College basketball’s top three are also big on barbecue
By BLAIR KERKHOFF
The Kansas City Star
Brandon Rush Tyler Hansbrough Derrick Rose
Their heritage runs deep, and their styles differ greatly, but there is no clear-sliced No. 1. In fact, all three look pretty dang good.
Nevertheless, their passionate fans have ignited a debate.
North Carolina, Memphis or Kansas?
“I’d have to say we’re No. 1 in both, without a doubt,” said Joe Barber of Lenexa.
Both? Well, yes. You see, Barber is a Kansas basketball fan and a Kansas City Barbeque Society member. And these days, Carolina and Memphis stand as the biggest foes in both worlds.
On the court, North Carolina, Memphis and Kansas are the lone remaining undefeated teams, ranked Nos. 1-2-3 in the country and form a group perceived to be separating itself from the second tier of title contenders. They received all the first-place votes in the two major polls and were listed as the top three teams on 70 of the 72 ballots in the latest AP poll.
And they all make great platters.
“We’re talking about three of the four (Texas being the fourth) corners of barbecue,” said Jim Early, CEO of the North Carolina Barbecue Society and a firm believer that Carolina is finer in both arenas. “We’re not only the cradle of ’cue, we started basketball.”
So who judges this contest: Dickie V. or Bobby Flay?
Memphis sounds ready for either one.
“We’ll take on anybody’s barbecue and Tyler Hansbrough (of North Carolina),” said Chip Scott, producer of the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. “We’ll put our barbecue and basketball up against anybody.”
The contest on the court has been cooking all season with the contenders ranked among the top four teams since the first polls in November. ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla insists fourth-ranked UCLA should be part of the conversation.
“I’d have them second right now, behind Kansas,” Fraschilla said.
But that’s a problem on the culinary end. California is to barbecue what a grandfather clock is to a Subaru. The Bruins play great at both ends but wouldn’t know a burnt end from a short end, so only the finger-licking teams get compared here.
After getting hammered by the Jayhawks earlier in the week, Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel drooled over Kansas.
“I don’t think it’s close,” Capel said, comparing Kansas with Memphis. “This is the best team in the country.”
After seeing all the top contenders in action, Fraschilla gives Kansas the nod.
“I see Kansas with the best blend of depth, experience and talent,” Fraschilla said. “They have the ability to play the most different ways and win.”
Southern California also has faced Kansas and Memphis, losing to both in a three-day span in early December. Trojans coach Tim Floyd didn’t pick a winner but warned not to underestimate the Tigers’ defense.
“People like to talk about what they can do on offense, but like Kansas, they can really guard you,” Floyd said.
They’re all loaded with talent. North Carolina has an All-America candidate at each position with Hansbrough at power forward, shooting guard Wayne Ellington and point guard Ty Lawson.
Hansbrough poured in 27 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in Wednesday’s one-point victory at Georgia Tech, an opponent Kansas narrowly defeated last month.
The Tigers use their tremendous athletic ability to suffocate opponents on defense. In a year of phenomenal freshmen, Memphis has one of the best in point guard Derrick Rose.
Memphis has the best chance of remaining undefeated playing in the weaker Conference USA, but the Tigers played a challenging nonleague schedule and own arguably the best victory of the three, a 14-point triumph over Georgetown.
Kansas has been the team turning heads lately. Wing Brandon Rush was challenged to become more aggressive by coach Bill Self and responded with two of his better offensive games.
Looking for weaknesses? The Tar Heels aren’t playing defense as well as coach Roy Williams would like.
As good as Memphis was in nonconference play, coach John Calipari must keep the Tigers sharp through a league slate that won’t be as challenging. The Tigers lost one conference game in the previous two years and didn’t reach the Final Four.
Self wondered Thursday how his team would respond to the pressure of a perfect record, and whether that could help players who haven’t been to a Final Four become mentally tougher.
But the Jayhawks are a talented team with plenty of choices, which strikes the right chord for connoisseurs of ribs and rims.
“Kansas City is the melting pot, it’s where it all comes together,” said Early of North Carolina. “But we have the best.”