There have been murmurs among the Memphis fans and coaches about the possibility of the Tigers incorporating a zone defense into their repertoire this season. The past few years, these rumors have flown about here and there, but everyone, including Coach Cal, have laughed them off.
Our teams in the past have been built for man-to-man defense. They may have looked like Tigers on the outside, but, make no mistake, these players were all horses. They ran... and ran... and especially when the other team began to wear down, these guys ran some more. The full court pressure of other teams resembled a fire extinguisher, while the Tigers' press often registered as a Category 5 hurricane.
Last season, the Tigers boasted the 12th ranked defense in regard to opponent's field goal percentage (39.1%). The Tigers ranked 8th in the nation for blocks per game, at 6.1. Running man defense and ranking that high in the nation in blocks is an impressive feat. Defense that efficient is a result of quick-stepping guards who can keep the opponents from establishing a good offensive rhythm, backed by some beasts who can protect the goal if the guards get beat. Cal has said plenty of times that blocks are not the result of one man's defense, but of the second and third man helping. You can attribute the Tigers efficient defense to the athleticism of the big men, which freed up our guards to commit to playing such staunch defense.
Dorsey was an animal. Exhibit A:You can't replace 10 boards/2 third-row souvenirs/25-minutes of paint-prowling instantly. As much as we all love Dorsey, however, let's not forget his cohorts...
Robert Dozier, per game: 26 min, 7 boards, just under 2 stand-candies.
Shawn Taggart, per game: 17 min, 4 boards, 1 stand-candy.
Dozier has been hitting the gym and Tag's knee is in its best shape in three years. Can they own The Dorsey Zone this year? I think so, in limited minutes. These guys will be thrust to the forefront, as they are no longer filling time from the bench, but now must divide Dorsey's time between themselves and the new bench players. Speaking of those guys...
In the frontcourt, 6-11 Angel Garcia will (eventually... hopefully...) be hitting the hard wood, early reports are that Simpkins has a nose for rebounds, and Chris Massie 2.0 has been eating his greens, dressing on the side. Provided that CM2.0 is legitimate this year, the latter part of the season will offer two more talented big men than we had last year.
In regard to the man vs. zone argument, the zone is just not practical with the talent and speed we have in the backcourt. Provided Kemp and Mack can guard anyone this year, they will bolster the disruptive defense of Anderson, Evans, and possibly Spoon.
Garcia is currently hurt, Simpkins needs to get his academics in order, so that leaves the majority of the big man minutes to Dozier, Tag, and CM2.0 early in the season. If that's the case, the Tigers will continue to run, run, run with the speedy guards. Dan Wolken said in his Commercial Appeal spot that the Tigers have not even been running the zone in practice, so there's no reason at all to think they're going to bust it out anytime soon.
However, as our new big men get healthy and get their bookwork straight, they will be given minutes, because they're both very good. I see the young forwards contributing bench minutes and learning a lot this year. The rest of the team is too quick and too athletic to abandon the defense that has made the Tigers so successful in the past. If the zone is ever used, it will be sparingly, because the personnel that would be best for zone is not the best personnel for the dribble-drive offense we know and love. We should never sacrifice Spurtability for the Danger Zone.