Get inside March Madness with SI.com's Luke Winn in the Tourney Blog, a daily journal of college basketball commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
4/05/2008 11:31:00 PM
Once Again, Behold The Memphis Machine
Chris Douglas-Roberts and Memphis proved too much for Kevin Love and Co. to handle.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
SAN ANTONIO -- Kevin Love was knocked backward, 271 pounds of UCLA All-American tumbling to the ground, as Chris Douglas-Roberts soared over him, 200 pounds of Memphis All-American throwing down a back-door, baseline slam in a Final Four duel that was getting out of hand. Awe-inspiring athleticism, for the umpteenth time on Saturday, was winning out over grit, and Douglas-Roberts screamed as Love picked himself up off the floor. The score was 61-52, with 4:52 left on the clock, and Tigers forward Robert Dozier said he thought to himself, "The game's over."
This one, which finished 78-63, was over long before Douglas-Roberts finished with 28 points and Love just 12. It was over long before Memphis' Derrick Rose and Love, two likely one-and-done freshman, met near the end of the handshake line, one of them moving on to a title-game date with Kansas, the other moving on toward his fate in the NBA Draft. No matter who has been in the way over the past three games, they have seemed helpless in the face of the Memphis machine. Rose, who had 25 points of his own, said after the game that the victory had not yet sunk in, but it didn't need to: "Going into the game, we knew that we was gonna win," he explained, "So [there] ain't too much to say."
There are a few important things to know about this Tigers team: They weren't this good in February, when they lost their only one of 39 games this season, at home to Tennessee, and sat sulking in their locker room afterwards. They weren't even this good at the beginning of March, when they let a bad Southern Miss team play them to within nine in Hattiesburg. And they weren't even this good in the second round of this NCAA tournament, when they let eighth-seeded Mississippi State take them to the wire in North Little Rock, Ark.
Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl has a saying, which he used after losing to Louisville in the Sweet 16, that "the cream rises to the top at tournament time." And whereas Memphis' cream -- its peerless point guard (Rose), its slippery wing scorer (Douglas-Roberts) and its enigmatic board-cleaner (Joey Dorsey) -- was still mixed up in the middle when it suffered its one blemish against the Vols, it rose upon reaching the Sweet 16 last week. In Houston the Tigers made Michigan State look like a 16 seed rather than a five; they made Texas look not like the Big 12 regular season co-champ, but like a bubble team from Conference USA. And in San Antonio on Saturday, they made a fellow No. 1 seed, UCLA, look not like an equal but rather just another team that did not know what hit them.
"At this stage," said Love, "I feel like Memphis is definitely the best team we've played."
Dropping 28 points on UCLA had to be especially sweet for Douglas-Roberts, who had one of his worst games as a freshman in Memphis' Elite Eight loss to the Bruins. Coach John Calipari had said of the then-180-pound CDR, "Physically, he couldn't play [in that game]." In this Final Four he not only stayed on the court for the second-most minutes of any Tiger (35), he had four more points than Bruins guards Darren Collison and Russell Westbrookcombined.
Rose, who has been the most unstoppable player of the entire dance, actually made Collison look slow on Saturday -- and considering that UCLA's point guard is the son of two Guyanese track stars, this was no small feat. It was almost as if Rose was toying with the entire Bruins team; he said he could see they were "fatigued" because "I just keep pushing the ball."
Collison fouled out with 2:53 left in the game and just two points to his name, which would be a sad end to his college career if he chooses to turn pro later this month. Rose was not the nation's best point guard as of even three weeks ago, but in his past two games, he has 46 points and 13 assists. Against him, the two point guards on most All-America teams, Texas' D.J. Augustin and Collison, finished with 18 points and seven assists combined.
Glue guy Antonio Anderson has been peaking along with Rose, but in far quieter fashion. Anderson was the one responsible for cutting off UCLA's head on the defensive end. "We put 'Tone on [Collison]; he's been locking all the great point guards in this tournament," said Douglas-Roberts. "We wanted to make it hard on Collison, because he's the key to their team. He gets Kevin going, he gets Shipp going, he gets all of them going."
Extreme pressure on Collison meant that Love -- who carried UCLA here in much the same fashion that Rose did with Memphis -- didn't even get his hands on the ball enough to make a game-changing impact. Dorsey, who finished with 15 rebounds to Love's nine, was a physical force inside, but he played only 27 minutes; while he was on the bench, Shawn Taggart and Robert Dozier employed a swarming, double-teaming tactic that gave Love fits.
"I guess [Love] had never played against a team as athletic and long as us," said Taggart. "He was frustrated. ... I've seen him play [in games] when he got the ball 20 times, and I think he only got it about six today."
Dozier admitted that Memphis' game plan had been not even to guard auxiliary big men such as Alfred Aboya, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute or Lorenzo Mata-Real. The Tigers' post defenders were strictly assigned to the task of keeping Love uncomfortable.
Calipari has required that Dorsey, his sometimes-headcase-of-a-big-man, write stories before every game since Senior Night on March 8, in order to envision a positive outcome before he takes the floor. The one Joey wrote -- or at least said he did -- before Saturday's game was titled No Love For UCLA. In it, Dorsey said he addressed Memphis' loss to UCLA in the 1973 title game -- and more importantly, the fact that he wanted to hold Love below a double-double. "He got it, though," Dorsey half-lamented as he strode down the hallway away from the Tigers' locker room.
Love actually didn't get it -- he was one rebound short -- but those were just details. The real story was that Memphis would be playing in the title game on Monday night, and that the favorite coming into the dance, UCLA, was bounced from the Final Four for a third straight season.
It was still shocking, in the aftermath, to consider just how little the Bruins' defense had done to slow down the Tigers in a 15-point loss, by far UCLA's worst of the season. It took until well after the game for the Bruins to do any real damage, and only when the golf cart that Dorsey, Rose and Douglas-Roberts were riding in away from their press-conference came upon one carrying Love and Collison, going the other direction.
The NCAA official driving the Memphis cart veered off the carpeted path to make room, and in the process slammed Dorsey's right knee into a pole. He cried out in pain, half-jokingly, but the Bruins players were not amused. They, as the real victims of a Saturday-night rout, rode off silently down the hall.
Derrick Rose helped the Tigers race to the NCAA title game for the first time since 1973.
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
SAN ANTONIO -- Thoughts on Memphis' 78-63 win over UCLA before I run to the locker room ...
• In the time it took me to write this, the Tigers' Derrick Rose could have run three laps around the Alamodome. It's clear by now that Rose is the most dangerous open-court guard in the country. He made UCLA's Darren Collison -- the son of two Guyanese track stars -- look as slow as Lorenzo Mata-Real. By the end of the first half Rose had already blown Collison away, scoring 11 points and dishing out two assists without a turnover. Collison had just two points on 1-of-4 shooting and three turnovers to go with his three assists. When Collison fouled out with 2:53 left in the game, and the Bruins down 63-52, he still had just two points. That was a single-game low on the season.
• In case you were keeping score, in the past two games, Rose has 46 points and 13 assists. Combined, the two point guards atop most All-America lists, Texas' D.J. Augustin and Collison, finished with 18 points and seven assists. How much NBA money did Collison cost himself on Saturday?
• Kevin Love really suffered from UCLA's lack of a second post player who could knock down jumpers. After Joey Dorsey went out with his third foul early in the second half, Love wasn't allowed to dominate -- because Sean Taggart and Robert Dozier were swarming around to double-team whenever he caught the ball. They chose simply to leave Alfred Aboya, Mata-Real and even Luc Richard Mbah a Moute wide open from time to time.
• By 13:32 in the second half, the score was 50-45 in Memphis' favor. Why was that significant? It was same score by which UCLA beat the Tigers in the 2006 Elite Eight. Two years ago, the Bruins were able to exert their will and turn the game into a defensive grinder. In 2008, with Rose streaking by them, Douglas-Roberts slashing for layups, and Dorsey cleaning the glass, UCLA lost all control.
