Living in Memphis the last 20 years, I have seen Cal's last 10 years up close. Althought he following is clearly written through the lens of blue and white (I grew up in Lexington) as opposed to blue and grey (Memphis colors) glasses, I believe the current UK team is the best Cal has ever had.
Why is this statement important? Because if you buy it, then all of Cal's comments make sense. Specifically, Cal is clearly talking to his team through the press at this point - NOT to the fans. His comment - "this team is not very good" - is his attempt to keep them hungry. Bottom Line: IMO, Cal KNOWS this team is his best ever - better than the Derrick Rose team that was 2 minutes away from a NC...
That being said (I can hear Forty in the background) - what are the facts? I compare the teams after the jump....
For the 2007-2008 Memphis Tigers, I used Stats from: http://rivals.yahoo.com/ncaa/basketball/teams/map/stats?year=2007
For this year's UK team, I used Stats from: http://rivals.yahoo.com/ncaa/basketball/teams/kaf/stats
I realize using stats for 40 games versus our first 8 is not final, but I do believe there are some patterns already emerging that are useful for my analysis.
I will cover three areas: General Observations, Player by Player Comparisons, Intangilbles
- Neither team has a center listed - all are either G's or F's.
- The starters are pretty much the same.
- Cal uses his bench - at least 8 players on each team gets double digit minutes
- Those that start get the most minutes
PLAYER BY PLAYER COMPARISONS:
- Memphis Starters - Rose, CDR, Anderson at Guard; Dozier and Dorsey at Forward
- Kentucky Starters - Wall, Miller, Bledsoe at Guard; Patterson and Cousins at Forward
- Memphis -Taggart (Forward); Mack, Kemp, Allen (Guards)
- Kentucky - Orton (Forward); Dodson, Harris (Guards)
- Memphis - none
- Kentucky - Stevenson, Harrellson (Forwards), Hood (Guard)
- Memphis - 2 players
- Kentucky - 2 players
Rose vs Wall - Knowing Rose was the NBA Rookie of the Year makes me hesitate on straight up saying Wall is the choice - but Wall is the choice. Rose clearly "wowed" the Memphis team in summer ball prior to the season and won them over - despite being a fairly seasoned and older team (see experience discussed below). His play was exciting and he was fast. However, Rose did not take leadership of the Memphis team until late in the NCAA tournament. I also sense Wall's work ethic and seriousness is more intense. Rose was sick during the tournament - supposedly because his diet was so bad (he loves Gummy Bears and Twizzlers). I know that sounds like an 18 year old, but somehow, I see Wall taking diet, training, etc. a bit more seriously. Again, its early, but the joy with which Wall plays (and my blue and white glasses) would have to say that Wall is the choice (even Cal admits that Wall is ahead of Rose - at this point). Edge: UK
CDR vs Miller - Although I believe Miller is the CDR (Chris Douglas-Roberts) of the Wildcats, he is not there yet. CDR was smooth and was the go to guy. He was an experienced junior that was the leader of the team. Miller can go to the lane, but CDR did go to the lane. Edge: Memphis
Anderson vs Bledsoe - AA could fill it up and was the lock down defender. His scoring suffered because he was the guy that had to shut down the opponent's offensive weapon. Given Bledsoe's early success at 3-point shooting, he could give AA a run for his money. Eventually, Bledsoe's athletic ability will make him a better defender than Anderson. Also, Bledsoe will without question be more successful at the next level (Anderson went undrafted after his senior year). If going by athleticism, I go with Bledsoe but I will go with the junior from Memphis. Admittedly, I know it might be unfair comparing an 8 game freshman with a player that ultimately set the record for NCAA games played. After we get to March and Bledsoe gets some SEC experience, I would probably change my mind - as a result, by late in the season, this one position could decidedly put this UK team ahead of the Memphis NC runner-ups. Edge (closest call yet): Memphis
Dozier vs PP - Dozier was the player I always caught myself saying - "If they would put the ball in his hands more, they would win more." Sound familiar? Of course, Memphis was 38-2 in 07-08 so I guess my comment was more directed at his senior year. Dozier was more of a slasher and PP is more power. Both are juniors on the teams in questions. However, it is not even close. Edge (going away): UK
Dorsey vs Cousins - Poor free throw shooting, emotional player, powerful enforcer underneath, physical player that has a tendency to get into foul trouble, the way he plays often dictates the way the team plays, the closest to a true center on the team. Yes, I am talking about Joey Dorsey, the 24 year old (at the time) senior on Memphis' team - once again, sound familiar? That being said, Cousins is a couple of inches taller and has better ball skills. Cousins also wins the FT shooting contest (winning ugly I guess at 52% vs 38%). Both lead their respective teams in fouls committed per game (3.6 for Cousins vs 2.8 for Dorsey). As much as I want to go with the experience, I also want to go with the upside that is Cousins. Guess I will kiss my sister and call it even. Edge: Tie
So after covering the starters, I have it 2-2-1 - a tie. As a result, we move to the tie breaker- The Bench.
