Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Kansas Steals Title on Memphis Melt-Down

If your team is ahead by nine points with two minutes remaining, you are supposed to win, right?

95% of the time, you would, unless you are Memphis, playing Kansas, with the national championship on the line. Then things get a little more difficult. You know Kansas is going to foul, so the point is to get your best free throw shooters in the game (they were: Chris Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose). Or, maybe you just want fresh legs in there?

(Memo to John Calipari: playing your two starting guards for almost the entire game is going to sap their strength, especially in the legs, and when the legs go, wave buh-bye to those formerly-easy free throws... and a national title)

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When Mario Chalmers hit the game-tying three-pointer with 2 seconds to go, it was only the greatest shot ever in college basketball history, but it was only made possible by Memphis gaffes and Kansas highlight plays, none more significant than Sherrod Collins' theft of an inbounds pass and subsequent 3-pointer that reduced the Memphis lead to four.

Two missed free throws by Chris Douglas-Roberts, another Kansas bucket and a miss and a make from the foul line by Rose set the stage for Chalmers' history-making shot.

The overtime went the Jayhawks' way. They had the momentum, and, with Joey Dorsey sitting on the bench after having fouled out, nothing could prevent Kansas from gettng the ball inside. Quickly forging a 6-point lead, it was quickly over from there. Memphis might just as well been throwing bricks at a picture frame down the stretch. They couldn't make a shot.

Kansas deserved it. They never quit and they took advantage of the one and maybe the only Memphis weakness, sending Douglas-Roberts and Rose to the line five times in the last 1:15, where the dynamic dou (combined 40 points for the Tigers) hit exactly one shot.

Kansas 75, Memphis 68 OT

Brick, Choke, Gasp. Memphis is thwarted.

Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk. Kansas is #1.

FINAL Tournament Conference Scoreboard
(Teams entered in parentheses)
Through Monday, April 7, 2008

ACC (4): 6-4; Winners: Duke, Miami, North Carolina (4); Losers: Clemson, Duke, Miami, North Carolina

A-10 (3): 3-3; Winners: Xavier (3); Losers: Temple, St. Joseph's, Xavier

Big East (8): 11-8; Winners: Marquette, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, West Virginia (2), Georgetown, Louisville (3), Villanova (2); Losers: Connecticut, Notre Dame, Marquette, Pittsburgh, Georgetown, West Virginia, Villanova, Louisville

Big Ten (4): 5-4; Winners: Michigan St. (2), Purdue, Wisconsin (2); Losers: Indiana, Purdue, Wisconsin, Michigan St.

Big 12 (6): 12-5; Winners: Kansas (6), Kansas St., Texas A&M, Texas (3), Oklahoma; Losers: Baylor, Kansas State, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Texas

Conf-USA (1): 5-1; Winners: Memphis (5); Losers: Memphis

Mountain West (2): 1-2; Winners: UNLV; Losers: BYU, UNLV

PAC-10 (6): 8-6; Winners: Stanford (2), Washington St. (2), UCLA (4); Losers: USC, Arizona, Oregon, Washington St., Stanford, UCLA

SEC (6): 4-6; Winners: Tennessee (2), Mississippi St., Arkansas; Losers: Georgia, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Arkansas, Mississippi St., Tennessee

WCC (3): 1-3; Winners: San Diego; Losers: Gonzaga, St. Mary's, San Diego

All others (22): 7-21; Winners: Davidson (3), Western Kentucky (2), Butler, Siena; Losers: Portland St., Kent St., Oral Roberts, Cornell, Belmont, Winthrop, Miss. Valley St., George Mason, CS Fullerton, American, Drake, South Alabama, UMBC, Austin Peay, Mt. St. Mary's, Boise St., Texas Arlington, Butler, Siena, Western Kentucky, Davidson

Super Mario Delivers Kansas a Title

Down 9 points with just over two minutes to play, the Kansas Jayhawks rallied, tying Memphis and sending the game into overtime on Mario Chalmers' 3-pointer with 2 seconds left in regulation. In the overtime, it was all Jayhawks, as Kansas quickly opened a six-point lead and captured college basketball's national championship, 75-68, over Memphis.

Memphis, which had been dogged all season by criticism over their free-throw shooting, missed four of their last five from the line in regulation. At the most critical moments in the game, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose could not convert and the Jayhawks took advantage.