• A guaranteed highlight for the One Shining Moment montage: Chris Douglas-Roberts' backdoor cut for a left-handed dunk over Love. CDR, if you aren't familiar with his game, is right-handed.
• Three straight Memphis blowouts -- the last two over really good teams -- in this NCAA tournament. Is there any reason to think the Tigers won't win the whole thing now?
SAN ANTONIO -- Our 10-part countdown to the tipoff of the Final Four, gathered from locker rooms and practices, press conferences and back-hallway interviews at the Alamodome:
10. Does a Final Four with four No. 1 seeds have a strong enough aura around it to make Kansas State's Michael Beasley think about staying in college for another year? Lil' Mike, who's in San Antonio as a Naismith Award finalist, created a commotion (at least among fans aged 10-18) at the Alamodome on Friday when he appeared courtside during Memphis' practice. He told me that someone back on campus in Manhattan had recently written THREE MORE YEARS (in an "artistic" way) on the back window of his Chevy Tahoe. The only possible reason he could cite for actually coming back, despite being the projected No. 2 pick in the NBA draft, was the event in which Kansas, UNC, Memphis and UCLA -- but not K-State -- were partaking in this weekend. "I don't have a championship," said Beasley. "This, the Final Four, I'd love to still be playing in it right now."
But Beasley also mentioned the possibility of holding a press conference early next week in Manhattan -- and said that he'd be interested in doing it jointly with fellow Wildcat and NBA prospect Bill Walker, because, "It'd be nice to knock it all out." Read into that what you will.
9. Russell Westbrook told me in the UCLA locker room that he'll be the one trying to lock down Chris Douglas-Roberts on Saturday, while Darren Collison will be on Derrick Rose. Since I took an extended look at Douglas-Roberts' game on Friday, I asked Westbrook, the Pac-10's Defensive Player of the Year, how you defend an opponent with a killer crossover. "Don't watch the ball," he said. "If you watch the ball, that's when you get lost defending. You just have to stay solid and look at something like his stomach, or his belly button."
8. Westbrook was kind enough to step away from a heated card game (of Thirteen) amongst mostly Bruin reserves. Upon finishing our interview, he immediately began harassing Nikola Dragovic to give him his spot back in the game's rotation.
7. The photo below was from Kansas practice beforeRodrick Stewart freakishly fractured his right kneecap while jumping for a dunk attempt. I was in the Memphis locker room doing interviews when it happened ... and it immediately became the talk of the 'dome. Sad that all Stewart was trying to do was entertain the horde of Jayhawks fans -- easily the biggest contingent in San Antonio -- with a bounce-to-himself slam. This won't hurt KU nearly as much as missing Andre Allen (for a drug suspension) will hurt Memphis, but it's still a devastating end to Stewart's tumultuous college career.
6. Even though the reason Allen isn't at the Final Four is because he reportedly failed a drug test, some Tigers players are treating him as some sort of martyr. Reserve forward Hashim Bailey had devoted most of the white space on his Memphis Adidas shoes (pictured first below) to messages about Allen, including "Dre Day" and a drawing of a hand sign that represents Allen's neighborhood, South Memphis. Apparently some players plan on making this sign for Allen during Saturday's game. Another reserve forward, Pierre Niles, also had his shoes (pictured second) decorated with devotional messages such as "This one for you cuz #15."
5. The biggest pack around any single player? Easily the reporters swarming North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough, a Naismith Award finalist who, unlike Beasley, still has business left to tend to. I still like Roy Williams' condensed scouting report on Hansbrough from the Final Four Salute: "Fairly mediocre player with poor work habits."
Williams was kidding, obviously. And in Friday's press conference, Roy got irked when someone asked why Psycho T's secondary nickname, "Spaz-Brough," hasn't stuck. (I believe the blog may have been the first to uncover this in March of 2007, a huge scoop.) "Probably the guy that gave him the "Spaz-Brough" thing really didn't think, because if you look at him, he is far, far from spaz. Even in the tournament last week, we come down the court, Ty makes a pass to him on the left wing, the guy stands up to take a charge, and he actually looks like Twinkle Toes, but he goes right by the guys. He is not spastic by any means. There's no way that one would stick. The only real way that one will stick is if someone is trying to be cute or harmful."
5. Larry Brown was haunting the hallways and locker rooms at the Alamodome, supervising the coaches and schools to which he has ties ... which meant all of them. He played at North Carolina, coached at UCLA and Kansas, and had John Calipari on his staff as an assistant in Lawrence. "I didn't want to come because I didn't think it was a good situation to be in," said Brown (show below with Memphis' Willie Kemp), "but my wife told me it was a win-win, and I think she's right."
In the 10 or so minutes I listened to reporters pester Brown during Memphis' practice, he was asked about the Memphis Grizzlies' job (dismissed the question) and what he'd tell Calipari if the Knicks offered him that job (which is so going to happen). To that one, Brown said, "I want John to do what he thinks is best. Right now he's got something really important to do. He's trying to win a national championship. I don't think there's anything else on his mind right now."
4. A Final Four weekend packed with Lottery Picks is probably an appropriate a time as any to get fresh stars shaved in your head. Memphis' Doneal Mack, who had let his barbershop designs slack a bit during the earlier stages of the tourney, was out in full force for Friday's media sessions.
3. Niles, one of our favorite Memphis interviews, gave us one Joey Dorsey story that slipped his mind during our Q&A in Houston: "Last year, after a practice, Joey ran to the locker room and took [reserve guard] Clyde [Wade]'s car to the other side of campus. Clyde came in and was like, 'Is somebody playing? Where is my car?' He ran around looking for it, but I don't think he found it until like 11:30 that night, and practice was at 2:30. He was mad. Joey finally had to tell him where it was, otherwise he wouldn't have found it."
2. Ben Howland is into Stevie Wonder. Apparently he's been listening to Ribbon In The Sky on occasion while watching basketball film. Said Howland: "I actually saw Stevie Wonder in concert this year at the Santa Barbara County Bowl. I've always loved Stevie. He actually sang that song this summer. He's improvising. He sang it for about, I don't know, 10 minutes. It was actually incredible. The recording I have, I listen to it when I'm watching film once in a while, does it no justice."
(Ribbon, incidentally, is the same Stevie tune that Vandy's Shan Fostermentioned in a Q&A earlier this year. How good would the Bruins be, by the way, if they had just one more great three-point shooter, like Foster?)
1. Finally, a few predictions: Memphis over UCLA, Carolina over Kansas. Two great games to make up for all the blowouts last weekend. Rose's speed > Collison's speed, by just a little. The Tigers won't miss Allen. Dorsey gets within two rebounds of Kevin Love. Hansbrough doubles Brandon Rush's scoring output, but Mario Chalmers has a huge night to keep the Jayhawks in it 'til the final minute. Ol' Roy has conflicted emotions about bouncing KU ... but just for the few hours up until he needs to start game-planning for Rose.
SAN ANTONIO -- We've made it sort of a tradition among the SI crew to hit up the Final Four Salute Presentation on Thursday night of game week. This is where various poobahs of the sport (selection committee members and assorted men in suits) as well as local business dignitaries get to see CBS' Jim Nantz introduce all of the players and have a sit-down panel interview with the four coaches. Mostly I just go because it's funny to see what the various teams roll in wearing: Not knowing what to expect out of the presentation, some of them show up dressed appropriately formal, and others sort of go uncomfortably casual (like Ohio State's Thad Matta last year, who had on a polo shirt and no socks).
We were hidden in the back row of the auditorium of a Riverwalk convention center for the event, so my Canon Elph lacked the power to properly capture the scene. The shot below is my best attempt at a montage of the four squads as they stood onstage.
