GLENDALE, Ariz. — Tyler Dorsey wants everyone to know that he would like to drop the nickname “Mr. March.”
“I don’t really care for the name,” Dorsey said. “I play throughout the season.”
Dorsey’s point is he’s been a factor all season, and yes, Dorsey was a really good college basketball player through the first four months of the season. Before the calendar turned to the month of madness, he averaged 12.4 points and shot 42.6 percent from the field and 37.8 percent from beyond the arc.
Those are respectable numbers.
But over the last seven games leading up to Saturday's contest against North Carolina, Dorsey has gone from good to the best player in college basketball.
In the postseason, he’s averaged 23.6 points and scored 20 or more in seven straight games. In the seven games prior, he didn’t reach 20 points once.
His efficiency numbers mirror a guy who shoots all his shots at the rim and is not a jump-shooter. He has shot 66.7 percent from the field and 65.3 percent from beyond the arc in the NCAA tournament.
One opponent after another has waited for Dorsey to cool off, and one after another has watched an endless loop of Dorsey jumpers fall through the basket.
“We figured the way he was playing he might not play at that same level after playing the whole [Pac-12] tournament like that,” said Iona coach Tim Cluess, who saw Dorsey score 24 points in the opening round. “A lot of times guys will do it for a couple games in a row and then come back to earth. He hasn’t touched back down yet.”
The man these coaches could blame—or maybe should have a put a call into (hint, hint Roy Williams)—is Oregon State coach Wayne Tinkle.
Back on March 4, Dorsey no-showed in the regular-season finale in Corvallis, scoring just one point in 20 minutes.
The next day was an off day for the Ducks, but Oregon assistant coach Kevin McKenna took a trip to Matthew Knight Arena to fetch a leather jacket for his daughter, who had attended an Elton John concert there the night before and left it behind.
McKenna heard a ball bouncing in the practice gym and peeked his head in. He found Dorsey with a frustrated look on his face as he got up jumpers.
“Tyler, don’t worry about what’s going on,” McKenna told him. “You’re going to have a big week here, and we’re going to be fine. You’re working hard. Your shot is going to go. Don’t stress about it.”
“It wasn’t just that game,” Dorsey said. “I felt like throughout the season, I could have done more.”
Dorsey knew he needed to become more aggressive, and he got the opportunity to increase his role when third-leading scorer Chris Boucher tore his ACL in the Pac-12 semifinals against California.
The role he's playing now is more reminiscent of how he was used at Maranatha High School in Pasadena, Calif., where he averaged 34 points per game as a senior.
“He’s a guy that’s got to have the ball in his hands,” Dorsey's high school coach Tim Tucker said. “For them to have three other point guards, sometimes he gets caught as that guy like Kurt Rambis in the Lakers offense standing in the corner just waiting for the ball to come his way. That can kind of kill a kid like him. He’s got to be engaged and got to be involved in order to be effective.
“As you’ve seen in the last seven games, he’s got to touch the ball in order for them to keep moving forward.”
If there was another trigger to this ridiculous run, it's that Dorsey has always played his best when doubt from the outside might begin to creep in.
In the summer of 2015, Dorsey was cut from the Under-19 team for the United States that was scheduled to play in the 2015 FIBA U19 World Championships in Crete.
Dorsey figured out a way he could still play in the tournament—his mother Samiais is Greek—and he starred for the U-19 team, leading a run to the semifinals and averaging 15.9 points per game to earn all-tournament team honors. The highlight was 23 points against the U.S. team he had been told he wasn’t good enough to make.
“I think for him whenever there’s a failure, it makes him get back in the lab, and he’s going to make you remember that you didn’t take him,” Tucker said. “When they didn’t pick him on that U.S. team, he goes to Greece and made them understand that I should have been on this team.”
Many outsiders questioned Oregon’s chances to make a run in the NCAA tournament once Boucher was lost.
But Oregon’s offense has actually been better without Boucher and a heavier dose of Dorsey.
The Ducks haven’t had to change what they do, either, to accommodate his scoring binge. Getting Dorsey buckets is simple. Simply throw him the ball, and as he likes to say, let him cook.
According to Synergy Sports, Dorsey has been the most efficient scorer in the NCAA tournament in transition (1.545 points per possession) and in isolation (1.6). He isn’t No. 1 in pick-and-roll situations because of four turnovers, but he’s made seven out of the eight shots he’s taken—all threes—when working off a ball screen.
“I see teams, especially at the end of shot clock, they’re backpedaling when he’s walking them in and hands down, and he’s just pulling up and teeing up shots,” Oregon State’s Tinkle said. “I think guys like that, when they’re on this kind of roll, you’ve got to push into them and make him put the ball on the floor and try to do something inside the three-point line.”
Oregon State’s strategy was to simply not let Dorsey have the ball. The Beavers tried to stay attached wherever he was to try to prevent touches.
But that’s become more difficult now that Dorsey is bringing the ball down the floor more often. Kansas saw its chances at a Final Four berth essentially end because of that.
Dorsey walked into two three-pointers to end the first half last Sunday, burying back-to-back threes in a two-for-one situation. The shots took what felt like a manageable five-point deficit at half to 11, the second shot a buzzer-beating bank from 26 feet out that created doubt in the minds of the Jayhawks and their fans.
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The one time Kansas crowded Dorsey in a late shot-clock situation, he used a crossover to create separation from KU wing Lagareld Vick and buried the final dagger three that ended a late comeback bid.
"He can beat you off the dribble as well as shoot the three," Cluess said. "He can come off a ball screen. He’s got an in-between game. He can spin in the lane and score at the rim as well. And the fact that he’s got so many weapons around him that you have to guard, and if you run doubles at him, he’s going to make the right decision and kick the ball to open teammates to knock down those shots."
Dorsey's performances on the big stage have cooled some of the concerns about his ability to play at the NBA level. Mainly, scouts worry about his size (6'5") for a shooting guard.
"He’s proven to be a really good shooter, and the competition in the NBA is intense, and the NCAA tournament is the closest thing to it," an NBA scout told Bleacher Report.
"He’s going to be a second-round pick [if he comes out in this draft], and he’s going to be a guy who has to go to the summer league and play well to earn a spot at training camp. If the decision comes down to do you want player A or player B, and player B is Tyler Dorsey and you know what he’s been able to do in these situations, I think that breaks the tie."
Dorsey does have a track record of proving the doubters wrong. He also thrives in pressure-packed situations and has never been overwhelmed by the moment in this tournament, especially in Kansas City playing in what was like a road environment against Kansas.
Before that Elite Eight performance, legendary three-point shooter Reggie Miller approached Dorsey during warm-ups and told him to “empty the clip.”
Dorsey put 27 points and six threes on the Jayhawks.
That put him 10 threes away from tying Glen Rice's NCAA tournament record of 27 threes.
As the calendar flips to April at this weekend’s Final Four, Dorsey will reload and get a chance to get folks to quit calling him “Mr. March.”
Two more showings like the previous seven this weekend at the Final Four, and he could trade up from Mr. March to another title.
C.J. Moore covers college basketball and football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @CJMooreBR.