard to Luke's "champioin" list, I certainly see the argument for Kansas, UCLA, and Duke, but I'm having considerable difficulty seeing a huge falloff between Memphis, UNC, Texas, and Wisconsin, and the distance from them to Georgetown, Marquette, and Louisville isn't exactly huge.
Given that Luke usually hypes defensive efficiency as the key to long tournament runs, it's particularly difficult to see why UNC and Texas should get an advantage over the others with much better defenses.
As the Memphis-UT game showed, it's hard to make good interconference comparisons during the conference season. So, I agree with anonymous ... bring on MARCH MADNESS.
Duke played a team with a quality big. In fact, they played a team with the best big in the country....who happens to be the best player in the country. And they beat them....on the road. Duke is athletic and streaky. If they shoot well it is tough for anyone to beat them. Look for Nolan Smith to play a lot in coming games to get ready for the tournament.
CDub... I understand your gripe about Kansas having to play UCLA in California as a #1 seed. A #2 seed in the Midwest might've been a better option, but Kansas was thrust into a #1 seed when UCLA laid an egg and was upset in Pac-10 tourney by Cal. Had UCLA taken care of business, they would have secured the #1 seed in the West with Kansas probably the #2. The tournament selection committee had to decide how much to penalize UCLA who had been in the top 5 for most of the year and held the top spot for a couple weeks. Shipping UCLA completely out of the West was deemed too harsh for a team that had spent time at #1, spent most of the year in the top 5, and was the regular season champion of the nation's toughest conference. If I were a Jayhawk fan, my bigger gripe would be why Florida was placed in the MIDWEST region after winning the SEC. I'm of the opinion that Kansas has certainly earned the right to remain the Midwest if they win their conference.