Get inside March Madness with SI.com's Luke Winn in the Tourney Blog, a daily journal of college basketball commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
4/05/2008 11:31:00 PM
Once Again, Behold The Memphis Machine
Chris Douglas-Roberts and Memphis proved too much for Kevin Love and Co. to handle.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
SAN ANTONIO -- Kevin Love was knocked backward, 271 pounds of UCLA All-American tumbling to the ground, as Chris Douglas-Roberts soared over him, 200 pounds of Memphis All-American throwing down a back-door, baseline slam in a Final Four duel that was getting out of hand. Awe-inspiring athleticism, for the umpteenth time on Saturday, was winning out over grit, and Douglas-Roberts screamed as Love picked himself up off the floor. The score was 61-52, with 4:52 left on the clock, and Tigers forward Robert Dozier said he thought to himself, "The game's over."
This one, which finished 78-63, was over long before Douglas-Roberts finished with 28 points and Love just 12. It was over long before Memphis' Derrick Rose and Love, two likely one-and-done freshman, met near the end of the handshake line, one of them moving on to a title-game date with Kansas, the other moving on toward his fate in the NBA Draft. No matter who has been in the way over the past three games, they have seemed helpless in the face of the Memphis machine. Rose, who had 25 points of his own, said after the game that the victory had not yet sunk in, but it didn't need to: "Going into the game, we knew that we was gonna win," he explained, "So [there] ain't too much to say."
There are a few important things to know about this Tigers team: They weren't this good in February, when they lost their only one of 39 games this season, at home to Tennessee, and sat sulking in their locker room afterwards. They weren't even this good at the beginning of March, when they let a bad Southern Miss team play them to within nine in Hattiesburg. And they weren't even this good in the second round of this NCAA tournament, when they let eighth-seeded Mississippi State take them to the wire in North Little Rock, Ark.
Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl has a saying, which he used after losing to Louisville in the Sweet 16, that "the cream rises to the top at tournament time." And whereas Memphis' cream -- its peerless point guard (Rose), its slippery wing scorer (Douglas-Roberts) and its enigmatic board-cleaner (Joey Dorsey) -- was still mixed up in the middle when it suffered its one blemish against the Vols, it rose upon reaching the Sweet 16 last week. In Houston the Tigers made Michigan State look like a 16 seed rather than a five; they made Texas look not like the Big 12 regular season co-champ, but like a bubble team from Conference USA. And in San Antonio on Saturday, they made a fellow No. 1 seed, UCLA, look not like an equal but rather just another team that did not know what hit them.
"At this stage," said Love, "I feel like Memphis is definitely the best team we've played."
Dropping 28 points on UCLA had to be especially sweet for Douglas-Roberts, who had one of his worst games as a freshman in Memphis' Elite Eight loss to the Bruins. Coach John Calipari had said of the then-180-pound CDR, "Physically, he couldn't play [in that game]." In this Final Four he not only stayed on the court for the second-most minutes of any Tiger (35), he had four more points than Bruins guards Darren Collison and Russell Westbrookcombined.
Rose, who has been the most unstoppable player of the entire dance, actually made Collison look slow on Saturday -- and considering that UCLA's point guard is the son of two Guyanese track stars, this was no small feat. It was almost as if Rose was toying with the entire Bruins team; he said he could see they were "fatigued" because "I just keep pushing the ball."
Collison fouled out with 2:53 left in the game and just two points to his name, which would be a sad end to his college career if he chooses to turn pro later this month. Rose was not the nation's best point guard as of even three weeks ago, but in his past two games, he has 46 points and 13 assists. Against him, the two point guards on most All-America teams, Texas' D.J. Augustin and Collison, finished with 18 points and seven assists combined.
Glue guy Antonio Anderson has been peaking along with Rose, but in far quieter fashion. Anderson was the one responsible for cutting off UCLA's head on the defensive end. "We put 'Tone on [Collison]; he's been locking all the great point guards in this tournament," said Douglas-Roberts. "We wanted to make it hard on Collison, because he's the key to their team. He gets Kevin going, he gets Shipp going, he gets all of them going."
Extreme pressure on Collison meant that Love -- who carried UCLA here in much the same fashion that Rose did with Memphis -- didn't even get his hands on the ball enough to make a game-changing impact. Dorsey, who finished with 15 rebounds to Love's nine, was a physical force inside, but he played only 27 minutes; while he was on the bench, Shawn Taggart and Robert Dozier employed a swarming, double-teaming tactic that gave Love fits.
