Talk hoops all year long in Luke Winn's blog, a journal of commentary, news and reader-driven discussions about the college game.
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?
Live from The Center Of The College Hoops Universe
The scene outside FedEx Forum three hours before tip of No. 2 Tennessee vs. No. 1 Memphis: The weather was a tad cold for the mid-South, blue-clad fans were mobbing Beale Street, isolated packs of Tennessee fans were being heckled, and scalpers were still trying to get $200 apiece for upper-level tickets ...
The fellow below had the ultimate Tigers-fan combo: A blue goatee and an "I HATE ORANGE" t-shirt.
Memphis students lined up before 5 a.m. Saturday to gain access to the ESPN GameDay set. Then they lined up again later in the day to secure the choicest seats for the game.
A pep rally -- with plenty of media coverage, and an awkward "we're No. 1 chant" in progress as this pic was snapped -- was being held on the FedEx Forum's massive patio.
I'll check back in post-game. Feel free to kill time in the comments section ...
Memphis is still unbeaten -- but only after Robert Vaden's last-second shot missed the mark for UAB.
(Consider this a warmup for all the tourney blogging that awaits next month ... and beware, there's a minuscule Wire spoiler in part 2.)
1. If ESPN were to begin hyping up Tennessee-Memphis six days early, as if it were college hoops' Super Bowl, I wouldn't have any problem with it. Given what's on the line, the battle for Volunteer State supremacy feels about 10 times more important than the Nos. 2-vs.-3 Duke-Carolina game on Feb. 6. And yet I can't escape the feeling that if the Tigers were going to actually lose during the regular season, it would've happened in an out-of-the-spotlight, on-the-road situation like Saturday night's game in Birmingham.
Memphis-UAB was only televised regionally by CSS, and therefore most of the country only caught the Tigers' amazing comeback (and the ugly postgame melee, with classless Blazers fans throwing debris, and Joey Dorsey being restrained from attacking them) via highlight reels. Down 77-70 with 1:23 to go, the Tigers went on an 9-1 run -- with six of the points coming from All-America lock Chris Douglas-Roberts -- to close the game and save their undefeated season. Whereas Memphis has been prone to cold streaks from the field and the free-throw line in less-hyped Conference USA games, it has looked unbeatable in its marquee matchups at FedEx Forum. Just ask Georgetown, Arizona and Gonzaga how difficult it is to pull off an upset in that building.
(Update: Thanks to this photo posted on the Memphis Commercial Appeal's Web site Sunday, there's evidence of a player identified as Tigers forward Pierre Nilesslapping a fan in the UAB student section. So it appears -- beyond what was presented in the highlights -- that there was a lack of class on both sides. Conference USA said on Sunday night that it was investigating the matter.)
2. Damn, Indiana. Did you really go from treating Kelvin Sampson like persona non grata when he walked onto Assembly Hall's court on Saturday night, to chanting his name with less than two minutes left in that 80-61 win over Michigan State? Sampson's entry was met with a mix of boos and groans and uncomfortable silence. Somehow he managed to walk off the court like Sen. Clay Davis emerged from this week's grand jury hearing in The Wire: gleefully victorious. I'm happy there will be no postseason ban for the Hoosiers. None of the players had anything to do with Sampson's deceptions and disregard for NCAA rules, after all. But letting Sampson continue to coach while IU sharpens the guillotine -- and athletic director Rick Greenspan figures out ways to suggest he wasn't solely to blame for Sampson's hiring -- just makes for sad theater.
3. Brook and Robin Lopez put on quite the show for Stanford on Saturday at Arizona, with Brook (23 points, 10 boards) hitting the game-winning free throws, and Robin (14 points, eight rebounds) swatting Chase Budinger's last-second layup attempt. Brook, who seems to get at least one touch on every Cardinal offensive possession, is already listed as the fourth pick in DraftExpress' 2008 mock, but you have to wonder: If there were just one Lopez, rather than twins, and he had Brook's offensive skills and Robin's defensive skills, would he be regarded as a better NBA prospect than Greg Oden was last year?
4. I just watched Notre Dame barely survive against Rutgers at the RAC, and was reminded of something that Irish guard Kyle McAlarney had pointed out after Wednesday's loss to UConn: That meeting with the Huskies -- which took place on Feb. 13, mind you -- was Notre Dame's first road game in an on-campus arena all season. How in the name of Kelly Tripucka could that happen? To start, the Irish didn't play a single true road game outside of the Big East: they played only neutral-site affairs in St. Thomas (the Paradise Jam) and New York (the Jimmy V). And then their first four Big East road games were all at off-campus, NBA-style arenas used by Marquette (Bradley Center), Georgetown (Verizon Center), Villanova (Wachovia Center) and Seton Hall (Prudential Center). The Irish are a high-quality team with a legit All-America candidate in Luke Harangody, but they haven't exactly been battle-tested away from South Bend.
