We have an uncanny knack for picking the final two teams and the eventual champion in our NCAA pool, which has seldom translated into winnings given early round attrition but still makes us feel awfully smug at dinner parties. That we had Memphis beating Kansas had us particularly self-satisfied going into last night’s game given what we thought were three hidden truths of this year’s Tournament, at least two of which we have belabored throughout the year:
- Memphis’ foul shooting was significantly less of a big deal than everyone was making it out to be.
- John Calipari was a better coach than he is usually given credit for.
- Kansas, who has always screwed up our brackets, would lose simply because they were Kansas.
That Memphis, a team that had proven free-throw shooting was a non-issue for all but the last 16 seconds of the Tournament, frittered away a championship at the line is no news to anyone who watched the game. The story behind the story, however, is that not only should that not have been the death knell for the Tigers, it should not have reached that point in the first place. Memphis could well have put themselves in a position before that final minute where it wouldn’t have mattered how many free throws they missed. But the Tigers too often seemed to fall into an offensive malaise, seemingly content to work the ball around the perimeter before settling for NBA-style iso plays. This was especially true when Kansas went to a Box-and-One (all hail the Year of the Junk D!) and Memphis looked confused, never once attempting to pass into the soft middle of the zone. Of course it’s not like Coach Cal could call a timeout at that point, given that he had only three and was hoping to trade them in at the gift shop afterward for a really cool Final Four hoodie he had his eye on.
As much of a mistake as it was for Calipari not to use one of those timeouts to occasionally set up his offense, it was absolutely unforgivable to be sitting on two of them in that doomed last minute of regulation. Calipari apparently questioned himself after the game for not calling a timeout to calm down Chris Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose after their missed free throws. However, the bigger question of why in the hell he didn’t call a timeout to tell his team to foul Kansas in the final seconds when his team was up three remains unasked. We’d suggest that Memphis should have a graduate Math student on the bench to figure these things out, in the same way NFL teams utilize “Go for two” charts, but the calculation that 2 is a lesser number than 3 seems fairly rudimentary. Besides, we’re not sure Memphis has a graduate Math program. Or a Math program.
So Kansas won because Memphis couldn’t shoot free throws, because their coach wouldn’t use him timeouts, because they didn’t foul? Well yes, those things helped, but let’s give the Jayhawks credit. They stuck with Memphis when no single team in the country seemed capable of sticking with them any longer. They made the big shot when they needed the big shot. They rode their momentum and Memphis’ tangible lack of the same in overtime, which seemed pretty much fait accompli as soon as Mario Chalmers drained that three. And in the process, all those years of Rex Walters, Eric Chenowiths, Paul Pierces, Raef LaFrentzes, Nick Collisons, and Kirk Hinriches, and all the bad karma their failures seemed to saddle each ensuing Jayhawk team with, was wiped away. And they found a way, yet again, to fuck up my pool.