2007 Coaches vs Cancer Tournament Preview
Semifinal 1: Gardner-Webb vs UConn, 7pm ET, 11/15, ESPN2
Semifinal 2: Oklahoma vs Memphis, 9pm ET, 11/15, ESPN2
Consolation: 630pm ET, 11/16, ESPN2
Final: 830 pm ET, 11/16, ESPN2
Gardner-Webb vs UConn
In what will surely be the upset of this season (prior to the NCAA Tournament, anyway), the Gardner-Webb Cupcakes, er, Bulldogs shellacked Kentucky inside the intimidating confines of Rupp Arena. Safe to say it was the biggest win in the history of a school whose only previous notoriety came courtesy of a perceived snub by Dick Vitale.
After one nationally-televised game, I’m not going to pretend to know the ins-and-outs of Coach Rick Scruggs’ offensive and defensive systems, but I can tell you that GW pressures the ball, gets out in transition, and attacks the basket very, very well. UConn’s A.J. Price and Jerome Dyson are going to have a lot to contend with in the backcourt. Grayson Flittner’s toughness and timely three-point shooting loomed large in Lexington.
On the Husky sidelines, UConn’s entire team is a year older in ’07-‘08, but are they a year better (to borrow a query from Andy Force)? The Huskies didn’t lose much over the summer. Junior forward Jeff Adrien is a favorite for all-conference honors in the paint, tallying seven blocks and 10 rebounds in Connecticut’s surprisingly close win over Morgan State in their opener. It was sophomore Stanley Robinson leading the 15-block party in game #2 with six of his own against Buffalo. In my mind, it’s pretty clear that the Huskies have the advantage inside. So A.J. Price will need to be smart with the ball on the perimeter and get his teammates involved early.
The big question for this game: will Gardner-Webb continue to play a loose, uptempo style of ball, or will Calhoun’s Huskies get back in transition and slow the game down? If last year is any indication, the Huskies shouldn’t have much trouble keeping the game in the sixties; opponents only shot 39% from the field in 2006-2007. But discipline WAS an issue at times, and whether UConn will have the mental toughness for a full 40 minutes this early in the season remains to be seen.
Prediction: UConn 68, Gardner-Webb 62
Oklahoma vs Memphis
Make no mistake: Memphis is really, really good. Derrick Rose is a near-lock for this year’s all-freshman team already, after leading the Tigers in the second half against Richmond. Calipari has restocked his athletic stables, and Memphis should once again score more points than 98% of Division I in 2007-2008. CD-R (Chris Douglas-Roberts), the do-everything wing, Rose, and Willie Kemp form one heckuva backcourt to complement Joey Dorsey and Robert Dozier inside.
Cal is also to be commended for learning the selection process as well as any coach, and scheduling a ton of high-quality non-conference competition, including this weekend, to make up for C-USA’s dramatically underwhelming slate. I’m still not sold on the likelihood that he’ll take this team to the Final Four, but it’s a distinct possibility.
Oklahoma should provide a nice test for the 3rd-ranked Tigers. Jeff Capel, now in his second year with the Sooners, has a talented freshman of his own in Blake Griffin. The 6’10” Griffin notched 16 and 11 against Alcorn State in the Sooners’ regional semifinal, with all-world-name teammate Longar Longar leading the way with 20. The frontcourt matchup against the Tigers should be pretty even, and 6’5” David Godbold and 6’6” Tony Crocker could provide some trouble for CD-R if they can keep up on the perimeter.
I’m not as convinced that OU’s backcourt has what it takes on the offensive side of the ball, though. They don’t need to score a whole lot, but they DO need to get the ball inside to Longar and Griffin without getting turned over by Memphis’ high-pressure defense. The key stat in this game will be the foul numbers for Dorsey and Dozier. If Capel’s crew can get even one of the two athletic behemoths out of the game, it’ll force the Tigers to double-team at least one of the Sooner big men, leaving either an open driving lane or a spot-up jumper for a guard rotation that struggled to score points last year.
Prediction: Memphis 80, Oklahoma 70