Chris Douglas-Roberts (33 points) and freshman guard Derrick Rose (24 points) combined for 57 of the Tigers' 81 points.
Nick Laham/Getty Images
Checking in from Memphis' 81-70 win over UConn in Friday's title game of the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic ...
NEW YORK -- There's an obvious reason these Tigers are a better team than the version that reached the Elite Eight in March. It's that kid with the sphynx-like mien and cat-like quicks. The freshman point guard. No. 23. Derrick Rose. Hard to miss him. He scored 24 points against the Huskies, including 16 in the second half. The fewest points he's scored in a game thus far is 17. But he's the obvious reason. There's no need to keep pointing it out.
The real question is, why else should we believe that Memphis has improved this year? Another night of watching the Tigers at Madison Square Garden yielded these answers:
1. Chris Douglas-Roberts spent the summer working on his accuracy -- but not his unconventional form -- after hitting only 32.8 percent of his threes last season. He's a better shooter now, knocking down seven of his first 13 trey attempts through four games. What's important, though, is that he hasn't been deluded into thinking he can thrive on the perimeter. "CD-R," as they call him, took 24 shots on Friday en route to scoring 33 points, and only three attempts came from beyond the arc (he made two). "Even though I improved my shot, I'm not going to shoot all threes," he said. "I like the physical play in the lane. I like getting bumped, I like getting and-ones, I like shooting runners. That'll always be my bread and butter."
Smart kid. Douglas-Roberts does not have a frame that appears built for contact -- he's essentially the anti-Joey Dorsey, a spindly wing with long arms swimming inside a baggy tee, socks pulled up high on beanpole legs and his jersey frequently slipping off his narrow shoulders. But CD-R is a wizard inside the arc. Memphis likes run him off low screens, set mostly by Dorsey, in order to free him up for isolation plays on the wing. Coach John Calipari criticized Douglas-Roberts on Thursday for being lackadaisical and picking up two, stupid early fouls against Oklahoma. Against UConn, he stayed out of foul trouble and made a massive impact, attacking Huskies forward Stanley Robinson time and time again for baskets inside the lane. Douglas-Roberts prefers to start his approach slowly, lulling his defender to sleep with lazy dribbles, then feigning a few pull-up jumpers, before backing in and finding acrobatic ways to launch the ball at the goal -- and usually scoring. "That's the best play," he said of Memphis' wing iso set. "That's our only play, really. It's called 'Quick'."
2. Not many teams have one, much less two, perimeter defenders who can handle the isolations Rose and Douglas-Roberts are allowed to run. To get an idea of just how often Memphis relies on this one-man, NBA mode of offense, consider that the Tigers scored 32 baskets against the Huskies -- and only five were assisted. Four of Douglas-Roberts' 14 makes were assisted and zero of Rose's eight were. Yet the Tigers' two stars still shot over 50 percent from the field combined (22-of-41).
Rose said that feeding the hot hand with isolation opportunities is one of the tenets of the Tigers' offense against a man-to-man: "Coach tells us to go with the person who's sticking 'em," he said, hence the frequency with which Douglas-Roberts found himself breaking down Robinson. UConn, it must be noted, put exceptional athletes up against Rose and Douglas-Roberts. A.J. Price, Jerome Dyson and Robinson are no slouches ... but they were still burned repeatedly. Price and Dyson managed to return the favor on the other end, combining for 40 points, but they didn't score enough down the stretch to pull off an upset.
3. Antonio Anderson no longer needs to shoot -- at all -- for the Tigers to win. This is more of a suggested opportunity to improve rather than a reason Memphis is currently better: The junior guard is still taking too many shots, as he was 1-of-8 from the field on Friday in 32 minutes. Memphis could make a major offensive-efficiency jump simply by ordering the junior guard not to take any more threes for the rest of the season. He was allowed to shoot 106 triples last year and made only 26 (for a dismal 24.5 percent success rate). Rose, Douglas-Roberts, Doneal Mack and Willie Kemp are capable of taking the bulk of the treys from here on out, while Anderson focuses solely on creating shots for others. Assist-men are what the Tigers need right now, anyways: Anderson was the only one with more assists (three) than turnovers (one) against UConn.