As you can see, the team that's been to the Final Four the past two years, UCLA, was nearly all in suits. Lorenzo Mata-Real, ever the trendsetter, changed things up with the brightest white pair of shoes in the room -- but no over-ear headband. North Carolina, whose coach, Roy Williams, has been to a few of these things, was probably the best-dressed team. Nantz made a remark about Kansas' "uniformity," since they were all wearing polo shirts and khakis, looking like a pack of young golf pros. And Memphis, keeping it real, went almost exclusively for the button-up and jeans look.
The upset of the night? That the only Tiger with a semi-formal outfit on ... was none other than Joey Dorsey, with a sweater-and-jeans look. It's the kind of late-season maturity you'd like to see out of a senior. Especially since he's now the only senior on Memphis' Final Four roster, with Andre Allen left at home after failing a drug test. Nantz mercifully let John Calipari off the hook by avoiding the topic altogether. (This was a promotional event rather than a media one.)
The highlights of the event, beyond Joey's sweater:
• A predictably awkward interview between Nantz and Tyler Hansbrough, who said he did not fraternize with any of the teams during a dinner earlier that night, and was just trying to "stay focused." Said Nantz, "I have a feeling you'll stay focused, Tyler."
• KU coach Bill Self telling a story about milking sympathy from a knee injury he suffered at a Larry Brown summer camp into a graduate assistant job with the Jayhawks. "The worse [Brown] felt, the more I limped," Self said.
• Williams, when asked to do a brief breakdown of the main players in his rotation, said of Hansbrough, "Fairly mediocre player with poor work habits." Easily the best line of the evening.
• Calipari getting called out by his fellow panelists for trying to praise the refereeing in the tournament and laying groundwork for calls on Saturday. The coaches also had the opportunity to introduce their wives and have them stand up in the crowd, but Cal said his wife and kids were on the Riverwalk, because (and I'm paraphrasing here), "'She said I pat myself on the back enough to make my arm fall off, so she doesn't need to do it for me."
• A sneak peek at the first two minutes and 30 seconds of the One Shining Moment montage. Apparently it's about 3:02 long, with the early parts already locked on. One funny semi-spoiler: At the first run of the And when it's done line, a certain super-freshman who's expected to be one-and-done -- but hasn't declared yet -- is shown in the postgame handshake line. That's what you call suggestive imagery.
SAN ANTONIO -- Some stories are simply too long to be in a blog. Like this 2,000-word opus on Chris Douglas-Roberts that went up today on SI.com. For the purposes of archiving all of my tourney content here -- especially for those of you who subscribe via RSS -- I'll use this post as a jumping-off point:
It was the summer of 1999 at Detroit's Condon Playground, just a few blocks south of where Edsel Ford Freeway cuts through the inner city, and Frank Lewis, an old high school teammate of Durand "Speedy" Walker's, said he was bringing over "a special one" from his block of 30th Street. Walker, the coach of The Family, a prominent Motor City AAU program, was holding a summer camp at Condon, and the 12-year-old whom Lewis had in tow did not look special. Strange was more like it. "He was this skinny kid who weighed about 60 pounds, wearing red high-top Chuck Taylors when nobody was still wearing those, and had an afro all over the place," Walker said. "He looked like he would fall apart on the court."Click here to read the rest ...
SAN ANTONIO -- Building up the body of the Final Four in eight parts (Andre Allen's vacant headspace not included):
Derrick Rose's Bandaged Eyebrow Rose is human after all: He's "terrified of needles," or at least the ones needed to give stitches, which he avoided after opening a cut over his eye against Michigan State in the Sweet 16. Rose had it glued together -- and then explained that the reason he could have tattoos (he has multiple) and not stitches was because the tattoo needle "doesn't go all the way in."
Mario Chalmers' Super-Steal Vision Chalmers, in this week's SI Final Four preview (by Grant Wahl): "I try to read people's eyes, to see what they're looking at and read their minds." That's how the Superintendent picks off so many passes, averaging 2.4 steals per game. It also doesn't hurt that he's lightning- quick and has a backcourt mate in Russell Robinson who's adept at harassing opposing ball-handlers.
UCLA's Banner Burden On Ben Howland's shoulders is a unique burden. The other three teams here are all relieved about finally breaking through; none of them would be satisfied with going home on Saturday, but reaching San Antonio in itself was a big deal. For the Bruins, who've been to the past two Final Fours and have 11 banners hanging at home, a title is the only positive outcome.
Tyler Hansbrough's Shotputting Shoulder Hansbrough averaged 22.8 points per game this season with a go-to move that Roy Williams even described as a "shot-put" -- a right-handed shot on the interior that starts below chin-level. As you can see from the photo at left, that leaves Psycho T's other arm to draw contact or merely just push away defenders. The shot is as effective as it is ugly, giving him no incentive to change.
Kevin Love's Hooking Elbow This is Love's greatest post move: sealing off his defender with a bent elbow, and then spinning to the basket for an easy two. It's the kind of trick a 15-year NBA veteran would use, and it's incredibly hard to defend -- or get the ref to whistle it as a foul. As an assistant said in our scouting reports, "it's just one of those things that [Love] has perfected over time."
Kansas' Backcourt Numbers I'm not referring to KU's actual jersey digits, but rather the sheer volume of quality guards on its roster. UCLA has three, UNC has three, and Memphis is down to four with Allen's absence, but KU has five options: The starting trio of Chalmers, Russell Robinson and Brandon Rush, plus Sherron Collins (a five-star recruit) and Rodrick Stewart (a four-star recruit) off the bench.
Chris Douglas-Roberts' Tripled-Up Socks Think Douglas-Roberts' perimeter moves are unorthodox? The way he wears his socks -- three Adidas tubes on each foot, rolled up over each other -- is even stranger. Memphis' All-America two-guard does this for a reason, though: "They get me loose, my calves and everything," he said last week in Houston. "They make e sweat more, and they warm me up."
Tywon Lawson's Fleet Feet (And Healed Ankle) Lawson's extended left-ankle injury prevented the country from getting a good look at the Tar Heels until late in the season. Now they have have the tournament's most high-powered offense, with his healed wheels running the show. He's often called the "fastest end-to-end" point guard in the country, but I'd like to see him and Memphis' Rose officially race for that title.
SAN ANTONIO -- I just combed through all of the possible Tourney Blog Pool scenarios, and am saddened to announce that there is no way a tuba player in the championship-team's band can win it all. Or any team's band, for that matter. Out of 5,490 completed brackets in our Facebook pool, there's an elite pack of 11 entrants who still have a shot at the title of Blog Pool Champ, and all of the fame and fortune that goes with it. (On top of the fame of being mentioned here, there will be some sort of non-monetary prize that I'll work out with the champ. It's possible that Sports Illustrated swag will be involved.)
Our Elite 11 have been contacted via Facebook to cough up information about themselves for a post later in the week. For now we'll just list the champs from the eight different title-game scenarios (with current point totals in parentheses), including a four-way tie if Memphis beats UNC:
If Kansas beats UCLA:Dan Dial of Southeast Missouri State (107) If Kansas beats Memphis:Karen Kraus of Mizzou (104)
If North Carolina beats UCLA:Frui Awasum of Hampton (107) If North Carolina beats Memphis:Taylor Dupre of Stetson (105)
If UCLA beats North Carolina:Ben Levine of the Moses Brown School in Providence (105) If UCLA beats Kansas:Michael Ferguson of UCF (107)
If Memphis beats North Carolina:Grant Catus of Nevada (Iowa) High (104), Cory Pitts of Hays (Kan.) High (104), Jon Sneed of Tennessee Tech (104), and Mitch Jackson of UConn If Memphis beats Kansas:Kenny San Antonio of Providence (104)
(Your blogger, if you still care, is tied for 1,305th. Ouch. All of the people above, I'm pretty sure, were on the four-number-ones-in San Antonio bandwagon, a scenario that our collaborator from Vegas Watch, Jacob Wheatley-Schaller, says had only a 4.8 percent chance of happening.)
