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.)
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 -- 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.
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:
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."
Pierre Niles averages 0.8 points per game off the bench for top-seeded Memphis.
HOUSTON -- The blog's Q&A routine has changed for the NCAA tournament. After running through a series of stars over the past two seasons -- everyone from Texas A&M's Acie Law IV to to Vandy's Shan Foster -- the focus has turned to the reserves. On Friday we ran our first-ever walk-on Q&A, with Texas' Ian Mooney, and today's subject is Memphis' Pierre Niles, a sophomore forward who averaged 0.8 points in 4.3 minutes per game this season, and at 310 pounds, gives the Tigers some serious muscle off the bench when needed. Niles, whose real first name is Jartavious, is one of two native Memphians on the Tigers' roster. He earned cult fame in the college hoops world in February, when, during a fracas following Memphis' 79-78 win at UAB, he slapped an unruly fan wearing a Larry the Cable Guy costume. We caught up with him in the locker room on the day before the Tigers' Elite Eight showdown with Texas.
Luke Winn: You're usually wearing headphones during these interview sessions, and then I've heard you loudly singing rap lyrics from time to time. What songs are you belting out?
Pierre Niles: It's just local rap -- Yo Gotti. Well, he's not local anymore. He signed with Cash Money [Records] last year. That's my favorite rapper, so every time in the locker room or on the bus, I've always gotta listen to him to get my mind right.
LW: You've been listening to him since when he was just local, though?
PN: I've been listening to him ever since he first came out in Memphis, my seventh- or eighth-grade year. And as the years got on, he's been getting bigger and bigger. I've got all of his CDs on here [holds up his iPod].
LW: The style of Memphis hip-hop is ... what?
PN: It's hype. Something you can dance to, get crunk to. A lot of my teammates don't like it because they're from up north. They like music they can get laid back to. But I'm from Memphis, so I like something I can get hyped to, get my mind right. Like, D-Rose [Derrick Rose], he'll listen to some Kanye West, because he's a laid-back guy, not a hype guy.
LW: You've got "North" and "Memphis" tattooed on either forearm, from your old neighborhood. Is Hustle and Flow, like, an accurate look at Memphis?
PN: Yeah, I'm from that hood, North Memphis, and then I've got Andre Allen over there [across the locker room], he's from South Memphis. So when they made that movie, we'd look at stuff and be like, we've been there -- to the skating rinks, to the streets that they was on.
LW: Have you been on the Internet and seen the montage someone made -- with Whoop That Trick from Hustle and Flow playing, and you slapping that fan at UAB? [It's here, but the lyrics are explicit.] That's almost like your own music video.
PN: [Laughing.] I ain't seen it until Andre Allen came to me and told me it was up on MySpace. So they showed it to me then, that somebody had put that together.
LW: Was that the craziest game you've ever been in as a player, with the crowd in Birmingham acting like it did, almost like a riot?
PN: It wasn't the craziest game. But the fans were just disrespectful, throwing beer, spitting on us, and all kinds of stuff like that. Stuff that wasn't called for. And one of the players got in my face and called me some words. So I just retaliated.
LW: And that fan in the orange jumpsuit?
PN: He was just pointing in my face and calling me different names. I ain't the type of dude to let somebody say something to my face, and point in my face, so I did something about it.
LW: Have you ever seen Larry the Cable Guy, the comic that the fan was dressed like?
PN: Never seen him. But I've heard about him.
LW: What has it been like, to see Derrick Rose kind of turn into one of the stars of this NCAA tournament? That double-pump reverse he had last night against Michigan State was pretty amazing.
PN: There's a lot of freshmen out there -- you've got O.J. Mayo, Kevin Love, Michael Beasley -- but I don't see none of them doing what Derrick Rose is doing. He carried us out of a drought last night, he came back in, picked the game up, and that man carried us all the way. He's got something special in him.
LW: And Rose's dunk? What about that?