"I guess [Love] had never played against a team as athletic and long as us," said Taggart. "He was frustrated. ... I've seen him play [in games] when he got the ball 20 times, and I think he only got it about six today."
Dozier admitted that Memphis' game plan had been not even to guard auxiliary big men such as Alfred Aboya, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute or Lorenzo Mata-Real. The Tigers' post defenders were strictly assigned to the task of keeping Love uncomfortable.
Calipari has required that Dorsey, his sometimes-headcase-of-a-big-man, write stories before every game since Senior Night on March 8, in order to envision a positive outcome before he takes the floor. The one Joey wrote -- or at least said he did -- before Saturday's game was titled No Love For UCLA. In it, Dorsey said he addressed Memphis' loss to UCLA in the 1973 title game -- and more importantly, the fact that he wanted to hold Love below a double-double. "He got it, though," Dorsey half-lamented as he strode down the hallway away from the Tigers' locker room.
Love actually didn't get it -- he was one rebound short -- but those were just details. The real story was that Memphis would be playing in the title game on Monday night, and that the favorite coming into the dance, UCLA, was bounced from the Final Four for a third straight season.
It was still shocking, in the aftermath, to consider just how little the Bruins' defense had done to slow down the Tigers in a 15-point loss, by far UCLA's worst of the season. It took until well after the game for the Bruins to do any real damage, and only when the golf cart that Dorsey, Rose and Douglas-Roberts were riding in away from their press-conference came upon one carrying Love and Collison, going the other direction.
The NCAA official driving the Memphis cart veered off the carpeted path to make room, and in the process slammed Dorsey's right knee into a pole. He cried out in pain, half-jokingly, but the Bruins players were not amused. They, as the real victims of a Saturday-night rout, rode off silently down the hall.
Derrick Rose helped the Tigers race to the NCAA title game for the first time since 1973.
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
SAN ANTONIO -- Thoughts on Memphis' 78-63 win over UCLA before I run to the locker room ...
• In the time it took me to write this, the Tigers' Derrick Rose could have run three laps around the Alamodome. It's clear by now that Rose is the most dangerous open-court guard in the country. He made UCLA's Darren Collison -- the son of two Guyanese track stars -- look as slow as Lorenzo Mata-Real. By the end of the first half Rose had already blown Collison away, scoring 11 points and dishing out two assists without a turnover. Collison had just two points on 1-of-4 shooting and three turnovers to go with his three assists. When Collison fouled out with 2:53 left in the game, and the Bruins down 63-52, he still had just two points. That was a single-game low on the season.
• In case you were keeping score, in the past two games, Rose has 46 points and 13 assists. Combined, the two point guards atop most All-America lists, Texas' D.J. Augustin and Collison, finished with 18 points and seven assists. How much NBA money did Collison cost himself on Saturday?
• Kevin Love really suffered from UCLA's lack of a second post player who could knock down jumpers. After Joey Dorsey went out with his third foul early in the second half, Love wasn't allowed to dominate -- because Sean Taggart and Robert Dozier were swarming around to double-team whenever he caught the ball. They chose simply to leave Alfred Aboya, Mata-Real and even Luc Richard Mbah a Moute wide open from time to time.
• By 13:32 in the second half, the score was 50-45 in Memphis' favor. Why was that significant? It was same score by which UCLA beat the Tigers in the 2006 Elite Eight. Two years ago, the Bruins were able to exert their will and turn the game into a defensive grinder. In 2008, with Rose streaking by them, Douglas-Roberts slashing for layups, and Dorsey cleaning the glass, UCLA lost all control.
• A guaranteed highlight for the One Shining Moment montage: Chris Douglas-Roberts' backdoor cut for a left-handed dunk over Love. CDR, if you aren't familiar with his game, is right-handed.
• Three straight Memphis blowouts -- the last two over really good teams -- in this NCAA tournament. Is there any reason to think the Tigers won't win the whole thing now?
