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.
4/07/2008 07:28:00 PM
Monday Night At The Dome
SAN ANTONIO -- A last look outside the Alamodome, 90 minutes before tipoff ...
Scalpers -- despite the strong market for tickets -- have gone mostly underground this week. The ducat below was an upper-level seat with a face value of $85; the seller, a Kansas fan, wanted $350. This clash of titans might just be worth that much.
Kansas -- mostly due to Bill Self's superstitious nature -- resisted switching locker rooms for the title game. The Jayhawks and Memphis were side-by-side in the bowels of the Alamodome for the Final Four, and the NCAA wanted to spread them apart, offering KU the digs previously occupied by UCLA. Is the locker room the Jayhawks' lucky charm?
I took Memphis this morning, and I'm sticking with it. Tigers 70, Jayhawks 66. Add your predictions -- and game chatter -- in the comments section.
SAN ANTONIO -- The final day is finally upon us. We've broken down five reasons why Memphis will win (that's from me) and five reasons why Kansas will win (that's from Stew Mandel). Our cadre of anonymous assistant coaches have given you the "books" on Derrick Rose and Brandon Rush, as well as full scouting reports of the Tigers and the Jayhawks. What, then, is possibly left to present? My last five things:
5. Derrick Rose does not eat as well as he plays. Memphis' MVP bailed out of Sunday's press conference before it even started, citing an upset stomach, and was absent from all interview sessions. To hear Joey Dorsey explain it, the reason might be that Rose rarely consumes a thing at team meals. Apparently coach John Calipari caught Rose trying to avoid eating any pasta after Saturday night's game, so, Dorsey said, "Coach went over and made a plate full of pasta and macaroni and put it in front of him. ... But he didn't eat it, he just played in it. He mixed the food around and spread it out, and he left, and coach [thought] he ate something."
He just played in it. Like a 5-year-old rather than a 19-year-old. If the Tigers were to move their buffet to a candy store, though, Rose would be fine. "He eats Gummy Bears and Starburst for breakfast, and Twizzlers and Honey Buns for dinner. That's why his stomach hurts," Chris Douglas-Roberts said. "We tell Derrick the whole year, 'Stop eating so many Gummy Bears and Sour Straws.' But he can't."
Part of me still wonders if Rose wasn't just trying to get a free pass out of the media availability time. He legitimately hates talking about himself -- hence this "Oh, sh--" slip during Saturday's press conference -- and must have been dreading the idea of sitting alone in a breakout room (each Final Four starter had his own presser on Sunday) for 30 minutes. I asked Dorsey whether Rose was faking, and he started laughing and said, "I can't talk about that." Then Dorsey went up to Memphis sports information director Lamar Chance and tried to feign a stomach ache, in hopes of avoiding an interview for CBS.
4. As much as Memphis seems to be on a mission, you wonder if the basketball fates haven't preordained a big title-game performance for Brandon Rush. He was devastated by an offseason ACL injury that kept him out of the NBA draft, but this Final Four trip has been the reward for returning for his junior year and becoming an aggressive scorer late in the season. "I've finally got it in my head that people want me to shoot the ball more," he said. "So I decided to shoot the ball more."
Surely he would not be getting as many good looks if he were, say, a reserve on the Nets. "If I was an NBA rook, I probably wouldn't get any playing time," Rush said. "I'd probably be riding the bench, probably on a losing squad. So I'm happy right now." Understandably.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
3. Dorsey might have Dwight Howard on the brain Monday night. Memphis' Gift That Keeps On Giving said Sunday that his motivation for big rebounding games would sometimes come not from his opponent or his coach, but an NBA game he watched the night before. "During the season I would watch Marcus Camby or Dwight Howard to see how many rebounds they had on one night -- then I'd try to go out there and top them, like I was playing against a pro," Dorsey said. "That's what the game is called, 'Playing Against A Pro.' Camby would have 19 rebounds and one game I had 22 rebounds, so I was happy that I had overcome him."
