Tuesday, April 08, 2008

A classic and a choke

John Calipari is going to get a lot of criticism for coaching failures at the end of last night's 75-68 loss by Memphis in the national title game to Kansas, and he deserves it. He failed to call timeout to set his defense with 10 seconds left and his team up 63-60 (run a zone with a big guy up top to chase KU's little shooters). He didn't tell his players to foul KU's guards at half court (he says they knew that, but it's clear Derrick Rose had no intention of fouling Sherron Collins as the latter brought the ball to the frontcourt). And he failed to call timeout and set up a play for the win with 2.1 seconds left after Mario Chalmers tied the game. How much difference does setting a play make? Ask Bryce Drew or Christian Laettner about a baseline-to-frontcourt play to win in the NCAAs. Yeah, its rare, but the half-court hoist never goes in. At the end of regulation, Coach Cal had two TOs left, and pocketed both.

But none of it would have mattered if the Tigers had just hit free throws.

The Monk is a lifelong Syracuse fan, so he knows all too well how it feels to watch his team lose a national title at the line. Worse yet, the Syracuse seniors were most culpable for that honk in 1987. Just as CDR missed three crucial ones in the last two minutes. Then again, SU didn't have a nine-point lead with 2:12 to play. Memphis' Derrick Rose will be remembered more as Derrick Coleman (8 points, 19 rebounds, runaway MOP if SU had won), the frosh who had the title in his hands and let it get away, than as Carmelo Anthony -- the 2003 MOP who led SU to its lone title.

Unfortunately, Calipari will get a worse beating in the press than Roy Williams. And Williams deserves it more. UNC had five full days to prep for KU AND could scout KU on TV last Sunday (as the last team in the Final Four, KU couldn't start prepping for UNC until later). KU roasted UNC at the start of their game and Carolina neither adjusted nor sought to break the KU momentum. Compare how Bill Self called two timeouts to settle his team and reiterate what it needed to do to win during the second half (the portion of the game that Self said his team went a little "brain dead") with Roy Williams' lack of timeout usage during KU's 25-2 run in the first half. Once KU returned to the strategy it began the game using, it ran away from UNC all over again. That's a complete coaching failure by Williams.

Credit KU's coaching for the win over Memphis, too. When KU pounded the ball to Darrell Arthur, it had success. The Monk wonders why Joey Dorsey gets so much publicity -- last year he famously got taken to school by Greg Oden after bragging about how he'd stuff the Ohio State center; this year, the Memphis senior (6-9, 265) was outplayed by a younger and far smaller Arthur (6-9, 225; 20 points, 10 rebounds) who is still a year away from reaching his potential.

Finally, a word of congratulation to Bill Self, who had the unenviable task of taking over for Williams in 2003-04 after KU had been to consecutive Final Fours (and four in Williams' tenure) but with a team that had lost its two best players (Collison and Hinrich) and still felt the sting of Williams' quick departure for UNC (forward Wayne Simien, who sat out the last 1/2 of the '03 season after a severe shoulder injury said in disgust after Williams left that "I gave my arm for that man!"). After an Elite Eight loss to Ga. Tech in '04, the J'Hawks had two embarrassing first-round bonks in '05 and '06 before Self lost for the fourth time in his first four Elite Eight games in '07 -- this time to UCLA. Self has always seemed like a class act who treats his program and players well, so I'm happy for him, and pleased KU is the 2008 national champion.

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