SAN ANTONIO -- Our 10-part countdown to the tipoff of the Final Four, gathered from locker rooms and practices, press conferences and back-hallway interviews at the Alamodome:
10. Does a Final Four with four No. 1 seeds have a strong enough aura around it to make Kansas State's Michael Beasley think about staying in college for another year? Lil' Mike, who's in San Antonio as a Naismith Award finalist, created a commotion (at least among fans aged 10-18) at the Alamodome on Friday when he appeared courtside during Memphis' practice. He told me that someone back on campus in Manhattan had recently written THREE MORE YEARS (in an "artistic" way) on the back window of his Chevy Tahoe. The only possible reason he could cite for actually coming back, despite being the projected No. 2 pick in the NBA draft, was the event in which Kansas, UNC, Memphis and UCLA -- but not K-State -- were partaking in this weekend. "I don't have a championship," said Beasley. "This, the Final Four, I'd love to still be playing in it right now."
But Beasley also mentioned the possibility of holding a press conference early next week in Manhattan -- and said that he'd be interested in doing it jointly with fellow Wildcat and NBA prospect Bill Walker, because, "It'd be nice to knock it all out." Read into that what you will.
9. Russell Westbrook told me in the UCLA locker room that he'll be the one trying to lock down Chris Douglas-Roberts on Saturday, while Darren Collison will be on Derrick Rose. Since I took an extended look at Douglas-Roberts' game on Friday, I asked Westbrook, the Pac-10's Defensive Player of the Year, how you defend an opponent with a killer crossover. "Don't watch the ball," he said. "If you watch the ball, that's when you get lost defending. You just have to stay solid and look at something like his stomach, or his belly button."
8. Westbrook was kind enough to step away from a heated card game (of Thirteen) amongst mostly Bruin reserves. Upon finishing our interview, he immediately began harassing Nikola Dragovic to give him his spot back in the game's rotation.
7. The photo below was from Kansas practice beforeRodrick Stewart freakishly fractured his right kneecap while jumping for a dunk attempt. I was in the Memphis locker room doing interviews when it happened ... and it immediately became the talk of the 'dome. Sad that all Stewart was trying to do was entertain the horde of Jayhawks fans -- easily the biggest contingent in San Antonio -- with a bounce-to-himself slam. This won't hurt KU nearly as much as missing Andre Allen (for a drug suspension) will hurt Memphis, but it's still a devastating end to Stewart's tumultuous college career.
6. Even though the reason Allen isn't at the Final Four is because he reportedly failed a drug test, some Tigers players are treating him as some sort of martyr. Reserve forward Hashim Bailey had devoted most of the white space on his Memphis Adidas shoes (pictured first below) to messages about Allen, including "Dre Day" and a drawing of a hand sign that represents Allen's neighborhood, South Memphis. Apparently some players plan on making this sign for Allen during Saturday's game. Another reserve forward, Pierre Niles, also had his shoes (pictured second) decorated with devotional messages such as "This one for you cuz #15."
5. The biggest pack around any single player? Easily the reporters swarming North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough, a Naismith Award finalist who, unlike Beasley, still has business left to tend to. I still like Roy Williams' condensed scouting report on Hansbrough from the Final Four Salute: "Fairly mediocre player with poor work habits."
Williams was kidding, obviously. And in Friday's press conference, Roy got irked when someone asked why Psycho T's secondary nickname, "Spaz-Brough," hasn't stuck. (I believe the blog may have been the first to uncover this in March of 2007, a huge scoop.) "Probably the guy that gave him the "Spaz-Brough" thing really didn't think, because if you look at him, he is far, far from spaz. Even in the tournament last week, we come down the court, Ty makes a pass to him on the left wing, the guy stands up to take a charge, and he actually looks like Twinkle Toes, but he goes right by the guys. He is not spastic by any means. There's no way that one would stick. The only real way that one will stick is if someone is trying to be cute or harmful."
5. Larry Brown was haunting the hallways and locker rooms at the Alamodome, supervising the coaches and schools to which he has ties ... which meant all of them. He played at North Carolina, coached at UCLA and Kansas, and had John Calipari on his staff as an assistant in Lawrence. "I didn't want to come because I didn't think it was a good situation to be in," said Brown (show below with Memphis' Willie Kemp), "but my wife told me it was a win-win, and I think she's right."
In the 10 or so minutes I listened to reporters pester Brown during Memphis' practice, he was asked about the Memphis Grizzlies' job (dismissed the question) and what he'd tell Calipari if the Knicks offered him that job (which is so going to happen). To that one, Brown said, "I want John to do what he thinks is best. Right now he's got something really important to do. He's trying to win a national championship. I don't think there's anything else on his mind right now."