Rose, despite being billed in a few scouting reports as a deft distributor, is not yet acting like a pass-first point guard. He took 17 shots and had zero assists against five turnovers on Friday. In the two games at the Garden, he took 29 shots but dished out just three assists and committed nine turnovers. That's pretty much the definition of a scoring point guard.
4. Experience is now on their side. Rose is getting loads of attention, so much that Calipari held a meeting at his house earlier this month to attempt to prevent it from creating rifts within the team. It was a smart move, since the key to a Memphis title run this season may be that their rotation prominently features one seasoned senior (Dorsey, a rebounder extraordinaire who had 12 on Friday) and three juniors (CD-R, Anderson and Robert Dozier, who had a stellar, eight-point, eight-board, three-block performance vs. UConn).
"Our experience got us over the hump today," Douglas-Roberts said after the game, in which UConn took a 41-40 lead into halftime and didn't wilt until the final six minutes. "Two years ago, I'm not sure if we could've pulled this game out."
5. Worldwide Wes is now on their side more than ever. I'm only kidding about the impact of this on the Tigers' actual games. But I did find it interesting that William Wesley -- a.k.a. "Worldwide Wes" or "Uncle Wes," a confidant of Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Jay-Z, et al, and the man of whom GQ asked, Is This The Most Powerful Man in Sports? -- was present on Friday. He came off the court with the Tigers following their tournament trophy ceremony, and was heard saying, "I want to hear the speech," before ducking into their locker room. Wesley has ties to Douglas-Roberts' AAU team, "The Family," which is sponsored by another friend, Richard Hamilton. Wesley is also rumored to have helped sway Rose toward Memphis. Said Rose of Wesley, "He's a close friend -- for the whole team." Douglas-Roberts said Wesley "doesn't have a role on the team; Uncle Wes is just a man." Later, Wesley was seen talking with one of Rose's older brothers, as well as an older brother of Tyreke Evans, who's the No. 2-ranked prospect in the Class of 2008 and one of the Tigers' top recruiting targets.
6. The Tigers aren't collapsing under the weight of their star power. Their assist-to-turnover ratio -- of 5-to-18 -- was horrible; but that was largely a product of all the isolation plays they used to break down Calhoun's man-to-man D (not the ideal scheme to use against Memphis). Rose will be in the spotlight all season, but he doesn't seek it out. When I inquired afterward about his favorite bucket of the game -- Calipari wasn't pleased with a few of Rose's "circus shots," but the freshman did knock down a a few crazy, hanging layups -- all Rose said was, "I just like seeing my other players score."
Douglas-Roberts, who was chosen the MVP of the tournament, made a point to say later that, "Joey [Dorsey] was the MVP. He gets double-digit rebounds, covers everybody's back, gets three blocks a game -- I mean, I don't see how he wasn't the MVP of this tournament." When asked if he would turn over his freshly acquired MVP trophy to Dorsey, Douglas-Roberts paused before saying, "I'll just make sure that he reads this." Unselfishness has its limits.
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.
See if O.J. Mayo is all he's hyped up to be at the Jimmy V. Classic on Dec. 4 at Madison Square Garden.
Howie McCormick/Icon SMI
New York is not necessarily the best place for a college basketball writer (like myself) to live during January, February and March. Given that none of the city-area teams (St. John's, Seton Hall, Columbia, Manhattan and even Rutgers) is particularly relevant on a national scale, everything requires travel. Trains to D.C. for Georgetown games. Flights to RDU for North Carolina and Duke. Five-hour, cross-country jaunts to LAX for UCLA and USC.
In November and December, however, a wonderful phenomenon occurs: the best of college hoops simply comes to us in Manhattan. I spent this morning -- once I finished my last college football preview piece, that is -- looking through hoops schedules with the intention of returning to regular blogging. And I've come to the pleasant realization that the top three early-season events are all at Madison Square Garden, just a short subway ride away. There's an absurd number of these tournaments/invites/classics in '07-08 -- 23, by my last count, not including the Big Ten/ACC, SEC/Big East and Big 12/Pac-10 jamborees -- and I've ranked them in order of quality:
1. JIMMY V CLASSIC, Dec. 4, Madison Square Garden Games: Kansas State vs. Notre Dame, USC vs. Memphis
This is the premier freshmen showcase -- basically, the '07-08 equivalent of putting Greg Oden, Kevin Durant and Brandan Wright on the same bill in the first month of the season. In forward Michael Beasley (of K-State), O.J. Mayo (of USC) and Derrick Rose (of Memphis), the Jimmy V will boast three top-five picks for '08. The headlining matchup between the Trojans and Tigers, who are both rather freewheeling on offense, could be one of the top games of the non-conference slate.