PN: He said he was going to stop laying the ball up this tournament. And he showed that last night. He ain't playing around no more. Everyone was saying to him, "You've got too much hops to just be trying to lay the ball up." So he during the conference tournament that he'd start dunking in the [NCAA] tournament, and last night, he got that fastbreak, and he did something real nice with it.
LW: Derrick calls what Chris Douglas-Roberts does -- the crossovers and floaters and such -- "old-man moves." What do you call them?
PN: I just call them sweet. He's so sweet with the ball, smooth with it. He can play like an old man, but I don't think an old man would have the moves he's been doing. To be honest with you, other than Thad Young, my old AAU teammate, CDR is one of my favorite players I've ever played with.
LW: In your scouting report of Texas, what do you guys plan to do to counteract the fact that their big men are on the perimeter a lot?
PN: I think it's just Damion James. That's just one player we have to worry about. [Connor Atchley] can shoot it a little bit, but the only one we have to worry about is James. He's a real good player.
LW: Texas sort of has a version of you in Dexter Pittman, the 299-pound guy who comes off of its bench. How would that matchup work, if you were pitted against him?
PN: It would be a good matchup. I don't know if he's bigger than me. I think I'm kind of faster than him, and can jump higher than him, so I'd like to see it play out. We played against each other in AAU once, and we beat them.
LW: I assume you end up battling a lot with Joey Dorsey in practice. How does that go?
PN: We go against each other a lot. Coach wants [Dorsey] to match up with me because I'm big and physical, and he thinks I can help Joey out. Plenty of practices he'll have the best of me, and in plenty I'll have the best of him. Sometimes coach will call practice off if we're really going at it. Like, Joey will dunk on me or I'll dunk on him. Coach Cal called it off one time after I dunked on Joey -- just blew the whistle and said, practice over, practice over, so we just brought it in.
LW: What kind of tricks does Joey use to get position for rebounds? And how do you get in his head?
PN: He's just big and physical, and he's got quick feet. He ain't like the big men who can't move. If you look at him he's like a power forward. He's just playing the five because we don't have a real five. Joey is real strong and he gets real low in position. If you want to get in his head, though, just keep talking to him, checking him, keeping him unfocused.
LW: What's your best Joey story from the past few years?
PN: Last year, in San Antonio [for the Elite Eight] we were having a water fight in the hotel -- it's a normal thing, we just had one in Little Rock, too -- and he was throwing cups of water at people. Well, Joey peeked out his door, and I think it was Willie or Andre, they had filled up this big thing of hot water out the tub. Joey looks out, and they threw the bucket in his face, and he started screaming and hollering and running down the hallway, jumping up and down like a monkey. That was the funniest thing last year.
HOUSTON -- The Memphis-can't-shoot-free throws thing is more than just a media talking point. It's now fair game as a topic for coach-to-coach ribbing.
Texas coach Rick Barnes was being interviewed by pack of local TV reporters on Thursday when Tigers coach John Calipari happened by and jokingly interrupted the scene. Barnes took the opportunity to offer Cal a job:
"Hey, coach, I'm running a camp in Austin," said Barnes, "and I need somebody to come in and teach free throws."
Calipari's rebuttal referenced D.J. Augustin's late-game performance against Miami on Sunday in Little Rock: "I think your point guard shot that airball."
Augustin did nearly give the 'Canes a chance to pull off a miracle comeback in the game's final seconds when he left a crucial shot about a foot short. And the Tigers are a horrible free-throw shooting team: They rank 339th in the country from the charity stripe, at 59.2 percent. It's a problem that Calipari doesn't really think is a problem -- mostly because Memphis has been bad at free throws for the past three seasons.
"With four minutes to go, we made the free throws we need to make," Calipari said Thursday. "Now, we'll miss some, but they don't play a factor. They make the game closer. I sweat a little bit. But [the players] are looking at it like, 'Coach, you trust us, we'll do what we have to do.' So the big deal about it, that's fine. If you look at our team, there's so many other good things to talk about how we play; how we play defensively, how we swarm, how we play offensively, it's different. People that don't know it, think that it's just throw the balls out and shoot layups. And that's fine, too."
