Commentary

Rose and CDR fuel Memphis' offensive machine

Originally Published: April 6, 2008
By Dana O'Neil | ESPN.com

SAN ANTONIO -- Generally speaking, coaches are about as comfortable with change as the Amish are with progress.

Lucky water bottles sit perched at the exact longitudinal mark on a court every day; tattered sweaters and shirts get hauled out game after game if they've inspired a winning streak; pregame rituals are orchestrated with a precision the Marines would envy.

It's not easy for everybody. If you can't really play the one-on-one, this offense will expose you and you'll look really bad. For me, it fit my game. I've been playing that type of style my whole life. I've never lost a one-on-one game in my whole life.

--Chris Douglas-Roberts

Heck, Kansas coach Bill Self said that when he was an assistant at Kansas, Larry Brown made him ensure that pregame bowling outings were orchestrated with such precision that the same players played on the same lane every time.

"… because if you bowl and you play well, you probably played well because you bowled on that lane," Self said. "It had nothing to do with Danny [Manning]."

So when John Calipari scrapped everything he ordinarily used in exchange for a little-known offense, it's a wonder they didn't strip him of his National Association of Basketball Coaches card.

Say what you will about Calipari -- and this week, it has all been said, implied or hinted at -- the man can coach. Recognizing he had freakish talent and size in his backcourt, Calipari installed the dribble-drive motion offense, a scheme that is predicated on spacing and angles, adhering to one golden and guiding principle: his guards' ability to win one-on-one.

And given that, as Joey Dorsey put it, Memphis has George Gervin and "Jason Kidd on steroids" in its backcourt, it's probably not a bad idea.

Given freedom to create, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose have unveiled a masterpiece, rolling the Tigers to the national championship game and a 38-1 record. The pair has been such a two-headed hydra in the NCAA tournament that, should the Tigers win the title, the two ought to share most outstanding player honors.

Stopping the pair -- something no one has done, frankly; one or the other has scored in double figures in 35 of 38 games -- is Kansas' clearest path to securing its first title since 1988.

"We have to eliminate them getting to the paint," Self said. "When they get to the paint, good things generally happen."

[+] EnlargeChris Douglas-Roberts
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesChris Douglas-Roberts' size and unique game have posed matchup problems for all teams Memphis has faced.
Self is achingly familiar with Douglas-Roberts and Rose. He recruited both.

Joining the rank and file who have seen Rose live in this tournament, Self spoke in wonder about the point guard's remarkable talent. He said he watched a clip of Rose and saw him grab a rebound right out of the basket and, in four dribbles -- not even at full speed -- get to the other rim.

Long a fan of Douglas-Roberts' unorthodox game, Self was more impressed with the fact that CDR has turned himself into a solid outside shooter. His 3-point percentage this year skyrocketed from 32.8 percent to 41.3 percent.

Douglas-Roberts and Rose are affecting this tournament like no backcourt since Rip Hamilton and Khalid El-Amin led Connecticut to the title in 1999. Together, they are averaging 45 points per game, and the duo has left a trail of treadmarked backcourts in its wake. D.J. Augustin and A.J. Abrams gave up 25 by CDR and 21 by Rose; Darren Collison and Russell Westbrook surrendered 28 and 25, respectively.

More problematic, they are supersized guards. CDR stands a spindly 6-foot-7 and Rose a stocky 6-3.

Not expecting an overnight growth spurt to hit any of his players, Self will put 6-6 Brandon Rush on Douglas-Roberts, and Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson, both 6-1, will have to contend with Rose.

"We've played big guards before," Robinson said. "That's where toughness matters. You can make up for a lot of size with that."

Calipari called Kansas and Memphis mirror images of one another -- and excluding the funhouse mirrors necessary to make Chalmers look as big as Rose and Robinson as tall as Douglas-Roberts -- he has a point.

The Jayhawks might be better-equipped to handle Memphis than anyone else in the country. UCLA and its plodding half-court game was done the minute it got sucked into the vortex of the Tigers' gas-pedal-go offense.

The Jayhawks, meanwhile, just outgunned the gunners of all time. North Carolina and its second-ranked offense in the nation got blitzed coming out of the gate, 40-12.

"People forget, that's how we play, too," Chalmers said.

But Kansas doesn't play dribble-drive, and though an offensive scheme isn't winning player of the tournament honors anytime soon, it has made a difference for Memphis this year.

"It's really good," Self said. "And it's even better if you've got really good players."

[+] EnlargeDerrick Rose
Bob Donnan-US PRESSWIREDarren Collison wasn't able to contain Derrick Rose. Will Kansas' guards have better luck?
Former Pepperdine coach Vance Walberg's offense looks like some sort of basketball purist sacrilege, what with its isolations and seemingly free-form style. It is most coaches' worst nightmare, the ultimate wipe-board eradicator. Players run this offense; coaches don't baby-step them through it. Sure, there is spacing and there are angles for people to take -- Antonio Anderson said the Tigers will adjust to something as simple as which way Rose goes with a crossover dribble -- but mostly it's about players making decisions on the fly, then reacting to those decisions.

When this offense is run with the efficiency Memphis is achieving, it seems as if there is a player wide open for a kick or a drive to the hoop on nearly every possession.

"It's not easy for everybody," Douglas-Roberts said. "If you can't really play the one-on-one, this offense will expose you and you'll look really bad. For me, it fit my game. I've been playing that type of style my whole life. I've never lost a one-on-one game in my whole life."

Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at espnoneil@live.com.

Dana O'Neil | email

College Basketball