Saturday, March 24, 2007

San Antonio, Part 4

Ohio State 92 Memphis 76

And this is where it ends. Ohio State played its best game of the season, Memphis played merely average, and that was the difference. There are a number of talking points to go through after this one, but before I do that, I have to give a lot of credit to the Memphis fans for being very loud and being really supportive. There's no doubt the fans made a positive difference for the Tigers.

First things first. I said at the end of the last post that Joey Dorsey would have a chance to back up his big mouth with a big performance against Greg Oden today. He had that chance - and he blew it badly. It was obvious from the very beginning of the game that Dorsey's body language was off. He looked intimidated. He got into an argument or two with John Calipari on the bench. And, most obviously, he just isn't as good as Greg Oden. Oden scored the first basket of the game on Dorsey and that set the tone. Oden grabbed boards, affected shots, and scored on several low-post moves and big dunks. Dorsey fouled people and that was it. The Tigers got nothing from Dorsey or Kareem Cooper, and that made it almost impossible to beat Ohio State. Speaking of Cooper, it's time to be real - he needs to get in better shape and he needs to work a lot harder. He is a huge liability when he comes into the ballgame, and he hurt the team in this tournament.

Would Oden and the Buckeyes have been that good without Joey Dorsey making the comments he made yesterday? Maybe. I know it fired up the entire Ohio State team, though, and they played a fantastic overall game. They shot 51% from the field for the game and took care of the basketball. They dictated the tempo and got penetration whenever they wanted. This was their breakout game - the one that showed everyone why they're a number one seed.

To Dorsey's credit, he spoke with me and the rest of the media in the locker room after the game. Listen to the interview by clicking here. He's quite candid about how much better Oden is that he thought he would be, how tired he got covering Oden, and how he feels he let the team down. It is a positive sign for next year that Dorsey appears contrite and somewhat apologetic about what happened tonight. It doesn't change the domination.

Oden is incredible. Today, he played with passion and no little skill. He changes everything when he's in the game - he makes up for so many defensive errors because he can block any shot near the basket. His footwork is outstanding, and he's faster than you might think. He blocked a Willie Kemp layup attempt (should have been goaltending) when the ball was at least 12 feet off the ground. I am on record as favoring Durant over Oden should the Grizzlies get the first pick, but I have no doubt that Oden is going to be very much like his idol, David Robinson. He is a genuinely nice young man who seems very grounded despite the obvious fame he's achieved. I wouldn't mind seeing him win a national title.

Oden was involved in the game's pivotal play. There was a loose ball at midcourt with the Tigers up 60-57...Kareem Cooper was the closest to the ball, but Ron Lewis of Ohio State beat him to it, and passed in underneath to Oden for what appeared to be an easy dunk. CDR was down low with Oden and grabbed him around the waist, trying to prevent him from shooting. Oden made the basket and CDR was called for an intentional foul, his 4th foul of the game. Oden made one of two from the line, then OSU got the ball back, and that possession led to two Jamar Butler free throws. Overall, it was a five point swing. The game was never the same after that.

Mike Conley, Jr. was named the South Region's Most Outstanding Player, and it was a well-deserved honor. He was fantastic. It's hard to believe he's a freshamn - he got penetration whenever he wanted, and the Tigers were unable to stop him from doing much of anything. He dominated the game. John Calipari said after the game that the Tigers couldn't force their tempo on the game because Conley and Jamar Butler handle the ball too well and are too tough - that was another factor in OSU's favor.

Major credit goes to Jeremy Hunt, who immediately bailed the Tigers out of an early slump by hitting an early three. He played without fear, with reckless abandon, with desperation. It was to be his final game as a Tiger, and he played like it. Without him, the Tigers would have lost by a lot more than 16. He was never the most talented Tiger, but he might have been the toughest - and next season, the Tigers will miss that.

Willie Kemp, CDR, and Antonio Anderson all played pretty well, too. Fouls limited CDR a bit, and WIllie made a few freshman mistakes, but they were positives for the Tigers today.

Check out for a bunch of postgame audio, including interviews with Jeremy Hunt, Joey Dorsey, Chris Douglas-Roberts, John Calipari, and R.C. Johnson. Incidentally, R.C. told me that no one has contacted him regarding John Calipari's job status. Good news for Tiger fans.

I've enjoyed bringing you these road reports, and I hope you've enjoyed reading them and listening to the audio on I'm headed back to Memphis tomorrow - a long day of driving awaits. Congratulations to Ohio State, but congratulations also to the Tigers for a tremendous tournament run and a great season. Next year should be even better.

No comments: