Storming The Floor previews today's NCAA Championship Game between the Kansas Jayhawks and the Memphis Tigers.
Whether you loved this all-top-seeded Final Four or hated it, you have Larry Brown to thank. The king of the basketball gypsies played his college ball at North Carolina and went to the Final Four with UCLA in 1980. He also coached at Kansas, taking them to their most recent Championship in 1988 before bolting for the Clippers.
So what's his connection to Memphis? Brown mentored John Calipari, taking him on as an assistant at Kansas in the late 80's. But wait, that's not all! He did the same with Bill Self, at around the same time. Cal went out on his own in 1985, the same year Self was hired. That Brown guy has quite an eye for coaching talent, eh?
Looking at the programs, they seem very different. The University of Kansas was founded in 1865, and still had cows roaming the campus around the time James Naismith assembled the first-ever Jayhawk team in 1899. Naismith, who had a losing record at Kansas, begat Forrest C. "Phog" Allen, a man who provided nearly 50 years of stability and helped forge the reliable foundation that has led to legendary status for coach and program alike.
Memphis has been an urban campus all along, fielding their first squad in 1920. Under the name Memphis State, coach Gene Bartow and player Larry Finch took the 1973 Tigers to the Championship game, where they became one in a long line of victims of UCLA's dominance of the era. Bartow went on to succeed John Wooden at UCLA two years later, and the Memphis State/University of Memphis program continued to be very, very good, if not yet great. The Pyramid helped recruiting fortunes, but it was the hiring of former UMass coach Calipari in 2000 that signaled the beginning of the current rise of the program.
As it stands right now, however, this is a matchup of two blue-chip squads, each of them hungry to finish dominant seasons with the ultimate - an NCAA championship.
Memphis relies heavily on two superstars. Chris Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose are clearly the top scoring options in the innovative Dribble-Drive Motion offense. For Kansas, Brandon Rush is the most talented player on the floor, but when he goes through a scoring drought (which has happened often in this tournament), he has three more guys averaging double figures to back him up. The emergence of freshman big man Cole Aldrich in the UNC game gives Bill Self another big body to throw in the mix.
I'll be accused of being a homer, but the tale of the tape is all I have to go with right now.
Storming the Floor's Predicted NCAA Champion: KANSAS