Howard had 15 boards against the Knicks on Sunday, and Camby had 13 against Seattle. Can Joey get 16 -- one more than the 15 (and zero points) he had against UCLA -- and take them both down? This would surely please his coach, John Calipari, whom Joey said "is always on my back."
2. This title game was made for fans of the 'oop. "If we don't lead the country in lobs, then Memphis does," Kansas coach Bill Self said. The Tigers' Dribble-Drive Motion offense keeps Joey Dorsey on the weakside block as their guards penetrate, and whenever opposing big men step up to help, Joey soars up to catch an alley-oop. It's how they keep him happy. The Jayhawks, meanwhile, love to slip their screening forwards to the basket, where they're delivered lobs from Rush, Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson. Put the over-under on 'oops at four.
1. Memphis takes basket-attacking to a whole 'nother level. After talking with Tigers assistant John Robic -- who said of the Dribble-Drive Motion philosophy, "We want to shoot a layup every time we touch the ball" -- I went and made composite images of Memphis' shot charts from the Elite Eight game against Texas and the Final Four game against UCLA. The charts show that while the Tigers are prone to launching a a few ill-advised three-point attempts in the first halves of games, when they take a lead into the homestretch, they truly do only look for layups and dunks.
Against Texas, Memphis took only three shots from outside the lane area (the three-second zone plus the blocks) in the second half:
And against UCLA, the Tigers took only four shots from outside the lane area in the second half:
This, folks, is what happens when you have Rose and Douglas-Roberts slashing past every perimeter defender. And it's also why Kansas might be willing to get away from its bread-and-butter man-to-man, and settle in to a 3-2 zone.
The Kansas defense pounced on loose balls all night against North Carolina.
SAN ANTONIO -- Breaking down a title game between the bluebloods and the Blues Machine that just can't be a blowout ...
(Right? Basketball gods, are you listening?)
10. If the score is something like 68-64 on Monday night, don't be shocked. As much as Kansas and Memphis are labeled up-tempo teams because of their race-horse athletes, the real trait they share is elite defense. Coming into the NCAA tournament Kansas had the third-most efficient defense in the country (at 0.836 points allowed per possession) ... and Memphis had the second-most efficient (at 0.824). Only Wisconsin, which ran into the Stephen Curry Steamroller in the Sweet 16, had been ranked higher in points allowed per possession at .817.
As for the "speed" of our two finalists, the Jayhawks ranked 98th in the nation in tempo at the outset of the tourney, and the Tigers ranked 74th. That's a far cry from North Carolina's game-pace, which ranked seventh. The point here: The evidence is stacked pretty highly against this game reaching the 80s.
9. Kansas' defense was record-books good on Saturday, holding North Carolina to just 0.831 points per possession in an 84-66 win. Alone, that stat means little to most of you, so here's some context. The Tar Heels' next-worst offensive performance all season was 0.930 PPP in a win over Ohio State in November. Even that figure, projected out over a 70-possession game, is seven points better than UNC's efficiency against the Jayhawks.
To find another instance of the Heels' offense being rendered that ineffective ... you have to go back to a loss at USC on Dec. 21, 2005, when UNC had just 0.748 PPP in a 74-59 loss. That was Tyler Hansbrough's eighth game at Carolina.
8. The best non-numerical way to sum up the Jayhawk D, from Carolina's Wayne Ellington: "They just came out, they jumped on us. They hit us between the eyes." Thus the 40-12 start.
7. As long as Memphis keeps the ball in the hands of Chris Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose, free throws won't be a factor. The 12th-worst free-throw shooting team in the country -- tied with winless New Jersey Institute of Technology at 61.3 percent! -- had 23 attempts from the charity stripe against UCLA. The Tigers made 20 of them ... and every one was taken by either Derrick Rose (11-of-12) or Douglas-Roberts (9-of-11). Memphis coach John Calipari has long been espousing the theory that his team knocks them down when it counts. "Tough-minded players," he said, referring to his star guards, "will make free throws."