The game was the 7th overtime in finals history and Kansas' third national title.

Chalmers scored 18 points and had five steals, earning him Final Four Most Outstanding Player honors.

More in the morning...

Monday, April 07, 2008

It's Kansas vs. Memphis for All the Glory

63 teams have come and gone. Now only two remain and no one can doubt that these two earned the right to the national championship.

Both Memphis and Kansas handily dispatched their Final Four opponents on Saturday. The Tigers shut down Kevin Love inside and the rest of the Bruins outside for an easy 78-63 victory over UCLA. Kansas blitzed the Tar Heels early and late - with an 18-0 first half run and a 13-0 second half finish - to slaughter a disorganized and disheveled North Carolina team, 84-66.

Both teams had their fright moments in the respective second halves. UCLA pulled to within five points of Memphis before the Tigers put them down for good and Kansas was a 28-point lead shrink to just four as the Carolinians took advantage of Jayhawk overconfidence and sloppy play.

In the end, both games were slaughterhouse variety basketball, with the better, stronger, faster, bigger players taking out the unprepared, overmatched teams which could not find answers. It sets up one of the best college basketball finales of recent memory.

Memphis (38-1) -2 vs. Kansas (36-3)

In Memphis, John Calipari has assembled and coached a team that has consistently outplayed every comer and overcome every obstacle to achieve an NCAA first: 38 wins in a season. But for a 2-point loss to Tennessee, this team would be 39-0. They'll have their chance to win a first-ever title for Memphis on Monday night.

Kansas is obviously the more storied program. College hoops starts and ends in Jayhawk territory. Kansas, however, has only two national championships to show for its efforts, in 1952 and 1988. The current squad has compiled an outstanding 36-3 record and looks poised to hang a third championship banner from the rafters of Allen Fieldhouse.

In examining the two teams, both appear capable of winning, but despite being 2-point underdogs, Kansas looks like the more formidable foe because of four key factors: speed, defense, bench strength and post play.

The Jayhawks actually outran North Carolina in Saturday's semi-final, no easy task there, and are the 12th-highest scoring team in the country, at 80.7 points per game. You don't have to go far down the list to find Memphis however, at #14, with 80.2 points per outing. The Jayhawks have a better defensive presence, with active hands looking for steals constantly. The Kansas players can finish as well, though Memphis also has great finishers on the break.

In team rebounding, Memphis gets a slight edge, at 40.8, to the Jayhawks' 38.7 per game. Kansas leads in assists, 18.1 (3rd in the nation) to 16.0 for Memphis.

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Kansas has two weapons on their bench which may prove to be telling in this final game matchup. Guard Sherron Collins and forward Cole Aldrich both made key contributions in Kansas' win over the Tar Heels. Collins scored 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting, while Aldrich - a freshman and former McDonald's All American - was sensational with 7 rebounds (4 offensive) and 8 points in 17 minutes.

While the high scorers for each team - Kansas' Brandon Rush and Memphis' Chris Douglas-Roberts - will likely neutralize each other, it will be a matchup worth watching. But inside, monstrous Joey Dorsey will have his hands full dealing with the likes of Darrell Arthur, Darrell Jackson, Aldrich and Sasha Kaun. They're all big, strong and active. Expect Kansas to dominate the lane and the boards.

A couple of caveats: Davidson, which Kansas ousted to reach the Final Four, played all but one of the four finalists this season tough, losing close games to North Carolina and UCLA during the season. The one team that did not have Davidson on their schedule was Memphis, and it could have meaning one way or another. Also, when comparing stats, it should be noted that Kansas played in the rough and tumble Big 12, while Memphis dominated the relatively weak Conference-USA.

With advantages in speed, scoring, bench strength and defense, coach Bill Self should elevate himself to the elite ranks of college coaching. In five years as Kansas head coach he's proven himself a master game-planner and courtside coach.

Prediction: Kansas 82 Memphis 74

Friday, April 04, 2008

Final Four Matchups and Predictions

For the first time since the NCAA tournament increased to 64 teams (now 65), all four of the regional #1 seeds have advanced to the Final Four. While North Carolina, Memphis and UCLA had relatively easy times getting to the promised land in San Antonio, Kansas, the #1 seed from the Midwest region, survived a bit of a scare from Davidson in the regional final, winning by two points, the lowest margin of any of the remaining teams.

