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Some Initial Thoughts on Memphis

These thoughts are awfully initial. Honestly, this is the first glance I have had at much of anything regarding the game, as I still haven't really gotten over Saturday night. Seriously, after five years of incredible difficulty just to get to the Final Four, was it really supposed to be that easy?

Of course, it obviously wasn't easy and instead incredibly nerve-racking, at least for me, but the fifteen minutes at least felt that way.

Still, our reward for winning a game is to take on a team that has lost all of one game all season long. They might be the only team in the country more athletic than us and faster than us, and are probably the only current NCAA team that has more future pros on the current roster.

So, yeah, bring on the athletes.

If you are more of a fan of the old, traditional, slow, defensive-driven basketball might want to turn their heads. Because while there will be plenty of defense played (Kansas and Memphis rank 2nd and 3rd in adjusted defensive efficiency respectively), it isn't the defense you are used to seeing. It will be athlete-driven basketball, possibly for the first time in NCAA Championship history. Schemes, the very "schemes" (at least in Memphis' case) that Plaschke made fun of on Saturday, will largely be non-existent. The coaches, as Plaschke quipped, will be more 'cheerleader' than 'coach'. Few plays will actually be called, instead both Bill Self and John Calipari will be letting the players play.

But I digress. Moving past the whole Plaschke-type issue, let's take a gander at the Memphis KenPom page and see if anything sticks out.

  • First off, Memphis is pretty good. Without a doubt, and I say this with complete certainty, the Memphis Tigers are the best team we have played all season long. They might not be as good on offense as North Carolina, although there isn't that big of a gap, but their defense is worlds better. Their athletic ability and length, the same assets that we possess that shut down the vaunted Tar Heel offense, is off the charts. And that makes their defense worlds better than North Carolina's, and makes me all the more freaked out.
  • Looking at their offense, specifically, it will be near impossible to shut down. In order to completely "shut it down", we will need every single Jayhawk on the floor to play awesome and/or quite a few Tigers to have off-shooting nights. When they are on, as they were in Houston and on Saturday in San Antonio, they are just about as unbeatable as a college basketball team can be. Yes, just as unbeatable as Florida's outfit the last two season. More so, actually, if you subscribe to the whole regular season record philosophy. While Memphis is categorized as a bunch of unorganized, street ballers, they commit a shockingly few turnovers. Instead, they commit the eighth fewest turnovers in all of the country, tempo-free at least. Their free throw shooting, or lack thereof, has been well documented, but they have really turned it around come Tournament time. Maybe all of that practice has finally payed off, or maybe it is just flukey, but they have been drilling their freebies ever since they stepped foot into Texas. I don't think they will revert back to their old form of brick-laying, although we all know how poor free throw shooting can cost you a National Championship. Finally, they really aren't that good of a perimeter shooting team. They aren't horrible, sure, but they are much better taking shots inside the three-point arc, and their biggest weakness is their lack of perimeter shooting. If they are on from the outside, they are unstoppable, but if they aren't knocking the shots down, they become very vulnerable. The key to the game, to be sure.
  • Moving on to the defense, they don't force a whole lot of turnovers. However, they play excellent FG% defense, both from outside and inside the three-point arc (7th nationally in both categories) and block a helluva lot of shots. Seriously, an insane amount. Joey Dorsey and Robert Dozier and Shawn Taggart all can reject a shot once the ball travels into the lane, and we will have to watch out for that. Still, I would prefer to play a team of shot-blockers than a team of floppers and charge-takers (like UNC), so I would say that is an improvement. Of course, we will have to learn how to use the jumpstop, and hit the mid-range jumper. If not, our outside treys better be raining in or we will be in major trouble.
  • Finally, regarding tempo. I would wager that this game will go up-and-down pretty fast, but not quite at a track meet-level. Both teams prefer to run, but aren't shy of a half-court game either when they are forced to play it. However, considering both teams' opponent, both teams should get their preferred pace of running. And after hearing all week long about whether we could "keep up" with UNC, and then out-running and out-speeding them to a 40-12 advantage, I hope the MSM realizes that we have some athletes. Now, I would actually give Memphis the advantage in freakish athletic ability, but we are a close second in all of college basketball. So, take the over in Vegas, unless it is some insane amount, and hope both teams are knocking down their perimeter shots. Of course, just because the game will be going up and down-the-court doesn't mean points will be shooting up the scoreboard, remember, both teams play defense in transition too. And both of these defenses are really, really good.
So, basically, here is the take. Memphis is a better overall team than any other in all of college basketball, except maybe us, and I can confidently say that these two teams really are the best in all of college basketball. I have been down on Memphis all season, but I was completely wrong. I know that now.

It should be an absolute blast to watch, a tremendous combination of outstanding athletic ability, great coaching (both coaches, especially Bill Self, have fairly bad reps, but whatevs) and tremendous team-play: the triumvirate to college basketball success.

Bring on the fun.