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Archive for Thursday, March 20, 2008

Loaded Tigers have weapons aplenty

C-USA slate easy, but Memphis had rough nonleague trials

March 20, 2008

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Who can roll a six?

Memphis Tigers

Stat Stuffer: G Chris Douglas-Roberts (17.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg)

Why they could win it: Versatility and talent few can match. Memphis can go 10 deep, with championship-caliber talent both inside and outside.

What could cost them: Free-throw shooting is suspect, which could sucker-punch the Tigers in late-game situations. A half-court team could knock Memphis out of its fast-paced game.

Most impressive six-game roll: Nov. 27-Dec. 29: Austin Peay, 104-82; vs. Southern Cal, 62-58; @Middle Tennessee, 65-41; @Cincinnati, 79-69; Georgetown, 85-71; Arizona, 76-63.

The University of Memphis men's basketball team was pure magic on March 8, running and gunning and rolling past UAB, 94-56, in its lopsided regular-season finale.

After the game at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, Indiana Pacers scout George Felton approached Memphis radio broadcaster Matt Dillon.

"If they play like this," Felton told him, "there are not many teams that's going to beat them."

Indeed, the Tigers finished the regular season 30-1 and appear to have the tools to make a serious NCAA Tournament run. Even the most advanced basketball minds have little to nitpick about.

Pick your poison with these Tigers: Junior guard Chris Douglas-Roberts averaged 17.3 points per game in the regular season, but was complemented nicely in the backcourt by freshman point guard Derrick Rose (14.1 ppg, 4.6 apg) and junior Antonio Anderson (8.0 ppg, 3.4 apg). In addition, Memphis' post game filled out an impressive starting five - Robert Dozier (9.4 ppg, 6.8 rpg) and Joey Dorsey (7.1 ppg, 10.0 rpg) both provide a punch inside.

Lazy critics will point to the Conference USA schedule, and Memphis insiders don't try to sugarcoat the toughness of it. But Tigers coach John Calipari set up a daunting nonconference schedule featuring opponents like Oklahoma, Connecticut, Southern Cal, Georgetown, Arizona, Gonzaga and Tennessee scattered throughout the season.

The Tigers went 6-1 in those games. The one loss was against the in-state Volunteers, a highly charged No. 1-vs.-No. 2 showdown that attracted national interest.

The game originally was scheduled for December, but was moved to Feb. 23 to accommodate television and prepare Memphis for the looming NCAA Tournament.

With 18,389 pumped fans watching at the FedEx Forum, the Volunteers won, 66-62. The Tigers' undefeated run was derailed after 26 games.

"They put a lot of marbles in that game," said Dillon, who's covered Memphis games for more than 30 years. "It devastated them. I went in the locker room, and the guys were totally devastated."

Memphis went through the motions in victories over Tulsa and Southern Mississippi following the Tennessee setback.

Meanwhile, Calipari went to work on his team, focusing on individual instruction to get the most out of his talented ensemble.

"The players seemed to respond to that a lot," Dillon said.

Finally, the dangerous Memphis team the country got to know showed up again in the UAB game earlier this month. After the first meeting against UAB featured a fracas at the end of the game, emotions were high, and Memphis soared out of the gate in the rematch.

Memphis led, 48-20, at halftime. UAB, which finished the regular season 22-9, was completely overwhelmed and ended up losing by 38.

"(The Tigers) played so good, it was scary," Dillon said. "They absolutely took UAB apart. And (UAB is) not a bad team. They're a decent team - a bubble team."

Dillon points out two keys to Memphis making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

The first is the play of Joey Dorsey, which can be inconsistent at times.

"If Joey goes, this team kicks it in another gear," Dillon said.

The other is the ability to get the ball in the right hands if Memphis - a 59-percent team at the free-throw line - needs to survive late fouls by teams trying to fight back into a game.

Figure those out, and Memphis could be heading to its third Final Four in school history, following the 1973 and 1985 appearances.

And, just maybe, it could be in line for its first national championship ever.

The tools certainly are there.

"This team, to me, is the best team they've ever had," Dillon said, "with the best chance."

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