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February 6, 2008

SCS.comThere is a reason the pollsters unanimously voted Memphis as the top ranked team in the nation this week. As the last undefeated team remaining in Division I basketball, the Tigers have a real shot of entering the NCAA tournament without a loss.

Memphis is fast. Freakishly fast. And also insanely athletic - at every position. The Tigers have a point guard now in Derrick Rose, something they lacked last season. John Calipari has arguably the deepest team in the country, especially at the guard spot; six players average more than 14 minutes per game in the backcourt. But with as much firepower as the Tigers have on the perimeter, they are just as solid down low. Joey Dorsey may not be a prolific scorer, but his shot blocking and rebounding skills change the dynamics of the game. Heís not the only capable big man, either, as he teams with Shawn Taggart and Robert Dozier to form a dominant nucleus of inside players.

Memphis looks perfect - it has everything and does everything a team needs to reach the Final Four. Except for one thing.

The Tigers canít shoot. Canít shoot threes, and they canít shoot free throws. I am hardly sensationalizing the issue, either. In fact, Memphis ranks 216th in all of Division I basketball in three-point field goal percentage. As a team, the Tigers shoot 34 percent from behind the arc, and they shoot a lot of them - a grand total of 467 through 21 games, making only 159 of those attempts. Sorry to bore you with stats, but the numbers donít lie. Memphisí three-point shooting, as a team, is worse than the majority of Division I basketball teams, and this is the top ranked team in the nation weíre talking about.

Individually, Memphis does not have that go-to perimeter scorer that is vital to a teamís success. Chris Douglas-Roberts, shooting 50 percent from three, is the only player above 40 percent on the team, and he shoots an average of fewer than three treys per game.

But the Tigersí struggles from the perimeter arenít even the biggest issue with this team. More importantly than weak three-point shooting is how atrocious John Calipariís team is from the free-throw line. And with as much as Memphis slashes, attacks the rim, and gets to the free throw line, poor free-throw shooting is going to kill this team down the stretch. Just how bad is it? Memphis shoots 58.1 percent from the free throw line, which puts it at 340th nationally. Itís more than just an Achilles heel. Itís what is going to stop an unbelievably talented team from winning a national title.

Other thoughts from around the nation:

Knight made the right decision

Pat Forde of wrote a nasty column chastising Bobby Knight for quitting on his team, thus betraying his morals of discipline and loyalty. Forde has a point, as Knight did walk out on a team with NCAA tournament aspirations with a considerable portion of the Big 12 season still ahead. However, Knight has obviously grown tired of the daily grinds of coaching. He has said in the past that if he didnít still enjoy coaching, he wouldnít do it. After resigning Monday, it would seem that Knight no longer has the passion to coach at Texas Tech anymore. His team will move on with his son, Pat Knight, taking over for Bobby, and he will have the chance to gain some valuable experience before next season. It would be a disservice of Bobby Knight to coach a team when he has lost his fire for the game.

Vanderbilt fading fast

A 16-0 start has quickly turned into a disaster for the Commodores. Real SEC competition overwhelmed Vanderbilt, as it is now 3-4 in the conference. At 18-4, the Commodores are still ranked inside the top 25, but that will most likely end quickly. With as weak as the SEC is, Kevin Stallingsí team could still find a way into the NCAA tournament, but if I filled out a bracket today, I would not include Vanderbilt in the field of 65. Its best win is against Georgia Tech, and it lost to three of the conferenceís better teams in Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee, proving the Commodores are not capable of seriously competing in the SEC. If Vanderbilt can finish with nine wins or more its 16-0 start may carry it into the NCAA tournament. But anything less than that and the Commodores will be a 20 win team in the NIT.

Bottom of Big Ten worse than ever

Itís almost embarrassing to be a Big Ten fan this season. Northwestern and Michigan are easily two of the nationsí worst teams, with seven and five overall wins respectively. Illinois is not much better, at 2-8 in the conference and 10-13 overall. Penn State is a tad better than those other three teams, but still would be in the cellar of any of the five other major conferences. Minnesota and Iowa round out the bottom six, as both are under .500 in the conference. At the very least, though, both the Hawkeyes, who I thought would finish last in the Big Ten in the pre-season, and the Gophers, under Tubby Smith, seem to be making improvements.

I did not just write the above paragraph solely to make fun of the Big Tenís bottom feeders. The rest of the conference- the other five teams- are all affected by the pathetic teams below them. Purdue and Wisconsin are both currently 8-1, and Indiana and Michigan State each have seven wins, but those records are inflated considering how awful the Michigans and Northwesterns of the conference have played so far. So while the race for the Big Ten title between the top four teams will be competitive, we probably will not know exactly how good these teams are until March.

Stanford solidifying itself as a Pac-10 contender

Having won five straight games, a feat that cannot be taken lightly in the Pac-10, Stanford looks like a team that may be able to rival UCLA for the conference title. I did not think it was possible because I felt Stanfordís guard play was weak, and I attacked the Cardinal for scheduling such a soft non-conference slate. But Stanford has six winnable games coming up, and it could enter two straight games with Washington State and UCLA ranked inside the top 5 and competing for a Pac-10 title. The key to the Cardinalís success has been the guard play that I felt would be the teamís downfall. Anthony Goods and Mitch Johnson have done a fine job in the backcourt, and although neither has been especially stellar, all Stanford needs is for that duo to be formidable. The power inside with Brook Lopez and the rest of the crew will win games, and Goods and Johnson just need to make sure they donít lose the game for their team.

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