2. COACHES VS. CANCER CLASSIC, Nov. 15-16, Madison Square Garden Final Four picks: Kentucky, Memphis, Oklahoma, UConn
The CvC is the closest thing we have to an opening day in college hoops. And this year it'll offer us a number of important, early looks at the following: - Billy Gillispie's impact on UK, plus super-recruit Patrick Patterson - Memphis' chances for a title run, as well as if Rose's skills live up to Joey Dorsey's billing - Oklahoma's freshman savior, Blake (little bro of Tyler) Griffin- The progress of UConn center Hasheem Thabeet, who could be a lottery pick if he develops even a minimal offensive repertoire.
3. NIT SEASON TIP-OFF, Nov. 21 and 23, Madison Square Garden Final Four picks: Syracuse, Ohio State, Washington, Texas A&M
The preseason NIT was memorable as the stage for Butler's coming-out party in '06. But this time around, rather than a mid-major surprise, we're more likely to get an idea of whether Syracuse, with its talented underclassmen trio of Johnny Flynn, Paul Harris and Donte Greene, is ready to contend in the Big East or is still another year away.
4. CBE CLASSIC, Nov. 19-20, Kansas City, Sprint Center Final Four picks: UCLA, Maryland, Michigan State, Missouri
At this summer's Pan American Games trials, I had hoped to see UCLA's Darren Collison square off against MSU's Drew Neitzel in a battle of All-America-caliber point guards. Alas, Neitzel was the only one of the two invited to camp, and he, Villanova's Scottie Reynolds and Washington State's Derrick Low handled floor-general duties in Brazil. We'll have to settle for a Darren-vs.-Drew battle in KC, with both teams likely ranked in the top 10 of the polls.
5. LEGENDS CLASSIC, Nov. 23-24, Newark, N.J., Prudential Center Final Four picks: New Mexico State, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia
The title game of this first-year tourney should pit the Vols against the Longhorns, and considering what happened the last time they met -- a 111-105 win by Tennessee in overtime, with Chris Lofton scoring 35 -- it will be a must-watch game. Even with Kevin Durant gone to the NBA.
This is a far cry from the Maui field of 2005, which was won by a loaded UConn team and included an epic battle between Adam Morrison and Michigan State. While it could still provide a decent finale between the Dukies and Golden Eagles, it's tough to see anyone knocking off Marquette. The Blue Devils' perimeter posse of Greg Paulus, Jon Scheyer and Kyle Singler will be decent -- but can they really play enough D to stop Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wes Matthews, who took down Coach K's boys last season in Kansas City?
7. LAS VEGAS INVITATIONAL, Nov. 17-24, Las Vegas Field: BYU, Hartford, Iona, Jackson State, Louisville, North Carolina, Old Dominion, South Carolina State
The overall strength (or lack thereof) of the Vegas field is irrelevant: the whole point is to generate a UNC-vs.-Louisville title game on Thanksgiving weekend. Most of us pundits have been speculating, based on their late-season surge and near-upset of Texas A&M in the NCAA tournament, that Edgar Sosa and the Cards could be a Final Four team. But can they run with a Carolina squad that has all the pieces in place to win a national title? This could be a near-equivalent of the Florida-Kansas bout in Vegas last November -- and Louisville's prime opportunity to jump into the top five of the polls.
8. OLD SPICE CLASSIC, Nov. 22-25, Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Field: Villanova, Central Florida, George Mason, Kansas State, N.C. State, Penn State, Rider, South Carolina
The deodorant/aftershave invitational does not have a real headliner, but some intriguing storylines may develop. There's a chance N.C. State could emerge looking like the favorite to finish second -- ahead of Duke, Virginia or Virginia Tech -- in the ACC. And this would also be a nice stage for South Carolina's backcourt transfer duo of Devan Downey (Cincinnati) and Zam Frederick (Georgia Tech) to remind the nation of their talents, and establish the Gamecocks as a darkhorse in the SEC.
