Posted by Ryan Clark at 5:18AM

Luke Winn has more cojones than most, as he already put together a pre-season Top 10 for yesterday morning’s blog entry. He assumes that D.J. Augustin will be going pro, and that stud ’08 recruit Tyreke Evans will be landing with Villanova or Memphis once the late signing period begins next Wednesday.

I’m not even going to attempt to sort through the teams until the insanity of early entries and draft withdrawals end in mid-June. But it’s certainly fun to check out all of these early rankings and start to get jazzed about the next season. Winn slotted the Horns 6th, while Dick Vitale had them 4th — although his rankings are located so far from reality that they don’t deserve a link — so it’s safe to say that the Longhorns will be back. But where exactly they’ll end up depends heavily on the Augustin and Evans decisions this month.

In other early-entry news, sources in L.A. say Kevin Love and Darren Collison are going pro, while Collison himself is telling reporters that he’s yet to make a decision. It seems telling that he did not flatly decline the report, instead just relying on the word yet.

Perhaps most troubling for Bruins fans, though, is the source in that article which claims Russell Westbrook could throw his hat into the ring, too. Freshman combo guard Jrue Holiday will definitely make an immediate impact for UCLA next season, but I wouldn’t expect him to be able to single-handedly carry the backcourt if Coach Howland loses both Collison and Westbrook to the pros.

More early-entry news to come as the MSM reports it.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 5:27AM

After a season in which Kansas and Memphis split first-place votes and instigated bar arguments nationwide over who was truly superior, it seemed only fitting that 40 minutes wouldn’t be enough to separate the two teams in last night’s championship game. And even more fitting was the fact that the Tigers’ free-throw shooting woes were finally their undoing, after they had miraculously disappeared during the post-season just as their coach predicted. But thanks to super-human play by Mario Chalmers and that aforementioned Memphis choke-job at the charity stripe, the Kansas Jayhawks have their first national title 20 years to the day after Danny Manning and the Miracles clinched the title in Kansas City.

So much to talk about, and we’ll get around to more of it later today. For now, the real world and the McJob are calling. In the meantime, we leave you with this year’s “One Shining Moment” montage, which featured Texas Pom, Damion James, A.J. Abrams, and Alexis Wangmene.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 2:24PM

[1] Memphis Tigers 85, [2] Texas Longhorns 67

Memphis stormed through the South Regional
(Photo credit: David J. Phillip/Associated Press)

After an incredible season including 31 wins, a conference championship, and a point guard on numerous All-American teams, the Texas Longhorns finally met their match in Houston’s Reliant Stadium. Despite making a valiant effort to come back from an 11-point halftime deficit, Rick Barnes’ club was unable to keep up with Memphis’ length, athleticism, and speed in an 85-67 loss.

Texas shot itself in the foot during a first half that saw eight Longhorn turnovers which led to nine Memphis points. Coming into the game, the Longhorns led the country with less than 10 turnovers per game, but found themselves frustrated against a much taller Tiger team that pressured guards beyond the perimeter and doubled over the Texas ball screens.

With the turnovers and poor shooting scuttling the Texas offense for the first twenty minutes, the Longhorns found themselves down 11 points coming out of the locker room to start the second half. But solid defense and a suddenly assertive Damion James brought Texas within five points after a 12-0 run that spanned both halves. With the strongly partisan burnt orange crowd finally coming alive and making noise in the cavernous football arena, Memphis snapped back to reality and rattled off seven points to kill any chances of a Longhorn comeback.

The win and Final Four appearance seemed only fitting for a Memphis team coming off of back-to-back seasons in which they lost in the Elite Eight. The current Tiger squad is nearly a mirror image of last year’s team, with the key change coming in the form of freshman point guard Derrick Rose, a mortal lock for a top three pick in this summer’s NBA draft.

With three other 1-seeds making up the rest of the final four, Memphis will certainly have its work cut out for it next weekend in San Antonio. But after a march through the South Regional in which the Tigers beat both Texas and Michigan State by 18 points, Coach Cal’s team seems to be peaking at just the right time.