Any team hoping to beat the Tigers by strictly winning the free-throw battle probably isn't going to fare too well. As we learned in Wednesday's scouting reports of the No. 1 seeds -- from actual opposing assistant coaches -- sealing up Memphis' driving lanes and preventing Dorsey-and-Dozier damage on the offensive glass is far more important.
HOUSTON -- One of the more innovative -- and completely out of left field -- developments in college hoops this year was a partnership between Memphis ... and Beijing. In September, coach John Calipari entered into a deal with the Chinese Basketball Association to teach a series of clinics and camps in China, as well as allow a delegation of CBA coaches to shadow the Tigers in October practices. (One of the coaches has remained with the team full-time as an observer.) The presumption in the short-term is that this will help sell a lot of Memphis gear in the Chinese market, and in the long-term, that when the CBA considers allowing the next Yi Jianlian to play a year of college ball in the U.S., he'll commit to Calipari.
The only visible effects of the partnership, here in March, is the Chinese coach hanging on the periphery of the Tigers' entourage, and the t-shirts a few players have been rocking in the locker room. I snapped the above photo of junior guard Antonio Anderson on Sunday in Little Rock, after inquiring about the shirt:
"That's for the people back in China," Anderson said. "We represent."
I asked him if he knew what the Chinese characters meant (since I had no idea).
"Naw," Anderson said. "I know it's something back to the China people saying thank you, or something like that."
To find out what the Memphians' tees actually say back to the "China people," I sent a photo of the tee to a Mandarin-speaking college friend who went to Shanghai to teach English after we graduated in '02 ... and has pretty much stayed there since, having turned into something of an entertainment mogul and DJ. The only thing relevant here, though, is that he's good at translating Chinese characters into English. Without knowing any of the context -- e-mailed it right out of iPhoto without telling him the team or player -- this is what he sent back:
"The characters are pronounced 'Meng-Fei-Qi,' but they are not combined like that in standard Chinese, so that means it's a proper noun not found in China whose pronunciation is similar. For example: Minnesota in Chinese is written 'Ming-Ni-Su-Da.' So my guess is that it's a name of a non-Chinese city, place or thing, like Memphis or Mencius [the philosopher]. The funny thing is, things like this are almost always written phonetically, and often written differently depending on who's doing the writing. Like, Bjork doesn't just have one name in Chinese. She has four."
I wrote him back to reveal Anderson's identity, and he replied, "Well, then it's definitely Memphis."
Not Mencius. Not a thank-you. Just Memphis. Mystery solved.
SI.com asked an assistant coach from a former Memphis opponent to break down the Tigers using material from his actual scouting report. Here's what he had to say:
"Everything starts with their backcourt. You have to pressure whoever has the ball out to the perimeter, but play soft on everyone else so you can keep the gaps filled when they do their dribble-drives. Close the gaps, make them kick it back out, and then close on the shooters. You want them taking as many jumpers as you can, because they're not a great shooting team.
"The sets they run are not complicated, but that's smart on [coach John Calipari's] part because it allows them to play off of their natural ability, and create havoc that way. A sagging man-to-man defense is what I think is best rather than a zone: You just leave too many gaps with the zone, and you don't have set block-out responsibilities that way, so guys like [Joey] Dorsey and [Robert] Dozier will kill you on the offensive glass. And you need to limit their second-shot opportunities, or you'll have no shot of winning.
"Derrick Rose is a heavy right-handed driver who likes to use hesitation moves to get to the rim with his right hand or shoot one-handed leaners. He likes to cross over from left-to-right, and he also tries to seek contact with his left shoulder before going up. Our scouting report on him was to push him left, because he's liable to get out of control that way. He goes so fast that sometimes he'll leave the ball when he goes left, and he doesn't always finish as well when he has to go to that side, either.