• Catching up on the Tourney Blog Playlist, curated by the duo at Dallas-based blog Gorilla vs. Bear, one of whom refused to come to the Final Four because he "hates San Antonio":
Day 20's track was Writing On The Wall's Buffalo. Some '60s Scottish prog-rock, with the only real tie-in being that a Scottish man asked me for directions today at the Riverwalk. I was unable to help him.
Day 23's track is Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks' Baltimore. On my last night in New York before the Final Four, I saw their show at the Bowery Ballrooom ... and someone in the back shouted "Sean Singletary," hoping to get a rise of Malkmus, a University of Virginia grad. He acknowledged the yeller, but was not particularly amused, merely restating the Cavs star's last name -- "Singletary" -- and then moving on into a song. The mp3 above generated far more banter on stage, mostly about Omar Little from The Wire.
SI.com spoke with an assistant coach from a former Kansas opponent to get an anonymous scouting report on Brandon Rush, as well as a breakdown of a set the Jayhawks run for their junior swingman. Here's what the coach had to say:
"Rush is a very skilled offensive player and excellent three-point shooter who can score in bunches. One out of his every two attempts is from beyond the arc. He loves shooting threes from the corner -- that's his highest-percentage spot -- and runs hard in transition to get long-distance looks or go for lobs from Kansas' other guards. They've done a tremendous job of putting him in positions in the offense where he gets good shots; if you looked back to his first year, his shot selection was a little bit questionable. Now, you always hear coach [Bill] Self saying that he wants Rush to shoot even more."
"Rush's go-to move is a shot-fake, then a drive right for a pull-up jumper, or sometimes a drive all the way to the rim. He uses ball-screens very efficiently, will post-up smaller guards in the half-court, and is really good at crashing the offensive glass from the perimeter. Because of his size on the perimeter, he can step out and make shots over almost any guard. And if you put a bigger, slower guy on him, he'll dribble by him."
"Once he gets it going, even with just some free-throws or a layup early, he's the type of player than can get on a roll and take over a game. Conversely, if he misses 3-4 shots, he's one of those type of guys who might start deferring. To limit his effectiveness -- and his aggressiveness -- you have to cut down the number of times he touches the ball.
"We gave our guys five keys for shutting him down: 1) Limit his touches; 2) Be extra physical with him; 3) Stay connected to him when he runs the the baseline; 4) You must hold your box-outs of him; 5) Run with him in transition at all times."
The following is an actual set the Jayhawks run for Rush in their man-to-man offense, as diagrammed by our anonymous assistant.
"This is a late-game play that KU likes to run for Rush; it's a variant from their normal continuity offense, which uses a lot of handoffs and ball-screens. What happens here is, [Mario] Chalmers dribbles right to hand the ball off to [Russell] Robinson, and the five [Sasha Kaun or Darnell Jackson] sets a flare screen for Rush to go into the left corner. Robinson hits Rush with a pass there, and he can either turn the corner and drive, or shoot the three.
SI.com spoke with an assistant coach from a former Memphis opponent to get an anonymous scouting report on Derrick Rose, as well as a breakdown of a set the Tigers run for their star freshman point guard. Here's what the coach had to say:
"[Rose] is jet-quick, an explosive combo guard with size who pushes the ball in transition and is excellent in the open court. He's always looking to get to the rim. Only 25 percent of Rose's shots are threes; he's not bad at shooting them, but like we told our guys, he's not going to settle for them. And he's also a real threat on the offensive glass, so he needs to be checked.
"He loves to do a hesitation crossover dribble from left-to-right. When he goes left, he likes to shoot pull-up jumpers, and when he goes right, he likes to shoot floaters with the right hand -- and he's way more likely to get all the way to the rim going right, too. When he's in [the lane] he does not shy away from contact; he can finish over a defense and get to the free-throw line.
"Stopping him in transition is really tough. We told our big guys to get back and try to 'corral' the ball, so there were two guys on him at all times, but that's hard to execute.
"In the half-court, we tried to guard him with a man-and-a-half on both sides -- what that means is, if you're guarding the guy on the right wing, you're in the gap, not leaving your guy altogether, but just being in a position to do two things. You have to pick your poison, because CDR [Chris Douglas-Roberts] will be on one wing and [Antonio] Anderson will be on the other, but we decided we had to help off of them because they don't shoot the ball really well from the perimeter. When you're not as athletically gifted as they are, you have to cheat a little bit."
The following is an actual play the Tigers run for Rose in their man-to-man offense, as diagrammed by our anonymous assistant. It gives a window into why Memphis coach John Calipari would refer to his offense as "Princeton on Steroids":
"They make it sound like they don't have any sets, but they usually run a few structured things at the beginning of a possession before they get into the Dribble-Drive [Motion]. One of those [the first one below] is Dribble Loop Clear, where Rose and CDR cross positions at the top, then Rose hesitates and attacks after the five-man has cleared to the weakside.
The second -- and this is the Princeton part -- is a Dribble Loop Clear Backcut. Rose and CDR do the same loop and hesitation-attack thing, but Rose hits a flashing five-man at the left elbow while the three man has back-cut to the weak-side. Rose then backcuts from the wing to the basket:
SI.com spoke with an assistant coach from a former UCLA opponent to get an anonymous scouting report on Kevin Love, as well as a breakdown of a go-to play the Bruins run for their star freshman forward. Here's what the coach had to say:
"[Love]'s a monster -- a very good offensive player both inside and out who loves to shot fake. Even when he catches it on the perimeter and a guy is closing out on him, he'll shot-fake, try to get the guy up in the air, and drive by him to get in the paint.
"If he's setting a ball screen on the perimeter, 99 percent of the time he'll pick and pop to look to shoot a three. But we were willing to let him shoot contested threes. He averages less than one made three per game, and we would have preferred that over him doing work in the lane and getting fouled.
"Once Love is on the block -- on either side -- he's good at turning and fading away to his right shoulder, like he did against Texas A&M. He has a really good drop-step going to his left shoulder, because he knows how to position himself and use his body to score. We charted him [on film], but he doesn't really have a pattern of doing the same thing from a certain side. He also has a jab-hook going to the middle over his left shoulder, and then a move where he gets you going right, then gets low and swings around so his elbow is on your left hip. That way he just seals you off and gets to the rim. He's smart about it -- it's one of those things he's perfected over time -- because he doesn't extend his arm out far enough for the ref to think about calling it a hook. We'd start screaming from the bench that it was a hook, but he's only using a bent arm.
"He's patient about positioning himself, too: If you front him and keep your four-man behind him on the other block, he'll move across and try to get you posted behind him. Try to limit the number of times Love actually gets the ball in his hand, or if he does catch it, double-team him to force the ball back outside. And you have to block him out on the offensive glass, or you'll get killed. He's averaging 3-5 offensive rebounds per game.
"A guy like Joey Dorsey [of Memphis] might cause [Love] problems just because of his length and size and physical ability. If Dorsey can understand not to go for the shot fake -- and that's something Joey has had trouble with -- he can stay out of foul trouble. But Love is one heck of a player. Unless you decide to trap him every time he catches the ball, it's hard to keep him from shooting a high percentage in the post.
The following is an actual play the Bruins run for Love in their man-to-man offense, as diagrammed by our anonymous assistant coach:
"In this box set, as [Darren] Collison throws to [Russell] Westbrook at the top of the key, Love is screening down for the other guard [Shipp] on the other block. As soon as Westbrook catches it, Love will duck in to the post and get deep position for Westbrook to give him the ball. If you can't stop this -- and a lot of times you can't -- they'll just keep running it."
SI.com spoke with an assistant coach from a former North Carolina opponent to get an anonymous scouting report on Tywon Lawson, as well as a breakdown of a set the Tar Heels run for their sophomore point guard. Here's what the coach had to say:
"The main thing for us with Lawson was to square him off and keep him in front of our defenders. He's going to get you with a lot of misdirection, with inside-out dribbles, and crossovers, because he's good at change-of-pace and change-of-direction stuff with both hands. But really, even though he's showing you all that East-West stuff, he's just trying to go North-South and get to the basket. So you have to keep him from penetrating in the full- or half-court.