6. While we're on that free-throw subject ... it was first pointed out over at Basketball Prospectus that Memphis had a weird tournament identity for a team that was terrible at free-throws all season long: They've drawn fouls and got to the line at an absurd rate. The Tigers rank 186th nationally in free-throw rate -- calculated by made free-throws divided by field-goal attempts -- at 24.9 percent. Yet during the dance their free-throw rate has been off-the-charts high:
Rd. Opponent FT Rate Opp. FT Rate 1 UT-Arlington 64.8 38.2 2 Miss. State 50.8 33.3 S16 Mich. State 59.3 28.8 EE Texas 69.2 13.0 FF UCLA 35.9 20.3
5. Part of this is because Memphis has taken huge leads and forced teams (particularly the Spartans and Longhorns) to resort to hack-a-thons late in the game. But Calipari said their strategy, even against UCLA, was to get fouled. "We were trying to get our guys to beat people off the dribble, and not let them chest bump you," he said. "We tried to get by them, so if they pushed, it was a foul."
4. Another window into KU's defense from Roy Williams, explaining how the Heels were too flustered to stick to their game plan: "We talked about [how] we can't take quick shots. And we took quick shots. We talked about that you have to be strong with the ball. We let them take it away from us twice -- just reach in and take our ball. We talked about coming to meet the pass. We threw it to one of our post players inside. He just stood there. [Kansas'] guy came to meet it more than he did and got the ball. We said you can't dribble between two perimeter players because [KU] does a great job of getting back, getting their hands involved. We did that twice and lost it. We said if you're a post player, you have one dribble, that's it. Second or third play of the game, we have a post player that dribbles it the second time -- [and the] third time they're taking it to the other end."
Chris Douglas-Roberts has proven effective inside and outside the three-point line.
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
3. Chris Douglas-Roberts is insanely effective from inside the arc. He's made 58.2 percent of his two-point attempts on the season, which would be a good percentage for a center. Check out how the trendsetter for the Floater Generation stacks up against Kansas' more perimeter-oriented guards:
Player 2-PT% 3-PT% C. Douglas-Roberts 58.2 41.7 Mario Chalmers 56.8 47.3 Russell Robinson 55.2 31.8 Sherron Collins 53.6 36.6 Brandon Rush 44.0 42.3
2. Joey Dorsey can make one-dimensional basketball look beautiful. There were three occasions this season where he had 15 or more rebounds but not a double-double, but Saturday's 15-board, zero-point effort was a thing of beauty. (Even though, as he said, Calipari was yelling at him "the whole time.")
Joey Dorsey's best one-dimensional games Date/Opponent Rebs Pts 1/30 vs. Houston 22 6 1/23 vs. Tulsa 19 2 4/5 vs. UCLA 15 0
1. Two overlooked reasons why I think this game can avoid an early-death proclamation from Billy Packer: Memphis won't be able to guard Kansas like it did UCLA, just focusing on two players (Darren Collison and Kevin Love) while sacrificing D on everyone else. The Jayhawks have enough weapons other than Chalmers and Rush to keep defenses honest. On the other side, I don't think there's a chance of Kansas getting off to another big early lead, either. The Tigers have been a killer first-half team over the past two weeks, because, as Rose says, they don't hold back. "We just come out and attack."
(And if you were looking for a prediction ... be patient. It's coming on Monday morning.)
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 -- 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.
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.
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
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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.
SI.com asked an assistant coach from a former Kansas opponent to break down the Jayhawks using material from his actual scouting report. Here's what he had to say:
"The biggest issue is keeping [Kansas] out of transition. They're a team of great spurts, and early in the year their margins of victory were so large because they were going on 3-4 big spurts per game, getting out in the full-court, and it was always the deciding factor.