4. A Final Four weekend packed with Lottery Picks is probably an appropriate a time as any to get fresh stars shaved in your head. Memphis' Doneal Mack, who had let his barbershop designs slack a bit during the earlier stages of the tourney, was out in full force for Friday's media sessions.
3. Niles, one of our favorite Memphis interviews, gave us one Joey Dorsey story that slipped his mind during our Q&A in Houston: "Last year, after a practice, Joey ran to the locker room and took [reserve guard] Clyde [Wade]'s car to the other side of campus. Clyde came in and was like, 'Is somebody playing? Where is my car?' He ran around looking for it, but I don't think he found it until like 11:30 that night, and practice was at 2:30. He was mad. Joey finally had to tell him where it was, otherwise he wouldn't have found it."
2. Ben Howland is into Stevie Wonder. Apparently he's been listening to Ribbon In The Sky on occasion while watching basketball film. Said Howland: "I actually saw Stevie Wonder in concert this year at the Santa Barbara County Bowl. I've always loved Stevie. He actually sang that song this summer. He's improvising. He sang it for about, I don't know, 10 minutes. It was actually incredible. The recording I have, I listen to it when I'm watching film once in a while, does it no justice."
(Ribbon, incidentally, is the same Stevie tune that Vandy's Shan Fostermentioned in a Q&A earlier this year. How good would the Bruins be, by the way, if they had just one more great three-point shooter, like Foster?)
1. Finally, a few predictions: Memphis over UCLA, Carolina over Kansas. Two great games to make up for all the blowouts last weekend. Rose's speed > Collison's speed, by just a little. The Tigers won't miss Allen. Dorsey gets within two rebounds of Kevin Love. Hansbrough doubles Brandon Rush's scoring output, but Mario Chalmers has a huge night to keep the Jayhawks in it 'til the final minute. Ol' Roy has conflicted emotions about bouncing KU ... but just for the few hours up until he needs to start game-planning for Rose.
SAN ANTONIO -- 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 UCLA opponent to get an anonymous scouting report on Kevin Love, as well as a breakdown of a go-to play the Bruins run for their star freshman forward. Here's what the coach had to say:
"[Love]'s a monster -- a very good offensive player both inside and out who loves to shot fake. Even when he catches it on the perimeter and a guy is closing out on him, he'll shot-fake, try to get the guy up in the air, and drive by him to get in the paint.
"If he's setting a ball screen on the perimeter, 99 percent of the time he'll pick and pop to look to shoot a three. But we were willing to let him shoot contested threes. He averages less than one made three per game, and we would have preferred that over him doing work in the lane and getting fouled.
"Once Love is on the block -- on either side -- he's good at turning and fading away to his right shoulder, like he did against Texas A&M. He has a really good drop-step going to his left shoulder, because he knows how to position himself and use his body to score. We charted him [on film], but he doesn't really have a pattern of doing the same thing from a certain side. He also has a jab-hook going to the middle over his left shoulder, and then a move where he gets you going right, then gets low and swings around so his elbow is on your left hip. That way he just seals you off and gets to the rim. He's smart about it -- it's one of those things he's perfected over time -- because he doesn't extend his arm out far enough for the ref to think about calling it a hook. We'd start screaming from the bench that it was a hook, but he's only using a bent arm.
"He's patient about positioning himself, too: If you front him and keep your four-man behind him on the other block, he'll move across and try to get you posted behind him. Try to limit the number of times Love actually gets the ball in his hand, or if he does catch it, double-team him to force the ball back outside. And you have to block him out on the offensive glass, or you'll get killed. He's averaging 3-5 offensive rebounds per game.
"A guy like Joey Dorsey [of Memphis] might cause [Love] problems just because of his length and size and physical ability. If Dorsey can understand not to go for the shot fake -- and that's something Joey has had trouble with -- he can stay out of foul trouble. But Love is one heck of a player. Unless you decide to trap him every time he catches the ball, it's hard to keep him from shooting a high percentage in the post.
The following is an actual play the Bruins run for Love in their man-to-man offense, as diagrammed by our anonymous assistant coach:
"In this box set, as [Darren] Collison throws to [Russell] Westbrook at the top of the key, Love is screening down for the other guard [Shipp] on the other block. As soon as Westbrook catches it, Love will duck in to the post and get deep position for Westbrook to give him the ball. If you can't stop this -- and a lot of times you can't -- they'll just keep running it."
