The Top Storylines of the CBB Season, Pt. 10: Memphis, Kansas Don't Skip a Beat
This is an 11-part series taking a look back at the most memorable, important storylines of the 2008-09 college basketball season. For a list of storylines that didn't quite make a cut, check out the honorable mentions of the 2008-09 season.
Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush, Darnell Jackson, Darrell Arthur, Russell Robinson, Sasha Kaun, and Rodrick Stewart; all gone from college basketball.
Derrick Rose, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Joey Dorsey, and Andre Allen are also gone.
Graduation and defections to the NBA decimated the rosters of the 2008 NCAA Tournament Finalists. Kansas and Memphis looked like they'd be shades of themselves in 2009; few thought either school could be a legitimate Final Four threat .
But two very good recruiting classes, two great coaches, and enough stars-in-the-making returned to both schools to make them dangerous teams when the madness began.
Memphis returned more key players—senior lockdown guard Antonio Anderson and two behemoths in the paint—Shawn Taggart and Robert Dozier gave coach John Calipari a solid nucleus of players to not rebuild, but reload around. Pollsters still ranked the Tigers in the top 15 in the preseason polls.
Kansas lost its entire starting lineup, but did return the Big XII Sixth Man of the Year and budding superstar, Sherron Collins as well as center Cole Aldrich who gave Jayhawk fans a glimpse of his future greatness by scoring eight points and grabbing seven boards in a dominant first half performance off the bench against North Carolina in the 2008 Final Four.
Pundits penciled the Jayhawks in at 23rd in the preseason polls despite all the personnel losses.
But early on in the 2008-2009 season, Memphis and Kansas quickly lost their championship mojo.
The Tigers looked terrible in non-conference play, losing to Xavier, Syracuse, and Georgetown. The dribble-drive offense that Memphis has developed into one of the country's deadliest attacks looked out of sync.
Freshman star Tyreke Evans couldn't find his role in the offense, and no one in Western Tennessee could knock down a three-pointer.
In the College Basketball Experience Classic, Kansas uncharacteristically blew a 15 point second half lead to the 'Cuse and eventually lost in overtime. The Jayhawks followed that defeat with an embarrassing loss in Kansas City to a UMass team that finished in the bottom half of the Atlantic-10.
In all, KU lost four non-conference games, something the Jayhawks hadn't done since 2006.
Entering conference play Memphis finally looked vulnerable in Conference USA and Kansas appeared to only be the fourth or fifth best team in the Big XII.
But that all changed, and it changed very quickly.
After the Tigers lost on their homecourt to the Orange, Calipari made a critical lineup change. He allowed freshman guard Tyreke Evans to play the point. It was an ingenious move that suddenly made the Tigers go. The best penetrator on the team now had the ball in his hands to create.
The Tiger offense not only improved, but the defense reached levels never seen in the handful of years Ken Pomeroy has been keeping track of offensive and defensive efficiency.
And the Conference USA rout was on.
19 league games later, Memphis still owns a 61 game conference win streak.
For Kansas one particular change didn't spark a Big XII Title run in Lawrence, but rather a steep learning curve among its bevy of first-year players.
Freshmen twins Markieff and Marcus Morris, and Tyshawn Taylor became vital parts of the rotation. Sophomores Brandon Morningstar and Tyrel Reed emerged from almost non-existent roles on the championship team to become championship caliber role players. JUCO transfer Mario Little provided a spark once he returned from injury.
Suddenly Bill Self found himself with depth and talent that he could turn into an elite squad. The Jayhawks took off winning 13 of their first 14 conference games and took home the league's regular season title.
When the NCAA Tournament finally rolled around, Calipari and Self had molded two teams into squads built to win in March. The Tigers headed west as a No. 2 seed, while the Rock-Chalk headed to the east as a No. 3 seed.
But for both teams, playing six games in the tournament like each did in 2008 would not become a reality. In 2009, the two squads played just six tournament games combined.
Memphis ran into a Missouri team that played practically an identical style of basketball, but brought with it more experienced players and for once, more athleticism than Memphis. Missouri ran Calipari's club right out of Glendale.
Kansas received the unfortunate task of trying to beat Michigan State. The Spartans had already handled the Jayhawks earlier in the season and provided Kansas with several matchup problems. MSU's rebounding and superior depth eventually took its toll and like Memphis, Kansas' season ended in the Sweet 16.
But both teams made incredible strides, strides that can be measured in two conference titles, two trips to the Sweet 16, and one National Coach of the Year.
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