As the Memphis Tigers gather steam in the 2008 NCAA basketball tournament, the composition of the team begins to stand out. As valuable as coach John Calipari's bench has been all season -- and certainly will when the Tigers face Michigan State on Friday -- this team has been built around a prototypical starting five. Had Dr. Naismith taken as much care in drawing up a blueprint for positional expectations as he did for his original 13 rules, he just might find a perfect match in the 2007-08 Tigers.
What follows is a breakdown of the five standard basketball positions, first with a description of the job's chief requirements, then a look at the Memphis player filling that role in this year's Big Dance.
POINT GUARD (1): Ball-handling first and foremost. Court vision. Quickness, both with the ball and defensively. Lateral movement. Game smarts.
DERRICK ROSE: With the possible exception of Antonio Burks, Rose is the quickest player I've seen in a Tiger uniform. And he's more under control in his drives through traffic than Burks was. His court vision -- witness his bombs to Chris Douglas-Roberts on the break -- draws comparisons to future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd. His quickness makes up for positioning errors on the defensive end, and he's patient enough when forced into a half-court set to find an open shooter before driving into the lane. His shooting touch has been a pleasant surprise.
SHOOTING GUARD (2): Despite its tag, this position requires a kind of versatility that makes the player's shooting touch secondary at times. Must be able to defend big guards and even small forwards. Ball-handling a plus. Offensive value more from perimeter than as penetrator.
ANTONIO ANDERSON: There's a reason Calipari calls Anderson "the glue" of this team. The junior swingman typically guards the opponent's top scoring threat, unless he's the size of Georgetown's Roy Hibbert. Any scoring Anderson brings is purely complementary, but his efficiency with the ball in his hands is stellar. He had a six game stretch earlier this season with 30 assists and but a single turnover. He's not a great shooter, but will drop a clutch three-pointer now and then. Don't bet against him under pressure.
SMALL FORWARD (3): Just as corner outfielders are expected to hit with power, small forwards need to score. Inside/outside threat offensively. Get to the line and make free throws. Among the five positions, this one has the least defensive responsibility.
CHRIS DOUGLAS-ROBERTS: George Gervin, Alex English, and Adrian Dantley all but changed this position's name to "smooth forward." And CDR ain't smooth. But his scoring touch in traffic, combined with a shooting range beyond the arc, would make that trio of NBA scorers proud. With a career free-throw percentage above 70, Douglas-Roberts is the best Tiger to see at the charity stripe. (We'll forget that miss against USC earlier this season that should have cost the Tigers a win.) Only a junior, CDR is already 11th in career scoring at Memphis.
POWER FORWARD (4): Defend the paint and baseline. Block shots. Hit the boards with passion. Pick up junk points, second-shot opportunities.
ROBERT DOZIER: The 6'9" Georgia native is the George Harrison of this team. He'll never make an all-conference squad, he's rarely surrounded by microphones after a Tiger win, but he seems to always be involved in separating his team from the opposition. His rebounding is second only to Joey Dorsey's, and he's a quiet -- too often overlooked -- scoring option (witness his 19 points against Georgetown and 18 against Arizona). In the game's modern lexicon, Dozier has great "length," which has great value on a team as guard-heavy as these Tigers.
CENTER (5): Defend and rebound. Rebound and defend. Correct the defensive mistakes of your teammates. Ball in hand, dunk it. And don't dribble. Ever.
JOEY DORSEY: Not since bull first met china store have we seen the kind of damage Dorsey administers in playing defense. If he has fewer than two fouls 10 minutes into a game, it's a win for Calipari. His proclivity for foul trouble aside, Dorsey changes the way Tiger opponents play with his shot-blocking ability -- six against Mississippi State on Sunday -- and strength on the glass. And he's a nice lob target for Tiger guards able to dribble-drive into the lane.
If blueprints won championships, this team would already have its rooms booked for San Antonio. Four games left to win for this to be truly a roundball architectural masterpiece.