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April 7, 2008

SCS.comThere might not be anything worse in sports than losing in the championship game. Itís something the Buffalo Bills, once losers of four straight Super Bowls, know all about. Five months of work during the season could go to waste for either Kansas or Memphis on Monday night. And five months of work could pay off on Monday for the winner. Iím about to analyze this game from top to bottom, but all you need to know is this:

Itís the last Monday night of the college hoops season. May the best team win.



Kansas: For one night against North Carolina, Kansas had no weaknesses. Everything about the Jayhawksí win on Saturday was impressive, but their defensive effort was especially masterful. During most of the first half, the Tar Heels struggled just to get a shot off. Forget about contesting shots. As CBS play-by-play man Jim Nantz put it, every pass North Carolina made was contested.

Kansasí big men also stepped up big time on Saturday. Cole Aldrich came off the bench to spark the Jayhawksí frontcourt and Darnell Jackson scored in double figures, but more importantly, Kansas completely shut down North Carolinaís interior offense. With nine blocks total- four each from Aldrich and Darrell Arthur- Kansas contained Tyler Hansbrough and forced UNC to shoot from the outside. And since the perimeter shots werenít falling early on, Kansas was able to stifle the nationís best offensive team.

Memphis: The Tigersí most overlooked strength is their defense. The aforementioned Kansas defense gets its rightful recognition, but nobody ever seems to give Memphis credit for its defensive tenacity. Maybe thatís because John Calipari gives off the impression that heís a slimy head coach with a bunch of undisciplined streetballers playing on his team. Thatís simply not true. In fact, it couldnít be farther from the truth. Memphis plays aggressive, but the Tigers stick to their game plan by attacking the basket on offense and playing nasty defense. Texas coach Rick Barnes said his team had not faced a defense as good as Memphisí all season. Remember how I said those Kansas guards were big and strong? The Tigers guards have some physicality of their own.

One aspect of Memphisí game that never gets overlooked is its free throw percentage. Miraculously, the Tigers are over their free throw problems, making 30 of 36 against Texas and 20 of 23 against UCLA. This is a big reason why Memphis won comfortably against both teams.


Kansas: The Jayhawks need to cut down on the turnovers. Kansas turned the ball over 19 times against North Carolina, and that basically allowed the Tar Heels to jump back into the game. Also, once Kansas raced out to a 40-12 lead, everything turned sloppy, especially on offense. Bad shots were taken, turnovers were committed, and North Carolina took advantage of the mistakes.

Memphis: Against UCLA, Memphis struggled on the boards. This is an area that could be a problem, and in the Tigersí one loss this season, they were outrebounded. That was against a Tennessee team that isnít all that strong up front. Kansas out-hustled Psycho T himself for offensive boards on Saturday, so Memphis better be ready to bang down low.


Kansas: Brandon Rush. Kansasí leading scorer got most of his points in transition and near the rim. Rush made just two three-pointers on Saturday. So how in the world did he explode for 25 points? The scary part is Rush has the ability to shoot well from three, so if he adds that to his game on Monday, he could be even better than he was against UNC.

Memphis: Derrick Rose. We knew he was probably going to be one of the nationís top point guards before he even arrived at Memphis. Now, with his NCAA tournament performance, we know heís probably going to be one of the first few picks in the NBA draft. Rose has been outstanding in every area in March. Heís made dazzling scoring plays, dished out assists, rebounded the ball and even has been a shut-down defender. Excluding Stephen Curry, Rose has been the best player in this yearís tournament. Before the year began, basketball analysts said Memphis would be able to finally make the Final Four thanks to the addition of a true point guard in Rose. The freshman hasnít disappointed, and heís one game away from leading his team to a national championship.


Kansasí post players provided offense against North Carolina and destroyed the Heelsí big men on defense. The Jayhawks are deep up front and can throw several different players at opponents. Memphisí interior game has been strong all season, thanks to the intimidating Joey Dorsey, solid contributions from Robert Dozier and the versatile play of Shawn Taggart. Both teams have several options down low, and the big men on both sides can not only score, but also play defense. Kansasí big men rebounded the ball well against North Carolina also, as the Jayhawks continued to out-hustle UNC on the boards. Memphis has the power up front to make for what should be a fierce battle.


The guards will be going at it just as much as the big men in this game. Both teams have physical backcourts that play tough, pressure defense. If Derrick Rose can be stopped by anyone, itís Kansas, who can throw out Russell Robinson and Mario Chalmers to slow him down. These two teams have probably the two deepest sets of guards in the nation. Memphis suspended backup guard Andre Allen this week and Kansas lost reserve Rodrick Stewart to injury- and itís a non-issue for both teams. Thatís how many capable backcourt players Kansas and Memphis have.


This is the national championship. Kansas and Memphis didnít get here by hiding any deficiencies, so there are no glaring match-up problems to expose. Simply saying ďwhichever team plays better will winĒ is probably the right way to preview this game, but letís go a little more in-depth. First of all, the winner of this game will be the team that shoots well from the perimeter. Memphis and Kansas can get to the basket all they want, but at some point, somebody has to make an outside shot. Protection of the basketball and rebounding will be two huge factors in this game, but has there ever been a basketball game where the turnover and rebounding margins werenít key?

Memphis has to stay out of foul trouble. The Tigersí big men have a tendency to commit stupid fouls, and if Dorsey, Taggart, or Dozier has to stay on the bench, Kansas can overpower them inside. The Jayhawks must attack Memphisí post players and must draw fouls. Not only would Kansas get to the line, where it does a good job knocking down free throws, but the Jayhawks would also force Memphisí interior players to the bench.

Brandon Rush will play a huge role in this game, and will probably be the most important individual player on either side. Rush isnít an all-conference performer and his stats are pedestrian, but when heís making plays and scoring from the outside, Kansas is a completely different team. When Rush is shut down, the Jayhawks have to generate offense in other ways. Rushís versatility allows him to beat his man off the dribble and get to the basket, use his size to overpower defenders, or even step back and shoot from the perimeter. If heís not scoring, Kansas is in trouble.

The 2008 Final Four was supposed to be a classic. With all four top seeds, fans expected to see some magical moments this weekend. The first two games were somewhat disappointing, as they lacked drama. Mondayís game could make up for that.

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