College basketball preview: Our No. 1 seed is Memphis
Freshman Rose adds to Tigers' optimism
Dave Curtis | Sentinel Staff Writer
November 4, 2007
Memphis has practiced for three weeks now, so the scene must be familiar to Coach John Calipari. Derrick Rose, the Tigers' 6-foot-4 freshman point guard, takes an outlet pass in a pack of his teammates. He accelerates as he dribbles, passing all nine of the other players before finishing with a layup.
Calipari mentioned one of the sequences at Conference USA Media Days last month, recalling his players' reaction with a laugh.
"I looked around, and the guys were smiling," he said in Memphis. It was like, 'Oh my God, did you see that?' That's how fast he can be."
That speed at that size is why Rose ranks as the consensus top freshman in the country, why he is a fixture on most preseason All-America teams, why several NBA draft Web sites have him projected as the top pick whenever he leaves school. But most important to Calipari, Rose might be what pushes the Tigers, ranked No. 3 in both preseason national polls, to their first Final Four since 1985.
Memphis has fallen in the Elite Eight each of the last two years, looking lousy against UCLA in 2006 and wilting against Ohio State a season ago. The sole goal of this group, then, is to win one more NCAA game than the last two squads.
"We feel like the last two years, we should have gotten to the Final Four," guard Antonio Anderson said in a telephone interview. "That's what we want this year. The Final Four."
Center Joey Dorsey and guard Chris Douglas-Roberts returned to school rather than enter the NBA draft. And the ultra-athletic Rose, wooed by Calipari and his crew, gives Memphis the sort of freshman who could match the impact of Greg Oden and Kevin Durant in 2006-07.
"Him alone gets us over the hump," forward Robert Dozier said in a telephone interview. "A 6-4 point guard with that athleticism gets us to a whole other level."
Even before Rose showed up, Memphis looked like a team that could make another deep NCAA Tournament run. All five starters and seven of the top eight scorers return to a club that went undefeated at FedEx Forum.
Rose and Douglas-Roberts, who led the Tigers with 15.4 points per game a year ago, will carry the scoring load. Dorsey and Dozier combined to average better than 15 rebounds per game last year.
That talent will first be on display Monday, when Memphis opens at home against Tennessee-Martin. Calipari's boys faced St. Louis in a closed scrimmage in late October and left feeling the No. 3 ranking might not be warranted.
"We were a little behind on defense," Dozier said. "That's our biggest problem right now. With Derrick, we can run with anybody. But we have to figure out how to grind it out."
Rose and his new teammates will get plenty of early chances to figure things out against top competition. The Tigers will make two trips to Madison Square Garden, including one for next week's 2K Sports College Hoops Classic. They return Dec. 4 to face Southern Cal in the Jimmy V Classic. UM plays at Cincinnati and gets visits from Georgetown, Arizona, Gonzaga and Tennessee.
The strong non-conference schedule will be proving-ground enough, since another romp through still-struggling Conference USA won't convince many of Memphis' might. Still, the Tigers figure to be factors in March, and maybe even April, once again.
"It's great to get respect, to have people think we can go far," Anderson said. "But we have to focus on all the games we have before that."
Dave Curtis can be reached at email@example.com.