"[Antonio] Anderson is a glue guy who's good at a lot of stuff and great at nothing. The reason he's a glue guy is because he'll let the ball go through him, to CDR [Chris Douglas-Roberts] or Rose. Anderson will only pull the trigger on a three late in the shot clock. That's why the other guys -- who are better shooters -- don't start in front of Anderson. He gets those minutes because he'll let it go through. If you put [Doneal] Mack out there, he's gonna shoot it every time he touches it, and CDR and Rose won't get it back. When CDR does get it, he's shooting over 40 percent on threes, but he doesn't take that many. He does most of his work off the dribble.
"Against Dozier, you have to play physical. He doesn't like a lot of contact, and you need to body him up to keep him off the glass. When he's on the perimeter, play him to drive to the right and then pull up; he likes to fake one way or the other with a foot fake, and then spin back around with a jump hook or a fadeaway.
"It's hard for them to win if Joey [Dorsey] isn't involved. He's always opposite the ball, waiting for those offensive rebounds. That's his game -- just rebound the back side. Memphis doesn't shoot a great percentage if you keep them out of the lane, but it'll beat you on the offensive glass. The only way Dorsey gets the ball -- and really, this is their way of getting a post feed -- is when their guards drive, force the bigs to come up to help too quickly, and then throw a lob over the top of you to the corner of the backboard. That's how they keep [Dorsey] happy, by getting him a few dunks, and then he keeps rebounding for them. If he's not a man on the glass, they probably wouldn't have beaten Mississippi State in the second round [of the NCAA tournament].
"A team that's going to beat [Memphis] will need to have a deep bench, because the dribble-drive is so hard to defend, and if you're tired and reaching in, you end up picking up fouls. If you get in early foul trouble, then they've got you. Because once they start driving at you hard, you'll have to let them go by. I think a team like Kansas, that could run with [the Tigers] and has a lot of bodies, could hang in an up-and-down game.
"I think you can score on Memphis early in transition, by throwing over the top of the press, or score on them late in the shot clock. But don't try to score in between that. They're a very good defensive team, especially on your first 2-3 passes in the half court, but by the sixth or seventh pass they're not very good. They want the ball back so bad that they try to make steals at that point, 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.
"Anderson is their best defender; you need to try to attack Rose and CDR, because they don't always compete all the way to the rim. They're good athletes, but they don't want to get in foul trouble. On the inside, Dorsey is a banger who does things to get under your skin. He'll hold you, grab you, shove you, but he does that work long before the ball hits the rim, so the refs don't call it as much.
Memphis is going to show you all man-to-man, and they play it physically, trying to intimidate you and take you out of your game. They'll bully you and talk trash to you. And because they're looking for early steals, you need to play with poise and be patient with your attacks."
Joey Dorsey (right) conversed with former Tigers star Anfernee Hardaway (second from left) before facing the media on Sunday.
NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- For Joey Dorsey, who can alternately be Memphis' most quotable player or its most stand-offish, who's just as liable to dominate a game on the boards as he is to disappear into a psychological black hole, Sunday was the sweetest of one-year anniversaries. Remember what Dorsey did on March 23, 2007, in San Antonio, on the eve of the Tigers' meeting with Ohio State in the South Regional final? That's where he chose to make the two most ill-fated statements of his college career, both directed at Buckeyes center -- and soon-to-be No. 1 draft pick -- Greg Oden.
The first: "I'm an underrated big man and he's a lot overrated as a big man." The second: "I'm Goliath. He's the little man." You all know how the rest of the story goes: Dorsey had just three rebounds, 17 short of his prediction for the game, and failed to score a point or block a shot. Oden had 17 points, nine boards and a block. Ohio State won by 16. Dorsey went home, his tail between his legs. Speaking about the incident this summer, Dorsey admitted that it would be best, in the future, "to let the giant sleep." He also hinted that his coach, John Calipari, had relayed similar advice in a rather forceful manner.
