Rick Barnes has said on multiple occasions this season that Kansas is the best team the Longhorns have faced. Well, that is going to change on Sunday afternoon when Texas (31-6, 13-3) takes on Memphis (36-1, 16-0). Tip time is 1:20 p.m and the game will be called by Billy Packer and Jim Nantz on CBS.
Those are not typos in the win / loss records for the Tigers. Coach Calipari’s team went undefeated in conference play and cruised through the Conference USA tournament as well. The also defeated Oklahoma and Connecticut in New York and Georgetown, Arizona, and Gonzaga at home in non-conference play. Their lone defeat came to Tennessee in a 66-62 game in Memphis. In that game, the Vols outrebounded the Tigers 46-31, held Memphis to 8-of-27 from three (29.6%), and watched as Memphis made just 8-of-17 (47%) from the free throw line.
If you haven’t seen Memphis play this season, you’ve missed the opportunity to see one of the best teams in the country. They are a legit nine deep, incredibly athletic, and coached by one of the best in the country. Memphis is one of only three teams to be ranked in the top ten in both offensive and defensive efficiency by Pomeroy’s advanced metrics. The other two are UCLA (already in the Final Four) and Kansas (one win from the Final Four).
Memphis is led by 6-4 freshman point guard, Derrick Rose. In the college game, DJ Augustin in the best point guard in the country but NBA general managers will be jumping over each other to draft Rose this June. He has great size and vision, has an above average and improving jump shot, and is lightning quick with the basketball. Keeping Rose out of the lane will be a real challenge for either DJ Augustin or AJ Abrams if Barnes elects to play man.
The other backcourt starters are 6-6 Antonio Anderson and 6-6 Chris Douglas-Roberts. Anderson is a streaky three-point shooter who has scored in double figures in three of the last four games. CDR is a legitimate first team All American, who uses his height to score off the bounce and over smaller guards. Douglas-Roberts is an extremely efficient scorer who doesn’t need a ton of looks to get to his 17.5 point average. He has been an even stronger scorer in the NCAA tournament averaging over 20 points per game. Justin Mason has been assigned to our opponents’ best perimeter scorer all season but may get his toughest test of the season with CDR.
Robert Dozier (6-9, 215) and Joey Dorsey (6-9, 260) are the starting big men for the Tigers. Dozier is a lanky 6-9 who is incredibly tough on the offensive glass, while Dorsey is just a beast on both ends. When Dorsey stays out of foul trouble, he can be a game changer. Both of these forwards are excellent shot blockers and rebounders but somewhat raw in back-to-the-basket offensive moves. It will be important for Connor Atchley and Damion James to get into the bodies of Dozier and Dorsey when they try to finish around the basket. If Connor and Damion try to fade-away, chances are the shot will be blocked and Memphis will be off and running.
The Memphis bench is one of the deepest in the country. Coach Calipari gets solid minutes from 6-10 Shawn Taggert, 6-2 Willie Kemp, 5-10 Andre Allen, and 6-5 Doneal Mack. Taggert is the really the only true frontcourt sub for Memphis but with two 6-6 starting guards, Memphis rarely lacks size. Kemp and Mack are deadly from behind the arc, while Allen can give Rose a breather at point guard when needed.
Keys to the Texas Defense:
1) Cut off dribble penetration. Memphis runs what is called a dribble drive motion offense. It is predicated on the ability of an offensive player to take his man off the dribble and get into the lane. Once he beats his man, the offensive player can finish near the rim, pass the ball back to the area from which he just started, or kick the ball cross court to an open three-point shooter. Anytime a Tiger gets into the lane off the dribble, Texas is in trouble. I won’t be surprised to see Texas sit in a 2-3 zone and dare Memphis to win the game by making contested three-pointers. The Tigers shoot just 35% from behind the arc as a team.
2) Crash the defensive glass. There were possessions in the first half against Stanford when Brook and Robin played catch over the top of the rim. Dorsey and Dozier are better offensive rebounders than either of the Cardinal big men. Defending Memphis for one shot is going to be difficult enough. If the Longhorns don’t put bodies on these two guys on every shot, then the Tigers will get second chance opportunities and the ‘Horns’ season will end quicker than we’d like.
3) Get back in transition. Memphis ran wild on Michigan State in the first half and jumped to a crushing 50-20 lead. The Tigers were outstanding on creating fast break opportunities off turnovers and long rebounds. Texas must do a better job of getting back on defense than the Spartans did in the first twenty minutes. As efficient as their half court offense was, it was Memphis’s fast break points that really buried Michigan State and gave them no shot at a second half comeback.
Keys to the Texas Offense:
1) Make Dozier and Dorsey defend the three. This means that James and Atchley need to be hot from the outside. The further Texas can pull the two Memphis big men away from the basket, the less congested the lane will be for Augustin’s drives as well. Texas will also have a better shot at snagging some offensive rebounds if Dozier, Taggert, and Dorsey are 20+ feet from the basket.
2) AJ must get hot. Abrams started ice cold from the long range in the first half against Stanford but found his stroke in the second. If he isn’t hitting from three, the Longhorns chances of making another Final Four diminish greatly.
3) Attack the rim and get to the free throw line. It is easy for basketball players to stop attacking the lane when they play against big time shot blockers. Just the opposite has to happen on Sunday. Justin Mason, Damion James, and DJ Augustin need to do everything possible to attack the paint off the dribble and make the Memphis bigs help. The Longhorns should be able to get some easy looks off interior passing or possibly even get Dorsey and Dozier into foul trouble.
This is going to be a very, very tough game. I don’t particularly like any of our match-ups on defense if Barnes chooses to go man: Augustin or Abrams on Rose, I don’t think so. So, Texas will probably play a lot of 2-3 zone. When played correctly, the zone limits dribble penetration and forces contested three-pointers. As mentioned above, Memphis is only an average three-point shooting team overall and struggled from deep in their only defeat of the season.
If Texas can force Memphis into a half-court game and keep the Tigers out of the lane and away from the offensive glass, then it will be the Tigers that are in trouble. This is, of course, easier said than done. One more thing, Memphis ranks 339th of 341 in free throw shooting (59.8% as a team) among all Division I programs. So, if it comes down to free throw shooting, Texas may actually have an advantage.
Win or lose, this has been a fabulous season. A year after losing the program’s best player ever, Rick Barnes led the Longhorns to a conference championship, a Big XII tournament final, a #2 seed in the NCAA tournament, back to the Elite Eight for the second time in three years, and very much in the discussion as one of the premier college basketball programs in the country.