Random Thoughts on 2007-2008: The AASAA Memphis Tigers!
In today's installment of Random Thoughts on the 2007-2008 season we will be looking at the AASAA Memphis Tigers.I hope it doesn't offend Memphis fans too much :)
The Calipari Experiment entered a new phase when Calipari embraced the AASAA offense designed by Vance Walberg (now the Pepperdine head coach). Being a high-major program in a mid-major conference was not enough for Calipari, especially after his high-profile friends schools left for BCS conferences (Pitino, Huggins, Tom Crean). So he had to come up with a new offensive wrinkle as well to separate himself from th other top 50 programs, and have one more reason to be in front of the camera :)
Calipari's return to college was similar in many ways to Pitino's return. Both of them underachieved in the NBA and came back trying to revive programs that were struggling to keep up with the past. Both of them went after high profile recruits and both of them got burned. Because of that, the return to the top did not come as fast as they would have liked and as fans would have expected. But the NBA came to the rescue. The one year limit means that they can now get the big-time lottery picks and have them for a year. So watch out! (more on this later on). But success did come: Pitino managed a surprise Final Four run, while Calipari managed two back-to-back Elite 8 runs. You can't fault them for losing to Greg Oden's Ohio State this year, but last year's offensive meltdown against UCLA in the Elite 8 was a disappointment for Memphis fans. Back to back Elite 8s are not an easy achievement. UCLA had back to back Final Fours but the UCLA team had a ceiling, they couldn't beat Florida. Memphis could have a chance to beat them each year (I'm not saying they would, but unlike UCLA, they had a chance)
So after all the (silly mumblings) the intro, let's look at the 2007-2008 season. Memphis will start the season as a high profile team with a target on their chest. Remember the NBA rule I mentioned above? Because of that, Calipari was able to beat out all the other colleges for the services of tall pure point guard Derrick Rose. A big recruiting win for Calipari and the University of Memphis. But that also increases the pressure to perform and deliver. The team will be a Final Four favorite, and should have another Elite 8 run at the worse. With Rose on the roster, more of their games will be on national TV. CSTV will probably run most of their games that are not on the bigger networks.
And before we get into the roster, there will be something very interesting to observe from an Xs and Os perspective. How does the AASAA offense perform with a premium point guard? And on the flip side, how is a premium point guard affected by the AASAA offense? This is something brand new, Vance Walberg did not have a player of the caliber of Derrick Rose, and neither did Calipari ever since he started incorporating AASAA principles in his o(a)ffense (homage to Majerus). Rose is not a score-first score-second Starbury-type point guard, he is more of the Jason Kidd variety of let's win together. So that will be something interesting to watch unfold and develop!
And now to the roster!. Two players transfered out of Memphis during the off-season. Tre'von Willis, an AAU scoring machine, was not able to find himself in the rotation last year, and decided to transfer to a place where he would get a lot of PT. I believe this a very the logical decision. Willis was 3rd in line behind Kemp and Allen last year. This year he would have been behind those and Derrick Rose. So a good decision imho... Kareem Cooper's career developed the wrong way. He had a promising freshman season peppered with upside. However some issues came up during his sophomore season and he fell behind, also out of the rotation. With Taggart coming in this year, Cooper probably figured he needed a fresh start elsewhere, and perhaps time to burn off those extra calories :)
Had those two players not transferred, Calipari would have had a full compliment of scholarships. The Morris twins committed for this year, but they were planning to go to prep school for a year and enroll in college in 2008-2009. But the prep school route was not for scholarship purposes, so it doesn't make sense to rush things and try to bring them in this year (this has been a recent trend with other schools).
Apart from Derrick Rose, two more new players will be on the roster this season. Touted top 100 east coast wing Jeff Robinson and Iowa State transfer Shawn Taggart. Gone is the redeemed Jeremy Hunt who exhausted his collegiate eligibility.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to assume that Derrick Rose will be the starting point guard. Will Kemp may put up a fight, but Rose is just too good. Calipari could experiment with a two point guard line-up, but he may have to have six players in the line-up to do that :) Kemp will be the back-up point, with Andre Allen being the 3rd string point guard, and perhaps becoming a special situations player (eg come in and provide lots and lots of energy both on defense and offense).
The wings feature the two established Laurenburg players, Buckets (aka CDR) and Antonio Anderson. Different type of players, CDR is a scorer, Anderson is more of a Do-It-All. D-Mack is the 3rd wing, with incoming freshman Jeff Robinson battling him for playing time. Robinson is too good to redshirt, plus Calipari may even be tempted to go to a four guard line-up during certain situations (eg have the best five players on the court). This gives Calipari flexibility on the wing as he can have two of these four, or even play Rose and Kemp together, perhaps when facing pressing teams or when the other players produce more turnovers than the local bakery.
Despite the loss of Cooper, Memphis has more flexibility upfront this season. Dozier is different from all the other forwards, and could even play at the #3 spot (had it not been so crowded already). They can play with a big line-up with Dozier as the third forward. Taggart also adds a new dimension as he is supposed to be able to score from outside the paint. Joey "Oden who?" Dorsey has another chance to get his act together and become the next Ben Wallace. His performance against Ohio State in the Elite 8 (and the comments he made before) should have been a very valuable lesson for him. He should be the starting center. Off the bench, the two space-eaters will have to fight for the #4 spot, both Pierre Niles and Hashim Bailey needed to lose some weight. Niles was the most touted offensively of the two, and he will have an opportunity to earn PT.
So to summarize, Memphis has a premium point guard in Derrick Rose, two back-up point guards, four interchangeable wings, and five diverse big men. This roster allows Calipari a lot of flexibility: he can play with two point guards, he can play small (four guards), he can play big (Dozier the small forward), he can play fast. My prediction? An Elite 8 for sure, and a good chance for a Final Four run. Whether they can win one or two games in the Final Four will probably depend on how fast Derrick Rose develops from a highly touted recruit into an efficient and effective PTP'er.