TOE TO TOE: Hodes

by Alex Hodes | 4/7/08 3:25am

Year after year, March Madness does not disappoint. And this year, we've been treated to a truly special event. This year marked the first-ever occurrence of having all four top seeds reach the Final Four.But forget the Final Four, as tonight, the best team in the nation will be crowned. I'm a staunch advocate of consistency, and by that logic I can confidently forecast a Memphis victory in tonight's championship game.

I've had Memphis from the start, picking them in my tourney pool. I might be looking at some money, but that's neither here nor there.

I've been on the Memphis bandwagon since their loss to Tennessee -- its lone loss this season. I had spent the day driving up to school listening to Mike and the Mad Dog and was treated to a thoroughly entertaining interview segment with Tigers' head coach John Calipari. This was a team I could root for, and I knew that if they could learn from this loss, they would be a mighty force in the tourney.

Since their loss to the Volunteers, Memphis has only been involved in what could be called a close contest once -- a three point victory over Mississippi State in the second round of the NCAAs. Of course, the Mississippi State game also underscores Memphis's biggest weakness, free-throw shooting, as that game only narrowed in the closing minutes when Memphis couldn't hit the side of a barn from the line.

Everyone knows that you can't win the tourney if you don't hit your free throws, right? So what if Memphis was the third-worst team from the line this year, it's stepping up their game when it counts. Just look at their last three games, as they've steadily improved from the line, culminating in an 87 percent performance against UCLA on Saturday. Yeah, I'd say the naysayers have been silenced.

Memphis may have answered the critics, but it won't be their free throw shooting that will win Calipari his first title. No, the Tigers will win because of their unparalleled depth.

They can legitimately go ten deep, a distinction few elite teams carry. And yet, as deep as they are, Memphis also has some of the most talented individuals in the nation. Freshman Derrick Rose is a potential first overall pick in this year's NBA draft, and he'll likely be joined in the first round by Joey Dorsey and Chris Douglas-Roberts.

However, I do expect Kansas to be a bigger challenge to Memphis than UCLA.

Kansas is coming off of a thorough thrashing of the popular pick to win it all. North Carolina, despite that brief run in the early part of the second half, looked awful against Kansas. Chalk it up to poor coaching, bad luck, whatever you want, but I think we can all agree to chalk it up to Kansas having the talent to play to anyone's level. Rock Chalk, Jayhawk, after all.

I was concerned about Kansas following their close win against Davidson. If Stephen Curry, good as he is, could push Kansas to the brink, then surely mighty North Carolina would have no problem dispatching of their coach Roy Williams' former squad.

Instead, Kansas roared back the way many elite teams do after being push to the brink, and played one of the most dominant games of the tourney. Moreover, Kansas has the guards to go toe-to-toe against Douglas-Roberts and Rose in Mario Chalmers and Brandon Rush. If anyone could knock off Memphis at this point, it would have to be Kansas.

Unfortunately for Kansas, it's still too flawed to win. If they can barely squeak past a player as singularly talented as Curry, then it's going to have a near-impossible time containing Rose, the best player they will face all season.

More importantly, despite their convincing win against UNC, Kansas cannot expect another cakewalk. The Jayhawks have looked good when they have the lead, but entirely too tentative in tight affairs . Memphis has too much talent, too much fight, and is just downright too good for Kansas.

This is a team that has only lost once on the year, it's not losing again, and hopefully, coach Calipari will continue to be as entertaining as ever in the postgame press conference.