Sports Outside the Beltway

On KU vs. Memphis

Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that my bracket was terrible–I had Texas beating Memphis to advance to the Final Four, which just goes to show what I know. But I’m going to throw myself on the mercy of the court because I simply didn’t have much time to follow basketball this year, so my pro-KU, pro-Big 12 prejudices dominated my thinking about the brackets.

I’ve gotten caught up in a hurry so that I can fully savor tonight’s game.

On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, all I heard about in the media was about how there was simply no way that Kansas could beat UNC. After all, they had a high speed offense led by Tyler Hansbrough that had been shutting down defenses all year.

Well, after reading that I did some stats looking, and determined that while it was true that UNC had a high powered offense, it’s also true that KU does too–only one that’s more balanced and doesn’t depend on a single player for execution. So that real battle, I decided was going to be on the defensive end. It didn’t take long to conclude that here KU had a monster advantage–UNC’s defense was, at the time, ranked only 17th in the nation, and its performance tended to be worse against top-25 teams. So I went around obnoxiously telling everyone I talked to the game about on Friday and Saturday (before the game) that KU’s defense was going to be the reason why KU would win it.

And, as it turns out, I was right.

Defense, however, is not Memphis’s weak point. They’ve got some great action and good shot blockers, and have been consistently performing well all year. Indeed, as every sports columnist in the country has noted–KU and Memphis boast similar offensive strategies. I agree–we should be looking at a fast-paced, high scoring game. In all probability. And in a fast-paced, high scoring game, I have to give a slight edge to the Jayhawks. The simple reason?

Depth. KU is balanced enough down the bench that will simply have the ability to out-rotate players over Memphis. In a fast paced game, that can make all the difference. It certainly made a big difference against UNC, who staged a pretty scary comeback but couldn’t make it stick because their players just. got. tired.

There is also, I admit, something nagging me in the back of my mind. As noted above, I do agree with sports pundrity that we’re likely to see a fast-paced, high scoring game–lots of intensity and crowd pleasing steals and alley oops.

But here’s the thing…

Bill Self likes to mix it up. He likes to focus on other team’s weaknesses and stab at them, like he did with weak side defense against UNC. KU and Memphis typically play with similar styles–fast pace, etc. But where KU almost stumbled in the tournament was against Davidson–who managed to slow down the tempo of the game and make it a grinding defensive and outside shooting battle. Seeing as how Memphis plays a similar game to KU, one can’t help but wonder if a slower game might cause them to stumble, too.

So here’s where that might come in–when it comes to the frontcourt and post, KU has an edge over Memphis. I can’t help but wonder if it might not be a bad strategy for KU to simply slow the game down by playing a zone, eschewing their three-guard setup in favor of a big man in the middle and keeping Memphis to the perimeter, creating a lower-scoring, outside shooting battle. That’s the kind of game Self liked to coach when he started at KU, and still does it occasionally. I don’t honestly expect to see that, but I won’t be too surprised if it happens, either.

In either case, I do think that if KU can keep their mistakes to a minimum, they have an edge over Memphis and will take the national title for the first time in 20 years. We’ll know for sure tonight.

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