"They're a very balanced team, so you have to choose something to take away. They're a team that ball-screens a lot, and out of their screens they get a lot of layups for their bigs off penetration, and they get a lot of lobs. The way I think you handle the the screening action is to push up and try to contain the guards, which is easier said than done, but it means their big men are going to have a tougher time getting easy looks.
"You have to be conscious of keeping them off the offensive glass, too, since they're usually plus-8 or plus-9 in that category. Off of pick-and-roll plays, they get the ball to the rim and then always seem to have two bigs crashing the glass, and on top of that, [Brandon Rush] is a very good offensive rebounder himself. So there are a lot of block-out responsibilities there.
"We felt like Mario Chalmers was a huge key; he's the one guy who attacks the rim constantly off of ball screens and can score. Rush is more of a catch-and-shoot guy -- he's the best shooter in the Big 12, and he's 6-foot-6, but he's not great off the dribble with his mid-range game. Nor is Russell Robinson. But Chalmers is terrific; he can get to the basket, he can stop and shoot at 15 feet, he can step behind the screen and hit a three, all with a lot of effectiveness. From our view Chalmers was their best player.
"Now that Sherron Collins is healthy, you have to find a way to keep him in front of you, because he's so big and powerful. If he gets his body by you, you're not going to get back around him, and he's a very effective finisher at the rim. He's good at setting big guys up for easy little dump-off passes. So you have to keep him contained and make him shoot over the top instead.
"There are a couple of things that seem to go unnoticed with Kansas. The first is that their bigs sprint to their screens; if you watch Sasha Kaun or Darnell Jackson or Darrell Arthur, they sprint from the post to set a screen. So the big guys guarding them are at a disadvantage, because they never get in the right defensive position. They'll run some double ball-screens on the outside, too, where the first guy slips [to the basket] and that forces you to help.
"The second is that they're an unbelievable passing team. That's why they're very hard to zone. They're always in attack mode, and their guards catch the ball where they want it, close to the three-point line in triple-threat position. They'll run some high-low sets that are effective, especially with Darnell Jackson, whose shooting has expanded the floor for them. Last year they didn't have a big man who could shoot that well. Arthur is so strong and quick on offense that we wanted to make sure he didn't get deep post-ups. We tried to be physical with him before he got into the post and not allow him to get the ball. When he does have it, his main move is a fadeaway over his right shoulder, and he'll counter that with a jump-hook -- but he always needs a dribble to get that off, so you can attack him that way.
"Ninety-nine percent of the time, [Kansas] is going to play man against you. Chalmers is as good a defender as you'll find anywhere in the country; he's a great anticipator, has quick hands and causes havoc in passing lanes. He and Robinson are constantly looking to create steals. Rush is a very underrated on-ball defender because of his length, and they're throwing a lot of different big guys at you. They're efficient defensively because of their quickness and their length, and the fact is that they dominate the glass, so you rarely get multiple shots.
"One thing you can do is try to take their big men away from the basket. For guys like Arthur and Jackson, and much more so Kaun and [Cole Aldrich], their comfort zone is within 7-8 feet of the basket, and once you get them away from it, they don't guard as well or rebound nearly as well. Arthur has been prone to foul trouble, too, and if a team attacks him and gets him out of that comfort zone, there's a chance he'll pick up some early fouls. Sometimes he's overly aggressive, or a half-step out of position, or just trying to make a play that sometimes he shouldn't make. If you get him out and they have to bring in Kaun or Aldrich, who aren't as athletic, then you try to lure them out to the perimeter.
"There are two intangible things that are just as important with Kansas. First, you can't lose your composure against them, because they're so well-coached that their effort never varies. You have to match the mental toughness of an experienced team. The second is the tempo of the game. You have to try to control your pace, because if you get running with them, they're going to run you out of the gym. That's what they like to do, and you have to be smart enough to avoid it."