We’ll take another look at this historic season of Texas basketball later this week and preview what could be one of the best Final Fours in recent memory. The “Horns in the League” feature should also soon make a comeback, and we’ll follow the coaching carousel and NBA draft early entries as the April 27th deadline approaches.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 7:07AM

[1] Memphis Tigers (36-1) vs. [2] Texas Longhorns (31-6)
Tip: 1:20 PM CDT | TV: CBS/CBS HD

Almost as soon as the brackets were unveiled two weeks ago, pundits keyed in on today’s date. It was nearly fated, they all seemed to think. A dream match-up between Memphis and Texas, the 1-seed and the 2-seed. A showdown for D.J. Augustin and Derrick Rose. A battle on the blocks between Joey Dorsey, Robert Dozier, and Damion James. As it turns out, they were right.

This afternoon’s game in Reliant Stadium has all the makings of an exciting shootout between two of the best teams in the country. And although most of the players in today’s game weren’t involved, there is a fair share of recent history between the two schools. During the 2004-05 and 05-06 campaigns, Rick Barnes and John Calipari scheduled a home-and-home which the Longhorns swept. And until Tennessee came into FedEx Forum and knocked off the Tigers last month, the Longhorns were the last team to beat Memphis at home in over two years.

While revenge is always a nice motivating factor, the Final Four is a much larger prize. For Coach Cal and the Tigers, it’s been something of a white whale the last few seasons. This marks the third-straight Elite Eight appearance for Memphis, who has not reached the Final Four since 1985. For Texas, it is their third appearance in the round of eight since 2003, which was also the year of their last Final Four.

The starting five

The newest player on the Tigers is perhaps the biggest star, as freshman Derrick Rose runs the show at the point. Checking in at 6’4″, he’s going to have a few inches on the Texas backcourt, and he’s a physical player that also has a few pounds on the Longhorn guards. He’s incredibly quick off the dribble, which is a necessity in the Memphis offense.

Chris Douglas-Roberts is referred to most often by the acronym CDR, but his game is far too big for just three letters. He’s a 6-7 swingman who is the most consistent long-range shooter for Memphis at 41. But his quickness and length help him get to the rack as well, so teams can’t afford to play him too tightly on the perimeter lest they find themselves watching helplessly as he drives to the hoop.

Another tall guard in the four-out, one-in Memphis look is Antonio Anderson, a 30-minute guy who chips in nine points a game but gives his biggest contribution on the defensive end. He’ll get up in your face — not a tough task against the tiny Texas backcourt — and hustle all over the court. His 3.5 assists per game speak to his great court vision, despite not being the true point guard of the bunch.

Perhaps most famous for his run-in with a girlfriend and the resulting outfit of a UAB fan, Robert Dozier is an intimidating defender who also kills on the glass. His physical style could be a match-up problem for the Longhorns, but with their increasing depth at the post, Texas could afford to attack him and pile up a few fouls.

Joey Dorsey will have some sick dunks in today’s ballgame on what Calipari calls “rim runs,” and he’ll also get a nice share of putbacks waiting on the weak side of the Memphis offense. This man is an absolute beast, so seeing him tangle with James ought to be quite a treat. Texas will need to limit the easy buckets for Dorsey off of Memphis misses, as shutting down offensive rebounding has been a huge struggle as of late for the Horns.

Dribble-drive motion

We’ve alluded to the innovative Memphis offense as we introduced the starters, but now we can fully address “Dribble Drive Motion” (DDM), or “the Princeton offense on steroids,” as Coach Cal has been known to call it. At the core, it’s essentially a drive-and-kick offense based on the Attack-Attack-Skip-Attack-Attack (AASAA) offense of former Pepperdine coach Vance Walberg. Memphis will spread the floor to open driving lanes for their guards, typically moving their big man to the weak side in order to clear even more space for the penetration.

When Walberg was coaching, he would tell his teams to either take threes or take it to the rim. There was practically no mid-range game in the AASAA, which is one key difference between the DDM and its predecessor. Memphis has players who can knock down mid-range jumpers, and they are not afraid to do so if an open opportunity presents itself.

In addition, Walberg was a preacher of full-court, pressure defense, something that Coach Cal is hesitant to use. Calipari still has his players go for steals — particularly on backtipping as opposing players try to drive — but prefers to play lock-down half-court defense.

One big problem that the DDM is going to give Texas — beyond actually stopping it — is fatigue. This wide-open style demands that players continue to attack the basket if open threes aren’t there, causing defenses to have to constantly communicate and rotate. With a thin Texas bench, this could certainly cause some issues late in the game.

