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Tuesday, November 20, 2007 Luke Winn - The Early Word On ... Memphis

11/16/2007 01:31:00 AM
The Early Word On ... Memphis

Three things we learned about No. 3 Memphis after its 63-53 win over unranked Oklahoma in the semifinals of the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic on Thursday at Madison Square Garden ...

1. The Tigers' most valuable player isn't Derrick Rose. It's Joey Dorsey.

The on-court aura of the 6-foot-9, 265-pound Dorsey, according to Rose, a soft-spoken freshman, is "scary." Memphis has a surplus stock of speedy point guards (Rose, Willie Kemp and Andre Allen) and slick wings (Chris Douglas-Roberts, Antonio Anderson and Doneal Mack); but what it does not have is multiple big men who put fear in the hearts of opposing posts. This is solely Dorsey's department. He's chiseled, relentless on the glass and has a crazy streak that leaves him liable to commit a technical foul at any moment (he had one against Oklahoma, for a shoving altercation with freshman Blake Griffin). Dorsey is also capable of regularly putting up bullish stat lines like he had on Thursday: Nine points on 4-of-5 shooting, 12 rebounds and five blocks in 33 minutes.

The fact the Sooners were intent on playing a grind-it-out, bruising style -- keeping Memphis under 80 points for the first time this year -- made Dorsey the most important Tiger on the floor. Afterwards, with an ice pack strapped to the sprained right shoulder that kept him out of the first two regular-season games, Dorsey said, "I love the physical play. This is what I want. That's what type of player I am -- physical."

Dorsey also played the role of Memphis' sparkplug on Thursday, igniting a rally that turned a 20-18 game with 7:34 left in the first half into a 35-25 contest at halftime. It all started with his tip-in of a missed layup by Rose with 6:32 left to put the Tigers up 22-18; he'd later add an alley-oop dunk from Rose to extend the lead to 30-23. Dorsey also erased two shots on the other end; on the possession after his tip-in, he swatted away a close-range attempt by 5-10 Sooner Omar Leary. Less than a minute later, Dorsey flew across the lane to stuff a much larger foe -- 6-11 Longar Longar -- and caused an older, female Memphis fan sitting courtside to say to her husband, in a thick Southern drawl, "You see Joey block that? Wheeeeeeeeew."

2. Rose has some absurd moves in his arsenal ... but he's still a freshman, not a superhuman.

Immediately after the buzzer sounded, Dorsey sidled up to Rose and said directly into his ear, "[There's] no pressure. This is what you want right here." Dorsey was referring to the stage -- Madison Square Garden, on national TV -- and the sometimes-shaky, sometimes-brilliant performance delivered by his five-star freshman point guard. Rose finished with a game-high 17 points, but five came on free-throws in the final eight minutes. He also had only three assists against four turnovers, often driving too wildly to the rim without a quality outlet option.

This was the least impressive game of the three he's played, and yet it still contained numerous highlight-reel moments. The most stunning of those was the first, which came just 1:39 after the tip: Standing one step inside the free-throw line, Rose rebounded Oklahoma's second shot attempt of the game -- and within four dribbles (and seemingly only a couple of seconds), he had reached the other end of the floor and laid the ball off the glass for two points. It was no run-of-the-mill layup, either: Rose had to lean into 6-9, 240-pound Blake Griffin to create space in the air before putting up the shot. The one-man fastbreak, said Rose, is something coach John Calipari strongly encourages: "If I don't do it, he'll stop me in practice and yell at me, and make me do the play over again."

Oklahoma kept itself in the game -- or at least within six points in the final two minutes -- by limiting Rose's fastbreak opportunities. Multiple Sooners would run back ahead of the speedy floor general and clog the middle of the floor before dropping into what, for the most part, was a 2-3 zone defense. "One person can't keep Derrick Rose in check," OU coach Jeff Capel said of the strategy. "The only person who can do that is Cal [John Calipari], and he ain't gonna do it."

3. The Tigers are loaded with talent, but need to prove they're not vulnerable to zones.

If Oklahoma, an average team that doesn't have a strong backcourt or regularly play zone D, could hold Memphis to 63 points and 38.6 percent shooting from the field, what will more formidable perimeter defensive squads be able to accomplish? The blueprint for slowing down the athletes in Calipari's AASAA (Attack Attack Skip Attack Attack) offense is no secret: Settle into a zone and force them to beat you by hitting jumpers rather than layups. Rose, Kemp and Mack are all passable perimeter shooters, but none is an elite gunner; on Thursday they were a combined 4-of-14 from long distance.

"We thought coming in, if they have any Achilles' heel, it's shooting," Capel said of the Tigers. "And one of the things we talked about was we wanted to make them contested jump shooters. We did a good job. We just had to score more."

Jump-shooting -- and whether or not Memphis is proficient enough at it to win a national title -- is no new topic in Tigerland. It was discussed ad nauseam last season, but it's not going to go away in '07-08. The Tigers' speedy, slashing attach is nearly impossible for lesser foes to defend with anything other than a zone. Following the game, Calipari said, in what seemed like a lament, "I hope, at some point, someone plays us man-to-man." Good luck with that.

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