Saturday was a pretty good night for the Jayhawks. Not only did they win a huge game over UNC, but they also did it against ex-coach and legendary cryer Roy Williams. The icing on the cake is how they turned media darling Tyler Hansbrough into the next Mark Madsen. That game took so much energy out of KU that its going to be a challenge to match the emotional intensity even though tonight's game is for all the marbles. So what are 5 factors that are imperative for Kansas in tonight's game? Lets take a look
1. Stopping Derrick Rose. No player has been as dominant in this tournament as the Chicago-bred freshman. He's been the most athletic player in the tournament as well as the best all-around player in the entire field. Rose has torn up a who's who of point guards as well on the path to the final game including Jamont Gordon, Drew Neitzel, DJ Augustin and Darren Collison. Fortunately for Kansas, they have three awesome perimeter defenders who could possibly contain him. Russell Robinson, Supernintendo Chalmers and Sherron Collins made Tywon Lawson look like Greg Paulus and also shut down the scorching hot Stephen Curry in the Elite 8. They will have to be at their defensive best tonight against Rose, because he is better than anyone they have faced all year. A good sign for Kansas is that their three guards can either go big with Chalmers, play physical with Collins, or match up in speed with Robinson. Maybe the different looks will slow down Rose and get him off his game, because if he dominates like he has lately Memphis is going to be very tough to defeat.
2. Get shots for Brandon Rush. Memphis has played some of the best perimeter defense in the tournament. Where smaller players have withered against the lengthy Tiger defenders, Brandon Rush will have to use his size to get off good shots and provide the Jayhawks with a go-t0-guy on offense. Rush had a really good game against UNC despite his shot not falling, but he will have to both make his shot and penetrate tonight to keep the Memphis defenders honest. Rush has had a tendency to dissapear for long stretches of games, but he cannot do that tonight. Tonight is the reason why he returned to school, he must play like its his last game.
3. Find some inside production. Sasha Kaun and Darrell Arthur have had nice stretches during games, but they have not been consistent enough to get past a team like Memphis tonight. Kansas is going to need an inside presence to keep Joey Dorsey and Robert Dozier honest on defense. If Mother Russia and Arthur can establish inside play and get those guys in some foul trouble, then they will not be able to aggresively help on the penetration of the Jayhawks perimeter players.
4. Control Turnovers. Memphis has been feeding off of the turnovers of their opponents. There is simply no way to stop Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts in the open court. And while Kansas has good ball handlers they have a tendency to get out of control. Their mistakes in the open court let UNC make the big comeback and they must be more careful with the ball tonight. The tempo is going to be fast and Memphis will be trying to poke the ball away from dribblers the entire night. If Collins and Robinson are playing out of control and giving the ball away to the Tigers, the Jayhawks might lose by 20.
5. Keep the game close. Kansas is the more veteran team and is battle-tested. If the game is close they get the decided advantage thanks to their ability to go to multiple options and because they are the better free throw shooting team. Its no coincidence that Memphis' only loss, to Tennessee, and their only close game in the tournament, to Mississippi State, occurred when an open-court game turned into a half-court game in the final minutes. While Rose can still create in those situations its much easier to shut down the Tigers because the big guys and Antonio Anderson will not look for their shots. Free throws will probably not be a huge deal because the ball will be in Rose and CDR's hands and they shoot it well, but Calipari is an awful coach in close games as exhibited in his coaching decisions down the stretch in the Tennessee game. While Bill Self is no John Wooden either, I think he's more prepared to keep his team under control and make the right play if its a close game than Calipari is. If its a 2 point game after the under 4 timeout, Kansas will be right where they want to be.