Okay, Iâ€™ll be the first to admit that my bracket was terribleâ€“I had Texas beating Memphis to advance to the Final Four, which just goes to show what I know. But Iâ€™m going to throw myself on the mercy of the court because I simply didnâ€™t have much time to follow basketball this year, so my pro-KU, pro-Big 12 prejudices dominated my thinking about the brackets.
Iâ€™ve gotten caught up in a hurry so that I can fully savor tonightâ€™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, itâ€™s also true that KU does tooâ€“only one thatâ€™s more balanced and doesnâ€™t depend on a single player for execution. So that real battle, I decided was going to be on the defensive end. It didnâ€™t take long to conclude that here KU had a monster advantageâ€“UNCâ€™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 KUâ€™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 Memphisâ€™s weak point. Theyâ€™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 notedâ€“KU and Memphis boast similar offensive strategies. I agreeâ€“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 couldnâ€™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 weâ€™re likely to see a fast-paced, high scoring gameâ€“lots of intensity and crowd pleasing steals and alley oops.
But hereâ€™s the thingâ€¦
Bill Self likes to mix it up. He likes to focus on other teamâ€™s weaknesses and stab at them, like he did with weak side defense against UNC. KU and Memphis typically play with similar stylesâ€“fast pace, etc. But where KU almost stumbled in the tournament was against Davidsonâ€“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 inâ€“when it comes to the frontcourt and post, KU has an edge over Memphis. I canâ€™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. Thatâ€™s the kind of game Self liked to coach when he started at KU, and still does it occasionally. I donâ€™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. Weâ€™ll know for sure tonight.
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