9. HALL OF FAME CLASSIC, Dec. 1, Boston Games: UConn vs. Gonzaga, Providence vs. Boston College
Gonzaga consistently has more cojones than any other team when it comes to non-conference scheduling, last year taking on Duke, Washington State, Texas and North Carolina out of conference, to name a few. Throttling UConn on the Huskies' home coast -- something the Zags are capable of doing with Josh Heytvelt in the lineup -- would go a long way in justifying their return to the top 25 after a turbulent down year.
10. GREAT ALASKA SHOOTOUT, Nov. 20-24, Anchorage, Alaska (Alaska-Anchorage, Butler, Eastern Washington, Gonzaga, Michigan, Texas Tech, Virginia Tech, Western Kentucky)
11. WOODEN TRADITION, Dec. 15, Indianapolis (Purdue vs. Louisville, Butler vs. Florida State)
17. BLUE RIBBON CHALLENGE, Nov. 9-22, Gainesville, Fla., and New Brunswick, N.J. (Florida, North Carolina Central, North Dakota State, Rutgers, Tennessee Tech)
18. SOUTH PADRE INVITATIONAL, South Padre Island, Texas, Nov. 23-24 (Vanderbilt, Iowa, Austin Peay, Bradley, Valparaiso, Maryland-Eastern Shore, Florida Gulf Coast, Utah State)
19. RAINBOW CLASSIC, Dec. 19-22, Honolulu (East Tennessee State, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana-Lafayette, Ohio, St. John's, St. Mary's, Tulane)
20. TOP OF THE WORLD CLASSIC, Nov. 15-18, Fairbanks, Alaska (Alaska-Fairbanks, Akron, Colorado State, IUPUI, Oregon State, Tennessee State, South Carolina Upstate, Portland State)
Check back to see if these yet-to-be-filled-out events are worth roadtripping (or turning on the tube) for: PUERTO RICO CLASSIC (Arkansas, College of Charleston, Marist, Miami, Providence, Temple, Virginia Commonwealth, eighth team TBA), BB&T CLASSIC (Maryland, George Washington, George Mason, plus three more TBA), WOODEN CLASSIC (UCLA vs. Davidson, other game TBA)
Memphis' Joey Dorsey grabbed 9.4 rebounds last year, but says this season he'll average 15.
For the latest edition of the Blog Q&A series, I chatted with Memphis' Joey Dorsey, who was one of 14 players to pass the first cut in USA Basketball's Pan American Games trials last week in Haverford, Pa. The 6-foot-9, 260-pound power forward left a strong impression on the U.S. team's selection committee, playing the role of beastly rebounder and looking like a potential starter alongside Georgetown's Roy Hibbert in the post. Dorsey, who averaged 8.5 points and 9.4 rebounds for the Tigers last season, was also one of the more outwardly goofy players in the camp. During the final seconds of a scrimmage on the day before we spoke, he begged one of the camp's photographers to shoot flashbulbs at Duke's Jon Scheyer while he was on the free-throw line, in hopes of distracting him so Dorsey's white team would pull out a victory. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation.
Luke Winn: You grew up in West Baltimore; do you still connect, or look up to, any basketball greats from back home?
Joey Dorsey: I'm actually really close with Carmelo. We talk a lot, and work out together a lot. Rudy [Gay] is down in Memphis, and me and Rudy are real close. I stayed with him before he went out to Vegas [for the NBA Summer League]. It's mostly those two; I knew Carmelo back when he transferred from Towson Catholic to Oak Hill, and I ended up wearing his number  my freshman year at Memphis.
LW: But you've changed it since. Why?
JD: People said I put a lot of pressure on myself by having Melo's number going into college, and I didn't have very good first year. So I switched to 32, Amare Stoudemire's number, and I think I played pretty well doing that. But I'm changing it again for this season, to 3.
LW: And who's that one for?
JD: Coach Cal [John Calipari] wants me to be Ben Wallace so bad, that I thought I might as well just go and be Ben Wallace. I gave in. Both coach Cal and Larry Brown -- he came down for a coaches' clinic -- kept saying, ‘Just be Ben Wallace. Get every rebound and dunk everything.’ So that's what I'm going to try to do.
LW: Are you cool with the Wallace comparisons?
JD: Yeah, I'm cool with it. He's a great player, and I have a big body, I'm real athletic, and one of the strongest guys in college, so the Wallace stuff stuck on me. I've even got the braids, and I'm ready to let the bush out, so it's going to be crazy.
LW: You're going to pick out the Wallace 'fro for games?
JD: Oh yeah. I think they're ready to come out with a bobblehead doll at Memphis with the number 3 on it and my afro. I told the fans I'd wear my bush out this year for them.