As mentioned earlier, the big man in the DDM will shift to the weak side to open up penetration lanes for the Tigers. If Texas elects to help on the driving man, it will open up either a three-point shooter on the wing or that big man on the weak block. One thing Memphis lacks is a roster full of three-point threats, so unless CDR is sitting in the corner, it would be wise for the wing defender to be the one to help. Leaving Dorsey or Dozier alone for easy dunks and lay-ups is not a recipe for success.

Free throw struggles

Both teams are really having a tough time at the line this year, and if this game is as close as many are expecting, it could spell the difference. The Longhorns are only 68% from the charity stripe on the season, and have a nasty habit of missing free throws when the game reaches its final minutes. Memphis is even more abysmal from the line, hitting only 59.8% of their attempts this year.

While Texas can generally rely on Augustin or A.J. Abrams to sink free throws when they are needed, the Memphis struggles extend all the way down the roster. The most consistent free-throw shooter on the team is CDR, who is still hitting at a 69.8% clip.

What to look for

Both of these teams are likely going to score a ton of points today, although a high-tempo game would favor the deeper Memphis roster. If the Longhorns can keep the Tigers in front of them and on the perimeter, the DDM will have a hard time getting started and Texas can keep the score and pace to a more manageable level.

Most teams throw a variety of zone defenses at Memphis to try to stop the DDM, but the Kansas Jayhawks quickly exposed the Longhorn zone in Kansas City two weeks ago. While the Jayhawks have more three-point threats than Memphis, they are the only other team in the country that is as athletic and talented as the Tigers, so it’s still a worrisome point to note.

One interesting thing to keep an eye on is if Dexter Pittman will be able to keep up with the pace of the game and provide any meaningful minutes. The zone defense usually allows him more of a chance to play, but Memphis may just be too quick of a team for the big sophomore.

All told, this is a game that has me very nervous heading into it. Coach Cal has been playing up the “Memphis as underdog” angle, but we all know that Texas fans are generally quiet and fail to adequately support their team. Reliant Stadium might be full of burnt orange, but unless it’s actually loud — something I doubt with the current seating arrangement — there isn’t an intimidating advantage for the Longhorns.

We’ll be back with the post-game later tonight or tomorrow afternoon. And hopefully after that we’ll have some Final Four previewing to do.

Other game previews
Barking Carnival
Burnt Orange Nation
Jim Masilak of Memphis’ Commercial Appeal
Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman

Posted by Ryan Clark at 3:06PM

Luke Winn has a great Q&A with Ian Mooney in his tourney blog. Amongst the highlights are the locker room pranks, Dexter Pittman’s poor sense of geography, and Mooney’s future as the Texas point guard. Check, check, check it out.

Lute Olson is now back as the Arizona coach in a full-time capacity, and he gave an exclusive telephone interview to ESPN’s Andy Katz. If Coach Olson is correct about how many of his players will return next season, the state of Arizona is going to be a basketball powerhouse. The ASU/’Zona series could quickly gain traction as a top-flight rivalry with national implications.

In coaching news a little closer to home, on Thursday Jeff Capel signed a three-year extension with Oklahoma. Capel — whose name had been floated in the South Carolina coaching search — will also enjoy a $300,000 raise per season, bringing his total compensation above the one-million dollar mark. It looks like fans in Norman will get to enjoy angry stares and pouting sessions for years to come.

And you thought the Aggies hated the Longhorns? I’m sure that anyone reading this page has seen the Sheraton commercial where fans from nasty rivalries share elevators, computers, and even chicken wings. But you may have been confused by the juxtaposition of Lousville and Memphis, rather than the Cardinals and Kentucky Wildcats. But according to UK assistant athletic director Jason Schlafer, the Wildcats were asked first, but declined citing no prior relationship with Sheraton hotels. Or perhaps just an unquenchable fire of hate for the school just down the road?

If you just can’t wait for this evening’s Elite 8 games to start, the tubes of the interweb have more than enough content to hold you over. Luke Winn previews and predicts the Elite 8 games, while the folks at Rush the Court take a more detailed look at today’s doubleheader. But March Madness All Season breaks it down the most, with in-depth looks at both Carolina/Louisville in the East and UCLA/Xavier from the West region.

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