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.
SI.com asked an assistant coach from a former UCLA opponent to break down the Bruins using material from his actual scouting report. Here's what he had to say:
"UCLA is not a scoring machine, and the stuff they run is simple -- but they execute it all really well, by setting hard screens and being very physical. That's what makes them difficult to guard. At the end of day, though, they are not a very good outside shooting team. [Darren] Collison can get it going a little bit, but [Josh] Shipp has been struggling. [Russell] Westbrook is an average shooter at best, and [Luc Richard] Mbah a Moute doesn't shoot it well. Defensively you have to make sure you protect the paint and make them shoot as many contested jump shots as possible.
"Where they're phenomenal is when you turn it over and let them come at you fast in transition -- that's a guaranteed bucket. And if you let them beat you on the boards and get out in transition, that's a bucket, too. You have to take away all of their easy opportunities to score, and really clog the paint and make them beat you from the outside, preferably by having Mbah a Moute and [Alfred] Aboya take jump shots.
"You want to play [Collison] straight up -- don't make the mistake of sagging off of him -- and know he's going to use on-balls [screens] to create penetration, and he'll step behind the screens and shoot threes, too. Whoever you have guarding Aboya, or Mbah a Moute, or Westbrook should be a help guy [on Collison]. Shipp has lost his confidence a little bit, but you don't want him to get it back against you, so play him out to the three-point line and make him a driver. He's not very quick or effective off the dribble, and that way, you're just pushing back into the pack in the lane, where you have everybody clogged in.
"In their offensive sets, Shipp is the one they consistently run plays for to get open jump shots. Collison gets most of his offense going through on-ball [screens]. And all the post plays are run for [Kevin] Love. They have a couple of misdirection [plays] where they swing the ball away from him and then bring it back, and he resets his post position. You need to be physical with him and try to push him off the block. And if your defense is packed in, like I said before, you'll have other guys hovering over to double-team, either on the backside if you're fronting him, or doubling from the front if you're playing behind. Those two fadeaway shots he hit to beat Texas A&M, you want him taking those all day. Those are so much better than the two-footers that he'll always make -- and get fouled on plenty of times too.
"The flip-side of this is you aren't going to score on them that easily, either. So it becomes a rugby scrum, or a boxing match where you punch and continue punching. Because everything Mbah a Moute isn't offensively, he is defensively. He gets after it on defense. Westbrook gets after it, too; Collison gets after it, Mata gets after it. All those guys who aren't good on offense are great on defense. What UCLA is trying to do is overwhelm you physically in every phase of the game: denial, on the ball, setting screens, getting through screens, bumping cutters, hard shows on on-ball screens.
"More than anything, it becomes time-consuming to score against them. The No. 1 way you can do it is to get to the foul line, so you have to go right at them. If you shy away and shoot jump shots, you won't ever score. If you go back and look at the games they lost, they always have guys foul out. And in games that [opponents] shy away and take all jumpers, it's like blood in the water. They play just like the Detroit Pistons or the Knicks of old, in that they're programmed to be aggressive on every player. The detriment of that, though, is if they run into a ref with a tight whistle and get in foul trouble, they're just going to keep fouling you. They can't just turn that aggressiveness off mid-game, so you'll end up shooting 30 free throws. But sometimes, if you've got a West Coast crowd in their favor, the ref will start feeling bad because he's sent the other team to the line for 30, and might start compensating.
"Collison and Westbrook are such good defenders because they have great quickness and size, and long arms to create deflections. But when you're trained to be the attacker, as they are, when somebody attacks you, you're going to foul them. You want to put them in situations where they have to foul. Westbrook, especially, is really good if you're in passive mode, but when teams are aggressive and square up and go at him, he'll reach from behind, he'll get beat. When somebody is being the aggressor against him, it's hard for him.
"In the post, UCLA has one of the more aggressive double-teams in college basketball. The second guy just runs over to knock the snot out of you. You've gotta be able to handle that. They've got guys like Aboya, Mata and James Keefe coming off the bench, and they don't care if those guys foul out. They're just going to go at you. And a lot of times they catch teams off-guard because they're so physical. UCLA can end up almost training the refs that way; because they come at you so hard and so frequently, how can the ref tell anymore what should be a foul and what's just good defending?"