"I think you can try to 'show' help on Lawson without giving help, by sagging off a little bit. When [Marcus] Ginyard is in, we were willing to help off of him, but he's the only guy in the first six or seven of the rotation that you can leave. When Lawson does get in the lane, we try to help late because he is kind of smallish and can be blocked, but you can't help off the bigs too much. He's just as likely to dish to one of them for a dunk, so you want to help late, when he's committed to a taking tough shot.
"He even uses the change-of-pace stuff in the lane, because he's so good at stopping on a dime. He'll be going pretty fast and then can just hit a spot, dish it or shoot a floater -- and that's a shot he tends to do more if he goes to his left. If he's going right he's usually trying to get all the way to the rack. But there are guards who are much more predictable than Lawson is; he's good at going both ways, but to the right he is more likely to go in and try to draw contact from you with his left shoulder.
It's so important to try to impede him in transition -- not necessarily by getting in his way early, but just by getting as many people back around the basket as possible. Then you can try to slow down the ball -- because there's no way to slow him down when you've left the lane wide open.
The following are two variations of a set the Tar Heels run in their man-to-man offense, as diagrammed by our anonymous assistant. The first one results in Lawson dishing to a small forward -- more likely Danny Green than Marcus Ginyard -- for a three. The second results in Lawson back-cutting to the basket to receive a pass from Tyler Hansbrough:
"They'll call this play their "Basic Box," with the two bigs on the elbows -- and usually Hansbrough on the left elbow. It finishes with him setting a downscreen for the three man, who has the opportunity to shoot. This will be run the majority of time to set up the Lawson counter that comes later."
"The counter to this, which is for Lawson, goes back to the point when they throw it to Hansbrough at the top of the key. Lawson will act like he's going to catch the ball on the wing, and then go backdoor. This might happen on one of 10 instances of the play."
NEW YORK -- There was only one rule when I chose the All-First-Weekend Team: all of the players had to still be alive in the tournament. For the Second-Weekend Team I was willing to make one exception, for no all-star squad from this dance would be complete without Davidson's Stephen Curry. His script lacked a fairy-tale ending -- or even a chance to take the game's final shot against Kansas -- but Curry will no doubt have a prominent place in the One Shining Moment montage, as the tourney's biggest breakout star.
G: Stephen Curry, Soph., Davidson 33 points, four assists vs. Wisconsin; 25 points, three assists vs. Kansas
Talk about underplaying your effectiveness: "What I do best is run around like a little kid off screens," Curry said last Friday. "... It's nothing special that I do. I just get screens and when I'm open, I get the ball. I have a lot of confidence to shoot it."
G: Derrick Rose, Fr., Memphis 27 points, five assists, one turnover vs. Michigan State; 21 points, six rebounds, nine assists, two turnovers vs. Texas
Penny Hardaway on Rose, following the Elite Eight game: "He's as good as me, easily. He's athletic, he's strong, he makes it happen."
G: Chris Douglas-Roberts, Jr., Memphis 25 points, five rebounds vs. Michigan State; 25 points, three rebounds vs. Texas
The Tiger with the "old-man" game put up 50 points in Houston, ensuring that his cross-over moves would be on display in San Antone.
F: Kevin Love, Fr., UCLA 29 points, 14 rebounds vs. Western Kentucky; 19 points, 10 boards vs. Xavier
Loved this Sean Miller quote on Love: "He looks like he's 25 years old when's playing. I will use this analogy to describe him, it is not really fair, but when you played in college many years ago, you would play against Athletes in Action [an exhibition team]. And those guys, they made the game look so easy like they had been playing for 25 years. Obviously at a much higher level, [Love] makes the game look easy. He's got great hands, [and he's] very efficient, smart. Has no ability to get rattled, which for a freshman is amazing."
F: Tyler Hansbrough, Jr., North Carolina 18 points, nine rebounds vs. Washington State; 28 points, 13 boards vs. Louisville
Psycho T wasn't the least bit bothered by the 'Ville's David Padgett. Next victims: Kansas' Sasha Kaun, Darrell Arthur and Darnell Jackson.
Sixth Man: Mario Chalmers, Jr., Kansas 14 points, three steals, four assists vs. Villanova; 13 points, two steals, two assists vs. Davidson
In the first half against Davidson, coach Bill Self said, "Mario carried us when we didn't have any offense." His numbers may not have been gaudy in Detroit, but Chalmers was still KU's most valuable guard.
NEW YORK -- Covering the NCAA tournament sometimes feels like a full-time air-traveling job with basketball games mixed in between. The real junkies try to double up on sites over the first two weekends, and I did it for the first and second rounds, jumping from the games in Omaha to the games in North Little Rock on a series of 6 a.m. flights. An itinerary like that always seems cooler in the planning stage; when you're zombie-walking to your seat in press row and downing Cokes to stay awake, you start to second-guess the addition of a second leg.
Sitting next to me at Alltel Arena in Arkansas was an even more ambitious traveler, Roger Rubin of the New York Daily News, who had taken a red-eye -- with a connection -- from Anaheim after the UCLA-Texas A&M thriller. In Houston on Sunday, I saw Dick "Hoops" Weiss, also of the News, come into Reliant Stadium after hopping a red-eye from Phoenix, where he had covered UCLA's win the previous evening. I took a crack-of-dawn flight back to JFK from Houston on Monday, abandoning a rental car with a dead battery at my hotel and stealing a 6 a.m. cab from CSTV's David Scott (he was kind enough to let it go) in order to make the gate as the plane was boarding. By Wednesday night I'll be back in Texas, getting ready for the Final Four.
Every writer has a travel story, but every one of those itineraries pales in comparison to Greg Shaheen's from this past week. Shaheen is the NCAA's Senior Vice President for Basketball and Business Strategies -- in short, the Czar of the NCAA tournament -- and the man who gave us an inside description of the process in the selection committee's bunker back in 2005. I met up with Shaheen (who's pictured below at left) courtside on Sunday about an hour before tipoff of Memphis-Texas. He seemed incredibly alert for someone who described the following schedule:
• Monday a.m.: Flew from Indianapolis to New York for meetings with CBS • Monday p.m.: Flew from New York to Detroit to "examine the initial build-out of Ford Field," which, as 2009's designated Final Four host, was experimenting with a raised-court setup • Tuesday a.m.: Flew from Detroit to Houston to meet with Reliant Stadium personnel and check out the raised-court setup there • Wednesday: Flew from Houston to Phoenix for West Regional practice day • Thursday: Was on hand for Xavier-West Virginia and UCLA-Western Kentucky in Phoenix • Thursday late p.m.: Flew on a red-eye from Phoenix to Detroit, stopping in Cincinnati "because it was $230 cheaper, and I'm always interested in those kind of savings" • Friday: Was on hand for Wisconsin-Davidson and Kansas-Villanova in Detroit • Saturday a.m.: Flew from Detroit to Charlotte • Saturday p.m.: Was on hand for North Carolina-Louisville in Charlotte • Sunday a.m.: Flew from Charlotte to Houston • Sunday p.m.: Was on hand for Memphis-Texas in Houston • Sunday late p.m.: Drove from Houston to San Antonio for the Final Four, where he'll remain until April 8.
If you weren't counting, Shaheen took eight flights (counting the connection) stopped in 10 cities (counting Detroit and Houston twice) in seven days. How much rest is possible on a schedule like that?
"I sleep an hour, hour and a half per night during the tournament, normally from Selection Sunday until Tuesday or Wednesday here during the Final Four," said Shaheen, who had been accompanied on the latter part of his tour by selection committee chairman Tom O'Connor and NCAA Executive Vice President Tom Jernstedt. "Then I'll get one normal night's rest, and go back at it. That's the only way you can cover everything. And for three weeks you can do it -- you can fake your body out to think that something important is really happening."
