The latest line has Memphis favored by two over Kansas in tonight’s NCAA national final. After its convincing win over UCLA on Saturday, the Tigers are poised to add to their history making season with one last victory – a W that would give them their 39th of the campaign. The Kansas Jayhawks, however, will be no pushover after they forced a nation to take notice with their trouncing of North Carolina. The team from the Big 12 demonstrated why its defense is ranked number two in the country with relentless guard pressure and swarming help (ten steals and nine blocks). The Memphis D is almost identical, though the Tigers cause more opponent misses from behind the arc.
In fact, practically all of the other team numbers are similar. Both teams average 80 points per game and hold teams to 61. Kansas has a slightly higher effective field goal percentage due to its ability to hit the three (Memphis actually takes and makes more three’s per contest!) Kansas free throw shooting is right where it needs to be at 70 percent, ten percentage points higher than Memphis (though, again, the Tigers killed it from the charity stripe on Saturday going 20-23, getting to the line more often than the Bruins thanks to its penetrating guard tandem of Douglas-Roberts and Rose).
Both teams are great at taking care of the ball. Memphis only turns it over 17 percent of its possessions, less than twelve times on average – critical considering it plays at a high pace with 70 possessions per game. Kansas is about the same, averaging just one more TO per outing. When it comes to cleaning the glass, both teams are plus seven.
Let’s go deeper. Both teams want to get up and down the floor. They both finish well. Both play great defense. The Tigers have two guys in double figures (CDR is #78 at 17.7 ppg. nationally) while the Jayhawks have four, none of which are ranked in the top 100 although that is a positive stat. Memphis is going to run its dribble-drive-motion (drive, kick, drive, kick, “Rose jump as high as he can and get off a shot,” maybe miss, Dorsey eat the glass, and dunk you very much). Kansas may have the guards that can contain and prevent the DDM with Chalmers and Robinson leading the way (they get more than four steals per game), plus it has a big guard in Brandon Rush to rotate. What could be key is the post players who are waiting in the paint for non-stop penetration – Arthur and Aldrich swatted a total of eight shots on Saturday. Both Kansas and Memphis, with length, athleticism, and sound defenses, are very good at preventing foe foul line visits. Just getting to the line more than 20-25 times is going to be crucial.
Kansas must limit the Rose from blooming, deny CDR, and contest shots in the lane. It must get good shots via its versatile offensive sets that utilize various screening series. Coach Self-“less” play has allowed the Jayhawks to advance with a balanced attack that keeps the opponent guessing. Memphis will have to defend inside and out, and hope that its guards can do damage as they’ve done all year. While crossing Tiger paws that Dozier and Dorsey stay out of foul trouble, creating scoring possessions off of turnovers and maximizing free throw opportunities could give Coach Cal’s team just enough for the title. Let’s hope that Kansas can stay focused for 40 minutes and not have a mental breakdown with poor possessions like it did against UNC midway through. It would be great to see a national title game go down to the last shot. There is no question that both teams want it and have the weapons, but who will play with enough stability to make it happen?