UCLA and Memphis also had their tough games. The Bruins won by just two points over Texas A&M in the second round, while Memphis beat Mississippi State by three in their second round contest.

While the Jayhawks did struggle with Davidson, they do match up with the other number ones in other criteria. All four teams won their respective conference's regular season and post-season tournament.

Memphis, though they play in the somewhat second tier Conference-USA, went through both their regular season conference schedule and tournament without suffering a loss.

Here's the breakdown on the Final Four teams:

North Carolina Tar Heels

Record: 36-2

Conference Record (ACC): 14-2

Current streak: 15 games.

Average win margin in tournament: 25.25 points

Top Scorer, Rebounder Tyler Hansbrough, 22.8; Tyler Hansbrough, 10.3

Worst defeat: 89-78 vs. Duke, Feb.6

Kansas Jayhawks

Record: 35-3

Conference Record (Big 12): 13-3

Current streak: 11 games.

Average win margin in tournament: 15.00 points

Top Scorer, Rebounder Brandon Rush, 13.1; Darnell Jackson, 6.7

Worst defeat: 84-75, at Kansas St., January 30

Memphis Tigers

Record: 37-1

Conference Record (Conf.-USA): 16-0

Current streak: 11 games.

Average win margin in tournament: 15.07

Top Scorer, Rebounder Chris Douglas-Roberts, 17.7; Joey Dorsey, 9.6

Worst defeat: 66-62, vs. Tennessee, February 23

UCLA Bruins

Record: 35-3

Conference Record (PAC-10): 16-2

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Current streak: 14 games

Average win margin in tournament: 18.00

Top Scorer, Rebounder Kevin Love, 17.6; Kevin Love, 10.7

Worst defeat: 71-61, at Washington, February 10

Saturday's Games:

Memphis (-2) UCLA 6:07 pm EDT
The Bruins and Tigers are going to tangle both in the lane and on the perimeter, but this game has the makings of a mismatch as Memphis has a definite size advantage inside with baby bull Robert Dozier and the monstrous Joey Dorsey. Both are capable of handling super frosh Kevin Love, who may have to move more to the outside for scoring. He has a nice touch from 12 feet in, so the short jumper could be his strong suit.

Give Memphis a huge advantage on the boards as well, although UCLA's Luc Mbah a Moute is a great leaper and plays solid positional basketball. Simply put, Dozier and Dorsey are a wrecking crew.

Outside, Darren Collison and Russell Westbrook match up well with Memphis guards Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose, but nobody's been able to adequately cover Douglas-Roberts for an entire game, and the Memphis substitution regime - which includes a 10-deep rotation of players seeing 28 or more minutes - consists of at least six players at the guard positions. UCLA only goes as deep as Josh Shipp, and that's not likely to be enough.

Memphis could turn this into a rout if UCLA isn't hitting their outside shots. While the Bruins are making their third straight trip to the Final Four, Memphis returns to the Alamodome with their loss to Ohio State in last year's regional final still very much on their minds.

Prediction: Memphis 67 UCLA 61

North Carolina (-2) Kansas 8:47 pm EDT
Roy Williams used to coach the Kansas Jayhawks and now faces the possibility of removing them from the title challenge. Since Williams left, Bill Self has done a credible job at Kansas and has finally reached the Final Four, but this looks like where the dream ends.

The Tar Heels have too many offensive weapons and are too athletic for the Jayhawks to handle for a full forty minutes. In the post, Darnell Jackson and Darrell Arthur are solid, but handling Player of the Year Tyler Hansbrough may be a task better suited for three men. Hansbrough never loses his cool and will lead Carolina to a meeting with Memphis.

Kansas has had trouble maintaining offense at times, with Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson all running into defensive schemes or players that shut them down for considerable periods of time in recent games. They seem willing to settle for jumpers rather than slashing to the hoop, and that's going to cause some pain against the Tar Heels, who, though not noted for defense, usually do a very good job of it.

On the outside, Ty Lawson and super-sub Danny Green can light it up on either the fast break or from the 3-point line, which spells more trouble for Kansas. Once the Tar Heels get the lead, don't expect them to give it back. This one's over before it starts.

Prediction: North Carolina 86 Kansas 75