Northwestern Wins: A College Hoops Blog

An ode to Verne Lundquist’s calls and everything college basketball

Title Participants Eye New Season

Posted by Zach on August 4, 2008

April 7, 2008. Kansas vs. Memphis. The national title on the line.

All year we heard about Memphis’ free throw shooting woes. Few denied the Tigers possessed the talent to cut down the nets in San Antonio, but the majority picked UCLA or North Carolina or Kansas to finish on top for one distinct reason: Memphis was completely unreliable from the charity stripe, and this giant Achilles heel would rear its ugly head at the worst possible time. The Tigers shot 61% from the line on the season, with Rose at just 71%, Anderson at 57%, Dozier at 68% and Dorsey at 38%. They sprinted past Texas in the regional final, edged UCLA in the national semifinal, and saw their national title hopes within reach when a miracle fall-away Derrick Rose three somehow found the bottom of the net. The free throws? Never a problem.

I lived through the agonizing pain that followed as someone who would have benefited greatly money-wise had Memphis won the national title. While most in my pool opted for UCLA and North Carolina, I figured the only way to keep myself alive in case of a devastating first two rounds would be to take a more unpopular team, risking blowing my entire bracket for the small shot at glory. I picked all four #1 seeds to make the Final Four and it happened. I picked a Memphis-Kansas final and it happened. Yet with Memphis holding a close lead in the final minutes, the free throws began rimming out. And another. And another. Soon enough, a Chalmers three sent the game to overtime and instead of enjoying an all-time college basketball classic, I sat with my head in my hands completely stunned.

John Calipari, one of the more intense and spirited coaches in all of college hoops, probably needed a few weeks of alone time after that epic contest. Calipari reached high grounds with Massachusetts in the 90s and flirted with national titles in previous years with Memphis, but for someone as devoted as Calipari, the sting of losing the 2008 title wouldn’t go away quickly. Receiving a commitment from the top point guard in the nation Tyreke Evans healed some wounds. Losing team leaders Chris Douglas-Roberts, Derrick Rose and Joey Dorsey to the NBA won’t be easy. How Calipari handles the Year After will be the most stern test of his coaching career.

On the other end of the spectrum, Kansas, one of the most historic and celebrated programs in all of college basketball, will play this season as defending national champions. Bill Self got the monkey off of his back by squeaking out a win over Davidson, topping favorite North Carolina with a thrilling start and finish, and orchestrated the unbelievable comeback vs. Memphis. He watched his top players- Darrell Arthur, Mario Chalmers, Darnell Jackson, Sasha Kaun, Brandon Rush- all depart for the NBA or Europe. They restocked with a solid recruiting class and hopefully Self will enjoy the small grace period at Kansas before the pressure cooker heats up again in Lawrence.

Both Memphis and Kansas will enter the 2008-09 campaign with fresh faces and a new look. No longer will Derrick Rose be the sparkplug in the Tigers backcourt, and no longer will Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson be solid and reliable presences in the Jayhawks backcourt. Chicago native Sherron Collins will shoulder much of the load, a near double-digit scorer from last season with a strong inside-outside game and good instincts who will likely lead Kansas in scoring. Freshmen and Marquette defection Tyshawn Taylor and all-around athlete Travis Releford will aid Collins. The Memphis show will be run by freshman Tyreke Evans, a special scorer and excellent finisher who can be Derrick Rose Lite with a better jump shot but worse court vision. Antonio Anderson’s three point range and contributions from Willie Kemp will take some pressure off Evans to be The Man at all times.

The frontcourt for Bill Self will be a question mark and depends primarily on the development of 6’11 big man Cole Aldrich, a strong finisher and rebounding presence who showed signs of breaking out against North Carolina in the national semifinal. Self loaded up in the recruiting class with bulk up front, reeling in three 4-star players at the small and power forward positions. Memphis will find its strength up front: lanky Robert Dozier returns, junior Shawn Taggart is back and could help scoring-wise in a big way, and Calipari loaded the frontcourt with freshmen Angel Garcia, Wesley Witherspoon and Matt Simpkins.

Both Memphis and Kansas, teams with storied programs and high expectations, hope to return to the Final Four again this season. While more realistic expectations see Memphis as a top-20 team who will storm through Conference USA and receive a high seed in the tournament while Kansas is experiencing a rebuilding/reloading season, both of these teams will be back at the top soon enough, with Memphis looking for revenge and Kansas looking for a return to glory.

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One Response to “Title Participants Eye New Season”

  1. Patrick said

    I love when Memphis misses FT’s, won me $580!!!

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