Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Super Mario leads Jayhawks to stunning win over Memphis

Kansas 75, Memphis 68 (OT)
Title Game MVPs
KAN-Mario Chalmers 18 pts, 4 steals
MEM-Derrick Rose 18 pts, 8 rebs
Final 4 MOP: Mario Chalmers

Chalmers' shining moment will be replayed till the end of time

God I love being right.

Did I or did I not say the two players to watch in this game would be Derrick Rose for Memphis and Mario Chalmers for Kansas?

Answer: yes and yes.

And didn't I predict in my preview post that, and I quote myself "this matchup could provide one of the most entertaining, exciting and electrifying finals in NCAA history"?

Right again.

Throw in the fact that I advised the basketball fan that the two teams playing for the title would be so evenly matched because they play the same style of ball that it would end up being a game worth watching regardless of team affiliation, and what you have is a major league case of 'I told you so' right here.

What's that? I can't hear you, what?

Oh, you say I picked Memphis to win the game?

Always a fucking smartass in every bunch.

So maybe I did call everything but the outcome of the 2008 championship game, at least I was right about the most important facet of all and that's the fact that the game will go down as one of the greatest title games in college basketball history.

(the preceeding statement was for non-gamblers only. If you lost any money on the outcome or had Memphis in your office pool, then disregard.)

After a back-and-forth affair for 3/4 of the game, Memphis seemingly had the game won when it took a 9-point lead with just over 2:00 to play. Trailing by 5 at halftime, John Calipari's club used a 25-14 run to pull ahead by 5 with 5:00 left in the game. The run was fueled by freshman sensation Rose, who had just 3 points at halftime but exploded for 15 in the 2nd half, including an incredible stretch where he scored 14 of Memphis' 16 points.

But it was a seemingly innocuous call on an apparent Rose three-point bank shot that made the score 56-49 with just over 4:00 to play that ended up coming back to haunt the Tigers just minutes later.

The refs huddled and ruled the trey was actually a deuce, but with Memphis on the verge of putting this one in the books it looked as if the removal of a point would have no effect on the outcome of the game.

Oh how wrong that assertion would be.

Shortly after taking the 9 point lead, 60-51, Kansas went into full foul mode to try and stop the clock and get back in the game, a strategy that is usually as maddening as it is ineffective.

Except this time the Tigers, who were 3rd from the bottom in FT shooting during the season but a respectable 75% in the tourney, made the Jayhawks' plan pay off. Memphis inexplicably reverted back to a team of Shaqs at the line as stars Chris Douglas-Roberts (game-high 22 pts) missed three in a row and Rose missed one, and with Kansas hitting a couple of key threes and frees of their own, suddenly the 9-point bulge was down to a mere three with :10 seconds to go.

Enter my pick to click, Chalmers.

The feisty guard had already had a whale of a game with 13 points and 4 picks in the game, including 3 steals in the first half, most of them off Rose, but little did anyone know that he was about to enter the annals of college basketball history.

With Calipari choosing not to call a timeout, Sherron Collins took the ball upcourt and for some reason wasn't fouled, and after he handed it off to Chalmers at the top of the circle, Rose chose not to foul him either. It turned out to be a costly mistake as Chalmers calmly elevated over Rose and dropped a straight away three through the net to tie the game, stunning the Memphis squad and fans, so much so that Calipari AGAIN forgot to call a timeout with 2.1 seconds left to set up a last shot.

Instead Robert Dozier's desperation heave at the buzzer fell shy, and Kansas went on to destroy the shell-shocked Tigers in the OT, outscoring them 12-5 to win the 3rd title in Jayhawks history and first in 20 years, since the memorable Danny & The Miracles squad of 1988.

Ironic that it took a miraculous shot, and one hell of a terrific game, for the Kansas to be able to cut the nets down again.


Monday, April 07, 2008

2008 NCAA Championship Game Preview

Kansas Jayhawks (36-3) vs. Memphis Tigers (38-1)
9:00P EST San Antonio, CBS HD
Line: Memphis -2

This is it. A long, exciting, topsy-turvy 2007-2008 NCAA season will come to an end tonight when the Memphis Tigers and Kansas Jayhawks tip the basketball off for the final time this year.

Just like you predicted in your office pool, right?

These two clubs may be a couple of party crashers, silencing doubters while laying waste to quality opponents en route to this title tilt, but that doesn't mean they aren't the two teams most deserving to be here. Nor does it mean that they won't put on a more watchable championship battle than any of the other teams that were picked to be here by the majority of the media and the masses.

(ahem, this means you, UNC and UCLA)

In fact I'll go out on a limb and say that this matchup could provide one of the most entertaining, exciting and electrifying finals in NCAA history, and I'm not a fan of either school.

What I am a fan of is up & down basketball. Teams that cover both ends of the court like a blanket snowfall. Kids that can either rock the rim with a jam or drop a teardrop jay with ease. Athletes that can swat a shot or inhale a rebound, steal an inbounds pass or take a charge with equal parts style and vigor.

Both teams have these qualities in spades.

Talk about evenly matched. Both clubs average about 80PPG and allow around 60PPG, and both teams normally demolish their opponents; Kansas (19.3) and Memphis (18.6) finished 1st & 2nd in the nation in margin of victory. And both teams are led by coaches that have to feel as if they have something to prove.

Somthing's gotta give.

Memphis' John Calipari was a hero when he took UMASS to the Final 4 in the mid 90s, only to see that facade ripped down when his team was stripped of its wins due to a payment scandal involving star forward Marcus Camby. He high tailed it to the NBA, where he was a failure, then slunk back to college to resurrect the dormant Tiger program. A win tonight would solidify his legacy as a program builder and help erase the black mark that has tainted his record.