That is a routine I could not follow. Shaheen said he was conditioned for it by working graveyard shifts in radio as a teenager: "It just permanently affected my internal clock in a way that it can just be reset," he said.
It's not as if Shaheen lounges at the scorer's table when he arrives on the scene, either: He's essentially the behind-the-scenes face of the tournament, a "workaholic" (in Jernstedt's words) who oversees operations across all sites. Of particular interest to him in '08 are the experimental raised courts, which he said the NCAA will most likely keep for '09, only with fan seating moved even closer to the floor to tighten up wasted space in courtside media overflow areas.
Shaheen's most visible impact this year, though, was at a micro level: When DaSean Butler's out-of-bounds save attempt during Xavier-West Virginia destroyed the Mountaineers' courtside water-jug setup, it was Shaheen who hopped out of his seat to restore order. The small gesture might have gone unseen -- had CBS' cameras not chosen to trail him, complete with narrative from an amused Bill Raftery and Verne Lundquist, carrying the Dasani bucket off the court. "We just needed to get ready for a TV timeout, and I decided, 'I'll go grab it and refill it,'" said Shaheen. "I'm a believer that you never ask anyone to do anything you're not willing to do yourself."
As Raftery said on the air, "Who says that Greg Shaheen doesn't do everything for this tournament?"
Final Four Preview: All Aboard The Disrespected Express
Joey Dorsey and the Tigers cut down the nets after beating Texas. But are they still the underdogs?
HOUSTON -- When Memphis, the team that had overwhelmed Texas with a show of defensive athleticism unlike anything seen thus far in the NCAA tournament, went to cut down the nets for its trip across the Lone Star State to the Final Four, the process was was surprisingly ... businesslike. The Tigers' two seniors, guard Andre Allen and forward Joey Dorsey, went to opposite ends of the floor, and they alone took scissors and unceremoniously snipped all the strands, then placed the nets around their necks. As Dorsey completed his job on the ladder, one of the players below him shouted, "We ain't done yet!" After that, as junior star Chris Douglas-Roberts, a first-team All-America who led the Tigers with 25 points, explained, "I just walked off the court. I expected this."
What most of the nation did not expect was a field in San Antonio of four No. 1 seeds for the first time in the history of the Dance: North Carolina, Kansas, UCLA, and the Tigers. And given the way Memphis stormed through the South Regional, beating Michigan State (an average team) and Texas (a very good team) by 18 points each, do John Calipari's boys now have to be considered the favorites? That would be a scenario Calipari would truly dislike: He admitted that he "loved" the fact that Memphis was the No. 1 seed most-picked to lose before the Final Four, and his players and fans have been riding their coach's Disrespected Express all the way to the Alamodome. All the "hate" -- that's Dorsey's word for it -- on Memphis only helps Cal motivate.
Douglas-Roberts, who as a junior is the team's level-headed veteran leader, perceives matchups through that slighted lens; when asked about UCLA in the locker room, he said it would be the same old story: "Once again, we're the underdog, and once again, we're the more relaxed team." But CD-R also acknowledged the momentum Memphis will be carrying into next weekend. "We've just peaked, and we're playing really well right now." And that, as we break down the Final Four, matters far more than any issues of respect. The Tigers may no longer be underdogs.
South Region Champ: Memphis
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Tournament Identity: While Douglas-Roberts is the same old reliable scoring threat for the Tigers, using his "old-man moves," as Derrick Rose calls them, to get open mid-range looks, three new developments have fueled this March explosion. The biggest is that Rose has made the jump from simply being a freakish athlete to an elite floor general, averaging 24 points with a 4.7-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio over the past two rounds. Even though Rose said, "I don't know what I'm doing when I'm out there; I'm just trying to make plays, and make sure we're in a good little groove," he seems to know what he's doing now more than ever.
Just as importantly for the Tigers, Dorsey has been revived and is once against playing like a beast on the interior. The double-doubles he put up against Mississippi State and Texas were his best group of games since February. And finally, Memphis is actually making its free throws. The Tigers shot over 74 percent in only seven games all season, and two of them (83.3 percent against Texas and 74.1 percent against Michigan State) came this weekend.
How To Let Them Beat You: Allow Rose and Douglas-Roberts to get into the lane at will. They combined for 46 points against Texas and took just four three-point attempts, making one. Obviously this is easier said than done, but the 'Horns failed miserably at it; their array of zones (even a box-and-one at one point) did not seal off driving lanes for Memphis' stars. The Tigers' shot charts from both halves were almost entirely concentrated in and around the lane. They're not a great outside-shooting team, but it didn't matter on Sunday.
How To Beat Them: Don't turn the ball over. The Tigers' defense is largely predicated on creating steals early in possessions, and Texas allowed them to score nine early points off of turnovers -- including four by D.J. Augustin. Was there any surprise, then, that the 'Horns trailed by 11 at half? Once Memphis picks your pocket, its guards get out in transition ... and they're too fast to be caught.
West Region Champ: UCLA
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Tournament Identity: The Bruins have been riding Kevin Love. Their freshman power forward averaged 24 points and 12 rebounds in Phoenix, and is viewed as the ingredient they were missing in their past two deep tourney runs, which had unhappy endings at the hands of Florida. Xavier coach Sean Miller -- after strangely praising Love by comparing him to the 25-year-olds on Athletes in Action teams that Miller used to face in college -- said that "getting to the Final Four with a go-to-player ... could allow them to win the national championship." With his array of fadeaways (against Texas A&M), interior banging (against Western Kentucky) and three-pointers (against the Musketeers), Love has been almost unstoppable. He and his Bruins teammates have also been extremely adept at getting to the free-throw line, holding a 77-55 advantage in attempts at the charity stripe during the NCAA tournament.
How To Let Them Beat You: Botch your block-out assignments on the defensive glass. UCLA was seventh in the country in offensive rebounding percentage this season, grabbing 39.7 percent of available boards. The Bruins were relentless on that end in Phoenix, pulling down 49.3 percent of offensive boards (17) against Western Kentucky and 46.0 percent against Xavier (12). It's not just Love doing the dirty-work, either: guard Russell Westbrook and backup forward James Keefe had six apiece against the Hilltoppers, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute had seven against the Muskies.
How To Beat Them: Keep the ball out of point guard Darren Collison's hands late in the shot clock. While Westbrook is good in transition, Collison is UCLA's only real playmaker off the dribble in halfcourt sets -- and he's also by far the Bruins' best three-point shooter. He's the king of the dagger shot, and releases his long-distance bombs from so far above his head that they're tough to defend.
Midwest Region Champ: Kansas
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Tournament Identity: While Brandon Rush has asserted himself somewhat during the Dance -- he leads the KU in shot attempts, and was its leading scorer against Portland State and Villanova -- the Jayhawks remain an extremely balanced team with seven players capable of putting up double-digits on any given night. Case in point: Seventh man Sasha Kaun had 13 points and six boards against Davidson and was named to the all-tournament team in Detroit. Coach Bill Self called him KU's "second-half player of the game."
Kansas' offense, which ranks second in the nation in efficiency behind only North Carolina, wasn't running in its highest gear in Detroit, scoring just 0.968 points per possession against Davidson and a slightly better 1.078 PPP against Villanova. But the Jayhawks are still winning the rebounding battle in every tournament game (they were plus-15 this weekend) and exhibiting defensive toughness on key possessions like the Wildcats' final play, on which KU doubled Stephen Curry and forced him to give up the ball.
How To Let Them Beat You: Succumb to the defensive pressure of Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson in the backcourt. They're the best quick-hands duo in the nation, combining for 4.4 steals per game, and Chalmers is amazingly good at sneaking into passing lanes and turning interceptions into fastbreak layups. Davidson was able to keep Sunday's game so close because it only turned the ball over nine times compared to the Jayhawks' 13 giveaways.