LW: You also changed your first name -- from Richard to Joey -- your freshman season at Memphis. Can you explain why?
JD: I was at Laurinburg [Prep, in North Carolina], and they were calling me Richard. But I got the name Joey from mom when I was really young. I jumped around a lot as a kid -- I was real energetic and hyper, and she was like, 'I'm going to name you Joey, like a baby kangaroo,' and it stuck from there. So when I got to Memphis I told the announcer to call me Joey from now on. I didn't like hearing 'Richard Dorsey.' It just didn't sound good.
LW: The jumping around, high-energy rebounding thing is your M.O. at Memphis. How closely do you pay attention to your personal rebounding stats?
JD: I always pay attention. That was one of my biggest things coming into last year -- I wanted to be top five [nationally] in rebounding. I'd always think of things like, how in the game against Tennessee I had about 15 rebounds in the first half, and then fouled out with just 15 rebounds. I was so upset about that, because I knew I could have got 25 rebounds that game.
LW: And what's the goal for this year?
JD: I want to lead the country in rebounding with 15 rebounds a game.
LW: You issued a pretty strong challenge to Greg Oden in the Elite Eight last year, saying you were Goliath, he was David; you were underrated, he was overrated, and then the game didn't turn out very well. How much is that still on your mind?
JD: I've heard so much about that Ohio State game this year. I let my teammates down; I apologized to them after that, because my mind was somewhere else. I was going through a lot of family problems right before that game started. But things happen, and that's why I came back this year. I wasn't going to leave on a note like that.
LW: Did the family problems lead you to say the stuff about Oden, too?
JD: No, not that part. I was just trying to hype it up. I wanted it to be a big matchup, because I'm a great rebounder and he's a great player. It's the same thing as when me and Roy [Hibbert] are going to play each other down in Memphis; people are going to try to hype that up, too.
LW: If you come into another game like that, would you hype it up in the same way? Call an Oden-caliber guy overrated?
JD: No way. Nooo way. The next time I go up against a big guy like that, I'm going to let the giant sleep.
LW: Is that your call or coach Cal's demand?
JD: Coach Cal said you learn from your mistakes. Let 'em sleep.
LW: You have a big-time freshman of your own, Chicago point guard Derrick Rose, coming in this season. I'm assuming you've had a chance to play with him a little bit; what were your impressions?
JD: The first day Derrick got there we played pickup, and me, him, CD-R [Chris Douglas-Roberts], [Robert] Dozier, and Antonio [Anderson] were on the same team, just like a starting five. Rose was amazing. Amazing. I didn't know the kid was that quick -- the first time we threw the ball in, he was down the court in three dribbles. He sees the floor very well and gets all his players involved. He just knows where everybody's at; I'm going to love playing with him because he likes to run, too.
I know he's going to throw me a couple of lobs, and I'll throw him some too. I threw him one coming down on the break, it was back-and-forth, pass, pass and I threw it up to him, without knowing how high he could jump. The kid is athletic. We have to find minutes for him, because I guarantee he's a one-and-done player. He's that good. I'm going to enjoy playing with Derrick Rose this year.
LW: Those old Laurinburg guys -- Anderson, Dozier and Kareem Cooper; do you live with any of them at Memphis?
JD: We actually have a house -- 11 bedrooms, all basketball players, so mostly everybody stays there.
LW: How did you find that place?
JD: It's an on-campus thing; Coach Cal did it. It's almost like a mansion. You can get lost in there. It's decked out, too; the living room's got 42-inch flat screens where we can watch game tapes, or review player personnel. Or we can go upstairs where there's a theater, and just watch movies.
LW: Are you a fan of the HBO show The Wire, seeing that it's set in your hometown?
JD: Oh yeah, I watch it. That's right around in my neighborhood. West Baltimore. And all that stuff in actually happens back home. It's so bad that I stay in Memphis a lot. I go back home for probably three days to see a couple of my friends there, and then I'm out.
LW: And the slang in The Wire is accurate, too?
JD: They sound just like us. Like, how they say the number "two," or I’m going "too." We say it different in Baltimore, like "tue."
LW: Any scenes filmed on blocks where you once lived?
JD: Yup, there was one when Omar came up to the projects. He was like, 'Throw the bag out the window!' and they dropped it to him. That was my neighborhood. We used to stay in the apartments probably a block away from there.
LW: I remember that. One of Omar's dealer-robbery binges.
JD: Right. He was collecting everything. Robbing them with a shotgun.