Kansas' Bill Self built a powerhouse at Illinois before he bolted for the Jayhawks after Roy Williams left for Carolina five years ago. He has never been able to shed the dreaded moniker of "can't win the big game", although he went a long way towards doing just that when his team demolished Williams & the Tarheels in the semi final game Saturday night. Like Calipari, a win tonight and his legacy is sealed; he will forever be known as a championship coach, whether he leaves for his Alma mater Oklahoma State after the game or not, as has been rumored for the last few days.

With all the great players on the court tonight - Joey Dorsey, Chris Douglas Roberts, Brandon Rush, Darrell Arthur, Darnell Jackson - two will dictate which team cuts down the nets near midnight tonight:

Memphis G Derrick Rose- the fab freshman has had accolades heaped on him all season, but the praise has been effusive lately thanks to his monster performances in the tourney. The do-everything guard is averaging over 21 pts, 6.5 rebs and 5.5 ass per game in the tournament, and his end-to-end antics have been the stuff NCAA legends are made of. Catch him tonight, because it will probably be his final collegiate game

Kansas G Mario Chalmers- the wiry guard only averages 14 points and 3 assists per game, but it is his defensive abilities that could be the difference maker for Kansas. The sticky-fingered junior, along with fellow guard Russell Robinson, will be called on to help try and stop Rose, and if he has any luck at all shutting down the explosive frosh, the Jayhawks will have a much better shot at winning this game

Alright, enough of the BS, it's almost game time, and time for my prediction. As always, this pick is 100% guaranteed.

Memphis 79, Kansas 75



Sunday, April 06, 2008

Brackets Busted: Kansas to play Memphis for NCAA title

Memphis 78, UCLA 63
Kansas 84 , North Carolina 66

So much for the experts who picked the dream matchup of Carolina and UCLA in the NCAA Championship Game.

The Memphis Tigers and Kansas Jayhawks spoiled the bracket dreams of millions of fans nationwide as they both manhandled their supposedly superior opponents last night at the Final Four in San Antonio, setting up a Monday night showdown that not many in the country predicted would happen.

How do I know this? Well I'm not about to count the entrants of every ESPN.com, CBS Sportsline, Yahoo Sports and other national bracket pools, but according to our own pool, made up of 43 members, 9 picked Kansas to win it all and 3 picked the Tigers to cut down the nets, while 17 had the Tarheels taking home the crown and 8 had UCLA.

Interesting though is the fact that of the 12 entries that had either Kansas or Memphis winning it all, only 1 participant predicted the final game of Kansas and Memphis. I'm no math major but that tells me that out of 43 brackets only 1 called the final game correctly, and according to my unscientific calculations that equates to not many people getting the final game right.

Using the benefit of hindsight it seems foolish that more people didn't predict this title game pairing (this coming from a guy who picked Tennessee to win it all.) The Jayhawks had been lurking in the shadows of the top teams all year, clearly athletic, talented and strong enough to give the big guns a run for their money yet content to stay hidden behind the ghosts of past tournament failures and the perceived lack of big game gumption of coach Bill Self.

Memphis meanwhile had been at or near the top of the rankings all season, losing just 1 game all year, yet constantly heard the shouts about their record being padded with fluffy Conf USA opponents and how their horrendous free throw shooting (64%, 3rd worst in D1) would surely be their downfall once it came down to crunch time in tourney games.

All the two clubs did was destroy those false perceptions about them by demolishing their more-heralded opponents.

In the first game of the evening UCLA kept the game close for a while, trailing just 38-35 at the half, but after the break the Tigers, led by super freshman Derrick Rose (25pts, 9rebs, 4ass) pulled away, jumping out to a 10-pt lead, 47-37, just 4 minutes into the half and then cruising from there as their athleticism and speed just overwhelmed the plodding Bruins.

It didn't help matters that UCLA's two stars, freshman sensation Kevin Love (12pts) and junior guard Darren Collison (2), were held to 14 points combined on 5-20 shooting, while Memphis had a balanced attack led by Rose, leading scorer Chris Douglas Roberts (28 points) and intimidating big man Joey Dorsey (15 boards).

In the nightcap things got ugly early for the (overconfident? relaxed?) Tarheeels as Kansas blitzkrieged the shellshocked Heels and former Jayhawk coach Roy Williams to the tune of a 40-12 lead with 7:00 minutes left in the first half. This promoted noted blowhard Billy Packer to exclaim the game was over right then, which shocked partner Jim Nantz as well as a nation of viewers conditioned to believe that no sporting event is ever over until the final horn is sounded. I'm sure CBS loved that little gem.

UNC kept its cool and survived the early attack to slice the deficit to a manageable 44-27 at the half, and it was as if they were attempting to make Packer seem like the crusty old windbag that he is when they cut the deficit to five, 58-53, with 9:21 left to play. But it was a classic case of a team expending too much energy to get back in the game after being down by so much so early as the winded Heels succumbed to the relentless pressure of the Jayhawks, and a final 26-13 run by Kansas made the former blowout a blowout again.

So the two best teams in the country that not many believed in will take their aggressive, physical style of play to the title game on Monday night, and fans will either watch what should be an exciting finale or shun the game while nursing their shredded brackets.

I know my son, who was in first place after Game 1 and needed Carolina to win it all to take home the grand prize, will be in the latter category.

He shoulda picked Tennessee, like me. Now I can sit back and enjoy what should be a great championship game without having to worry about that pesky "I coulda won it all" crap haunting me.