How To Beat Them: Don't get burned by Chalmers from the perimeter. There's more than one shooter to defend on KU's roster, but he's been the most dangerous in March. Also: Keep Darrell Arthur from waking up and having a breakout game. After scoring in double-digits for 27 of KU's first 35 games, he's only averaged 7.7 points against UNLV, Villanova and Kansas. North Carolina would prefer it stays that way.
East Regional Champ: North Carolina
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Tournament Identity: The Tar Heels' offense is in peak form. As we've mentioned already in this space, their efficiency in the first two rounds of the tournament (against Mount Saint Mary's and Arkansas) was other-worldly, and on Saturday in Charlotte, they scored 1.22 points per possession on a Louisville team that had yielded only 0.78 PPP to Tennessee in the previous round. Beating a strong Cardinals team 83-73 was more impressive than any of the routs in Houston, Detroit or Phoenix. Tyler Hansbrough has continued to be a horse, scoring 28 points on 12-of-17 shooting against the 'Ville. His clutch skills -- and a somewhat newfound ability to hit longer jumpers -- make Carolina look a viable title pick. "The shots he made ... were unbelievable because they were under duress, and he had very little time to get it off, and he came up big," Cards coach Rick Pitino said of Hansbrough on Saturday.
How To Let Them Beat You: Let Hansbrough get great post position. Though he's been knocking down 15-footers of late, he still does most of his damage around the basket, and much of the work on him needs to be done before the catch. In our Scouting Report from last Wednesday, our anonymous assistant called the process of beating Psycho T to spots "owning the real estate." Kansas' Darnell Jackson and Sasha Kaun will need to play as physical as possible to keep Hansbrough from another high-20s game.
How To Beat Them: Have athletic enough players to get back on transition defense and limit easy layups. Not only is Tywon Lawson the fastest point guard in the country not named Derrick Rose, but Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green all run the floor as well as any players in the country. Protecting the lane against their primary and secondary break is of utmost importance -- as is controlling the glass after the initial attempt, since Hanbrough, Green and Deon Thompson are all phenomenal offensive rebounders.
The Matchups Memphis vs. UCLA: The Bruins seem to have their least-efficient offensive games against teams with bruising big men, like Washington (with Jon Brockman), Stanford (Brook and Robin Lopez) and Texas A&M (Joseph Jones and Bryan Davis). That makes Dorsey -- as well as Calipari's abilities as Prop Joey's coach/psychologist -- all the more important for the Tigers in San Antonio. Collison and Westbrook are likely to be surprised by the size and strength of Memphis' perimeter defenders, especially Anderson, and might find it tougher to score than they did against Xavier.
The Pick: Memphis 73, UCLA 71. Let the record note that somebody picked the Tigers.
UNC vs. Kansas: The coaching storyline may take center stage, but this is an incredible game on the basis of the on-floor personnel alone. As Self said, "it's North Carolina's players against Kansas' players. It's been five years since Roy went to Carolina." In the players' battle, Carolina will be the first team the Jayhawks have faced in this tournament that can go toe-to-toe with them in transition, and vice-versa. The matchup of Marcus Ginyard on Rush will be huge, as UNC is likely to have trouble containing Chalmers with either Lawson or Ellington. Kaun will have to deliver another MVP-type performance as a muscle guy against Hansbrough. Does Sasha have it in him? The Pick: UNC 82, Kansas 81. Both offenses are prolific. Carolina's, of late, has been better.
Not even a glued-up welt slowed Derrick Rose against D.J. Augustin and the Longhorns on Sunday.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
HOUSTON -- Derrick Rose was doubled over, wincing, the bandage over his eye having come unstuck in a collision just one minute and 23 seconds into his first -- and probably, last -- appearance in an Elite Eight. Rose was sporting a glued-up welt against Texas, and the reason for this was one of those increasingly rare reminders that Memphis' point guard is only an 19-year-old freshman. He had evaded stitches for a bloody injury suffered in the Sweet 16 with the same strategy he evades most defenders: by being too fast to hold down.
"I'm terrified of needles," he admitted, saying that someone would have had to "strap him down" to sew up the cut he had been dealt by Michigan State. With the Tigers leading the Longhorns 5-2, Rose needed to leave the floor to have it re-bandaged. This, for Texas, was the only real reprieve it had from Rose's assault on its defense. The lone Longhorn capable of rattling him may have been their team doctor.
Rose was back on the floor one minute later, going from 0-to-130 miles per hour in milliseconds, getting on his way to scoring 21 points and dishing out nine assists against just two turnovers. Said Robert Dozier, "Once Derrick gets it going, there's not many players that can stop him." None of those players were in Texas' backcourt: Rose was the star of an 85-67 victory that saw the second-seeded 'Horns get overwhelmed by Memphis' athleticism, and he was also the Most Outstanding Player of the South Regional, from which the Tigers booked their first trip to the Final Four since 1985. In what was supposed to be a duel of the nation's best college point guard, D.J. Augustin, and the college game's best pro prospect at point guard, Rose actually looked as if he might own both titles. "Derrick is a much bigger, stronger guy than D.J. Augustin," said Dozier. "Derrick is a freakish athlete, he can get the ball up and down the court, he can get guys open, get to the rim, and when he jumps and gets to the rim, his head is at the rim."
Memphis' two resounding victories here in Houston -- by 18 over Michigan State and 18 over Texas -- were not only notices that the Tigers may be peaking more than any other team in the bracket, but also served as showcases for the full blossoming of Rose's game. He looked like the poised one while Augustin -- a consensus first-team All-American of whom coach John Calipari had said, "You're not taking the ball from him" -- was shaken in the early going.
Augustin committed four first-half turnovers against just one assist while being dogged by the bigger Rose (6-foot-3) and Antonio Anderson (6-foot-5). "I don't think we've seen as good a defense all year that we saw today," said Texas coach Rick Barnes, who had to watch as his team -- which averaged the fewest turnovers per game in the country (9.2) -- gave the ball away eight times in the first half alone. The 'Horns dug themselves a 39-28 halftime deficit that seemed inescapable.
When Texas did make its biggest run, scoring the first six points of the second half to cut it to 39-34, Rose was the one who turned the momentum back in Memphis' favor. At the 17:04 mark, he ran the floor with Anderson after a missed shot from Augustin, received a feed in the lane, and soared up for a double-pumping dunk on the break. It was a slightly less spectacular slam than the double-pumping reverse he had shown the Spartans on Friday to make the score 50-20 at halftime, but it was nonetheless awe-inspiring. Memphis' Tiger mascot celebrated the bucket by turning to the blue-clad cheering sections in Reliant Stadium, leaning over and cradling something imaginary below his shorts -- essentially, giving the message that Rose has some serious cojones for a freshman.
The dunk was part of a promise Rose had made to his teammates during the Conference USA tournament. "Everyone was saying to [Derrick]," reserve forward Pierre Niles explained, "'You've got too much hops to just be trying to lay the ball up.'" Therefore, said Rose, "I told them in the [NCAA] tournament, I was just going to dunk everything."
The first time Rose and Augustin met on a basketball floor, in the Summer of 2007 at the Adidas All-American Camp in New Orleans, Memphis' prize recruit did not possess the same kind of confidence, nor did he display the same brand of aggressiveness. In a scrimmage game among the counselors there, Augustin -- who already had a year at Texas under his belt -- took Rose to school. "I was just coming in, and he got the best of me," Rose said on Friday. He told reporters later that day that the game had stuck in his head, as evidence that he still needed to put in plenty of work to be a college star. But on a Sunday where he had starred and Augustin shot just 4-of-18 from the field, Rose no longer seemed concerned about his youth: "It doesn't matter what grade you're in," he said. "If you can ball, you can ball."