On that date, Mississippi State was preparing to head to New York for the NIT Final Four, so perhaps the Bulldogs' star junior forward, Charles Rhodes, was so busy packing that he was never made aware of Dorsey's cautionary tale. And so, even though Dorsey was owed no karmic favors -- his Oden-related embarrassment was entirely of his own doing, and he only dug himself in more holes as a senior -- Rhodes gave him a gift on the morning of March 23, 2008. He served up motivation to Memphis' sleeping giant on a silver platter.
Soon after Dorsey awoke on Sunday, many hours before No. 1-seeded Memphis would go on to beat No. 8 Mississippi State 77-74 and advance to the Sweet 16, he received some news from Calipari. At the Bulldogs' press conference the previous day, in a response to a question about what he had to do to get the better of Dorsey in this second-round matchup, Rhodes had said, "I really think he's got to get the better of me in this matchup. He's a great offensive rebounder. He's not really [an] offensive player." That's all Rhodes said. And unlike the absurdities that Dorsey spewed in Oden's direction, Rhodes' statements were true: he averaged 9.9 more points per game (16.9 as opposed to 7.0) than Dorsey did during the regular season.
But Dorsey's psyche is so fragile, even as a senior in his last NCAA tournament, that this was enough to set off the forward who hadn't registered double-figures in either points or rebounds since March 8 against UAB. "I was so mad," he said, "I was furious about that." Furious enough to block Mississippi State's first shot of the game, a Jamont Gordon layup attempt, and swat three more shots in the first half. Furious enough to finish with 13 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks, compared to Rhodes' 14, 10 and one. Furious enough so that ...
"I knew," Dorsey said, "how Oden felt when I called him out."
If one were to look closely at the fresh pair of Adidas Rhodes sported in his final game as Bulldog, written on the outsides of both shoes were the words "Resurrection Sunday." It was Easter, and Rhodes had seemingly meant to disseminate a Biblical message for the national-television audience. But the irony in it was all too apparent, for Rhodes was directly responsible for rousing the one player who could counteract the physicality of Mississippi State's vaunted front line. And in the aftermath, Rhodes had no interest in repenting for his verbal misstep:
"I said that to get him pumped up," Rhodes said. "I'm not scared of any challenge. That's what I want -- the best out of any player. And he brought it a little bit tonight, I'm pretty sure because of what I said. And you know, they ended up winning the game. It is what it is."
It took Dorsey a few months to admit that he regretted his Oden remarks. Perhaps somewhere down the line Rhodes will admit the same. But he definitely wasn't interested in doing it on Sunday. "Regret it? Not at all," said Rhodes. "It ain't like [Dorsey] scored 40 points and grabbed 25 rebounds. I don't regret nothing I said."
Rhodes is essentially Mississippi State's version of Dorsey, a player who has constant loose-cannon potential despite being a senior. It was only fitting, then, that Rhodes brought Dorsey back full-circle a year later, from the caller-outer to the called-out, from the punished to the one handing out the punishment. "That's Joey Dorsey when he's right," Calipari said of the player the country saw on Sunday, who looked far more like the Dorsey who had 14 double-digit rebounding games before Valentine's Day than the one who did it just once after that. "That's what he is. He's not always right, but when he is right, that's what he is."
The record should note that Dorsey wasn't all perfect on his anniversary. He fouled out with 22 seconds left, bumping Rhodes to set up an and-one play that sparked a late Mississippi State rally, which kept the result in the balance until the game's final shot. On his way off the floor, Dorsey made sure to complain to the refs, his palms up and a look of disbelief on his face. After the game, he tried to retreat to Memphis' shower area -- and into a conversation with former Tiger Anfernee Hardaway -- to avoid talking to the press.
"You know I hate doing those interviews," Dorsey said, before a team official prodded him back into into the public portion of the locker room. Once there, though, he sat down and held court with reporters for 20 minutes. It all came rather easy to him, because Joey Dorsey, when he feels like it, can be one captivating enigma.