I have divided the bench into 3 divisions: Key Subs, Secondary Subs, and Others. The main difference between Key Subs and Secondary Subs is playing time - you have to be averaging 10+ minutes to make it to Key Sub level.
Key Subs - Taggart and Orton are key subs in the middle, simply because the guys ahead of them get in foul trouble. However, that is selling Orton short as I believe he contributes more as a true sixth man than as relief for a foul prone starter. Taggart was not drafted when he declared after his junior year - Orton will be drafted. At the guard position, the Memphis players Kemp and Mack were shooters and Allen provided relief for Rose at the point. Dodson is shooting about like Kemp and Mack. Harris gives UK the lock down defender off the bench that Memphis did not have. Also, his senior leadership is immeasurable. Edge: UK
Secondary Subs - Some of you might argue that Stevenson is closer to a Key Sub, but, in my opinion, he is not quite on the same level substitution wise as Orton and Harris. Given he is playing behind the "Ironman" that is PP, his minutes are limited. Harrellson is dangerously close to slipping into the "Other" section of the bench, but here, my personal like of him prevents it. Anyway, Memphis had no one in this category. Perhaps Niles could have been as he could have competed with Taggart for backup behind Dorsey. Alas, he fought the late night call of "The Fourth Meal." Edge: UK
Other - this section is not really worth discussing other than to mention, I have Liggins in this category simply because he has not played this year. Should he play, he would easily (I guess) move into the Key or Secondary Sub section and further tilt the balance to UK. Edge: UK
As a result of the tie breaker, the bench swings the results to UK. That being said, by the end of the season, I believe that UK could win or tie each starting position that I discussed (cannot see Miller beating out CDR, but tying at best).
Experience: Memphis started one senior, 3 juniors, and 1 freshman. Given that 2 of the juniors went on the set a record for most games played by a NCAA player and the freshman was Rose, this intangible clearly goes to Memphis. Edge: Memphis
Chemistry: With the experienced team that Memphis had, a hot shot freshman could have come in and caused problems - Rose did not. On the UK side, it is hard after only 8 games - without any losses - to say with a straight face that they have better chemistry. My head says I need to go with Memphis, but I do believe that UK could equal or surpass the chemistry of the Memphis team by March and April. At this point - Edge: Memphis (but check back)
Work Ethic: In 10 years of following Memphis and 30+ years of being a UK fan, I have never seen anyone with the work ethic of Patrick Patterson. He alone wins this intangible for UK. But let me add that I did not hear near as much about Rose's work ethic as I have of Wall's (leader in the weight room, etc). None of the players on Memphis, prior to their respective freshman year, did anything remotely similar to Orton. Yes, I can give the edge to UK based solely on PP - but the rest of the team gives it to UK running away. As an aside, I believe it is this intangible that has made the biggest impression on Cal. Edge: UK
CUSA vs SEC: I know the UK team has yet to win/play a conference game and I know I may sound like a conference snob, but by Tournament time, this intangible will be key. Having to play night in and night out in the SEC during the spring will make UK more "battle tested" than Memphis was during the CUSA season. Other than an OT win over Gonzaga (an out of conference break scheduled by Cal) in mid-February, Memphis waltzed through a CUSA schedule. Edge: UK
The Expectations: Everyone in Memphis knew the team was special and living up to expectations would be difficult. In Lexington, every year has high expectations - or perhaps pressure. I know early on, we UK fans are trying to give the team some room, but the pressure is going to build. I have to say neither team gets the nod on this intangible - they either faced or will soon face a tough level of expectations: Edge: Neither
The Coach - Yes, Cal was and is the same coach for both teams. However, Cal has been through a deep tournament run several times- albeit, not at UK. However, being a first year coach at UK - and despite the fact that he "gets it" - I have to say the pressure is less than it will be the next time around at UK - call it the honeymoon stage. I also like that Cal is more experienced this time around - and recognizes what he has. Edge: UK
So where does that leave us - and why did I spend the better part of my morning typing this post? To state the obvious: this season is special. But I want you all to know just how special: This team is better than the Memphis team that went to NC championship game. I am not the only one that believes it - Cal believes it. Actually, he KNOWS it. His entire demeanor and every statement he makes is geared to the team. He knows they are going to have early success. He knows they are relying on Wall. He knows that Cousins can be special. He knows that PP is a MAN. He knows that having Bledsoe is a gift. He knows that having a senior like Harris is a key ingredient. He knows having a key sixth man like Orton is HUGE. I can go on and on, but I also believe he knows that this team will be - no SHOULD be - in the thick of it come the first weekend in April and everything he is doing now is laying the ground work. But he also knows that complacency is one of the biggest risks to what this team can accomplish - not failure, not a missing ingredient, not lack of talent.
I know that every elite coach has the goal of winning and thinks his team should be there in the Final Four - I am just saying "Cal KNOWS it"....that is something I have NEVER seen before in a coach...