Calipari said that he told Rose before the game, "The more you do to run this, the less I have to do." What Rose did was knife into the lane repeatedly against (for the most part) Augustin, who at 5-11 was unable to counter Rose's package of size and speed. Rose got his 21 points by attempting just one three-pointer, and while Rose did not show off any shooting range, NBA executives considering drafting him No. 1 had to be salivating over his budding defensive skills and the fact that he cannot be checked off the dribble in Memphis' "Princeton-on-steroids" offense. The last great NBA player to come out of the Tigers' program, Anfernee Hardaway, emerged from the team's locker room following the postgame celebration, and when asked if Rose was as talented as himself, said, "He's as good as me, easily. He's athletic, he's strong, he makes it happen."
For Memphis, which already had versatile wing scorer (Chris Douglas-Roberts, with 25 points), a beast in the post (Joey Dorsey, with 11 points, 12 rebounds) and a glue guy defender (Anderson), Rose was truly the missing ingredient in getting over the hump and into the Final Four. In both 2006 and 2007 they had fallen one game short, and in both those years they did not have a point guard of Rose's caliber. One cannot fully appreciate his speed without seeing it in the flesh; teams that watch tape of Rose and think they can contain him are in for a harsh surprise. UCLA, and Kansas or North Carolina after that, should pay heed to the facial expressions of Texas' defenders in the first five minutes of Sunday's rout. "You could tell," Rose said, with his Final Four hat pulled down low to shroud his unbandaged cut, "that they were kind of stunned."
(Editor's note: In the interest of giving you a coach's angle on the NCAA tournament, we've enlisted Bruno Chu of the blog The X's and O's of Basketball to provide a series of guest posts during the dance. Today's topic is a tactic that's been a key part of Ben Howland's defense at UCLA. Bruno takes it over from here.)
One of UCLA's best defensive traits is its ability to defend ball screens. The Bruins have been using the hedge almost exclusively all season, and on Sunday, it bothered Xavier by making guard Drew Lavender unable to turn the corner off of ball-screens and create plays. Here are a few sequences from the first half that show Kevin Love hedging the Musketeers' ball-screens:
The Hedge: There are a few ways coaches and commentators refer to this: Some say a player is "showing hard" on the screen, and others call it a "hard hedge," but it all means the same thing. Basically what happens is, the screener's defender comes out to impede the ballhandler's progress, forcing him to take a few retreat steps. This allows the original defender to recover from the screen, and then lets the screener's defender recover back to his original man. In UCLA's case, Love does a great job each time on the hedge. On a couple of occasions, he even slightly bumped Lavender, further slowing him down:
The other important key about the hedge is for the help-side defenders to rotate and gap the other players, specifically to protect the basket. In the image below, Love tells Lorenzo Mata-Real to cover the rolling man until Love is able to get back into position:
The hedge maneuver is not the easiest defensive concept to master. It requires plenty of practice to be good at it and not give up easy baskets to the screener, which would be counter-productive. Howland's team is a prime example of one that uses it well -- enough so that the Bruins are headed to the Final Four.
HOUSTON -- The blog went two-for-two in its Saturday Elite Eight picks ... without going out on a limb. Our number-cruncher at Vegas Watch says there's now a 48 percent chance that all No. 1 seeds will be headed to San Antonio, and our breakdowns below side with the other 52 percent ...
South Regional Final: No. 1 Memphis vs. No. 2 Texas
What you should care about:
• As tough as Memphis' non-conference schedule was this season -- with Oklahoma, UConn, USC, Georgetown, Gonzaga and Tennessee -- the Tigers have not faced a point guard like D.J. Augustin. His superb decision-making skills in the 'Horns' spread-out offense are the reason they have the lowest turnover percentage (14.2) of any team in the nation. As Memphis coach John Calipari said of Augustin on Saturday, "The ball is part of him and his hand. You're not taking the ball from him."
Our assistant coach's scouting report on Memphis (from Wednesday) discussed how much the Tigers are steal-obsessed: "They want the ball back so bad that they try to make steals [late in the shot clock] and get out of position. They feel like they can afford to gamble because they have shot blockers behind them. If you drive the ball, the key is to come to a jump stop, pump-fake, and if nothing is available, kick the ball back out and start over again." Augustin is sure-handed enough not to turn it over -- and savvy enough to make the right decisions in the paint. In his post-Katrina hometown of Houston, he should make the difference.
• Calipari would really like you to care about the crowd in Houston, which is heavily tinted with burnt orange. In his press conference after beating Michigan State, he said, "I'd just as soon play [Sunday's game] in Austin. Maybe if they give us a few thousand seats, maybe we can move the game there." Outside the Tigers' locker room, Calipari kept pounding home the we-may-be-a-No. 1-seed-but-we're-not-the-favorite angle by saying, "The pressure has shifted to [Texas] now. They're playing a home game." But as much as Reliant Stadium's crowd will be dominated by the UT contingent, I don't think the fans will have too big of an impact. The stands are sloped so gradually away from the raised court, rather than stacked on top if it like they would be in a normal college arena, and the ceiling is about 1,000 feet high. I was sitting in the second row and the noise never even came close to a deafening level on Friday. And as Tigers guard Chris Douglas-Roberts said, "It's not like the fans are out there making threes." Memphis won't get overwhelmed by the crowd, and will keep this one close.
The pick: Texas 81, Memphis 79. There has to be one non-No. 1 seed in the Final Four, right?
Midwest Regional Final: No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 10 Davidson
What you should care about:
• What Stephen Curry did to Wisconsin's Michael Flowers on Friday night -- scoring 33 points, including 22 in the second half while the Badgers had only 21 -- was the Son of Dell's most stunning performance of the tournament thus far. Even LeBron James, who asked Davidson for tickets and sat behind the team bench, was amazed, telling the Chicago Sun-Times, "[Curry]'s a very, very, very, very, very good basketball player. I don't know if he's coming out in the [NBA] draft this year. When he does, he has a spot.'' Friday's explosion proved, pretty much, that Curry can't be contained by one defender alone. It takes an entire corps of guards to keep Curry from getting open looks in transition. Good thing Kansas goes five deep in the backcourt.
• Wildcats point guard Jason Richards has been having a transcendent tournament as well, with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 6.8-to-1 and a 13-assist, zero-turnover game against Wisconsin on Friday. He's the guy who sets up most of Curry's threes, and how well he handles the harassment of KU's Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson -- perhaps the best quick-hands duo in the country -- will probably decide the game. As Robinson said on Saturday, "Richards runs the team. He gets a lot of assists. So you take him out, then half the job on Curry is done."
The pick: Kansas 74, Davidson 69. Curry gets 20 in a hurry ... but the Jayhawks get a few too many transition buckets to let the mega-upset become a reality.
• Tourney Blog Pool update:Our 5,490-bracket competition on Facebook is heated heading into the final day of the Elite Eight. John Cramer of the U.S. District Courts network (on Facebook) is alone in the lead with 96 points, all of his Final Four teams alive, and North Carolina beating Texas in the title game. After that, our top Kansas bracket belongs to Greg Small of Baltimore (who's in second with 95 points), our top Memphis bracket belongs to David Jordan of UCF (in third with 94 points), our top Texas bracket belongs to Jeremy Loomis-Norris (also in third) and our top UCLA bracket belongs to Adam Hill, an alum of Indiana.
As for your blogger, I managed to drop from 160th on Saturday morning to 1,208th on Sunday morning. Not picking Carolina in my original Four Four: not smart.
• The Tourney Blog Playlist, curated by the folks at Dallas-based music blog Gorilla vs. Bear, rolls on, in hopes of loading up your iPod with free mp3s over the course of the NCAA tournament. Day 19's track is Amanaz's Khala My Friend, a track from a limited re-issue of what the Gorilla folks call "'70s Zambian hard-psych." It's an ultra-mellow jam that we highly recommend, with one warning: it will definitely not get you pumped up for a basketball game.