The Tigers meet Texas A&M; in the South Regional semifinals tonight at the Alamodome. Sunday in New Orleans, as he made the rounds before his game against Nevada, Calipari bumped into Dorsey in the lobby of the Tigers' hotel and got a good feeling.
"I knew we were going to be OK when I saw Joey in the lobby," Calipari said. "He said, 'I just went for a walk.' He was excited about playing Nevada, and he played that way."
Dorsey, a 6-foot-9, 260-pound junior from Baltimore, is the man in the middle for Memphis, the No. 2 seed in the South and No. 5 in the polls.
The Tigers (32-3) are the nation's only team to reach 30 wins before NCAA tournament play both this season and last. They were perfect in Conference USA, where Dorsey doesn't always have to extend himself. The league's Defensive Player of the Year does a load of dirty work, but Calipari always wants more.
"My wife gets on me, because I get on Joey," Calipari said during a teleconference Monday. "She asks me: 'Do you know how much he's improved? Leave him alone. Yell at the other guys.'
"I see Joey doing more, but he's still backing up against some teams. When he plays to dominate, it's scary."
The only player to start all 35 games for Memphis, Dorsey has 80 of the team's 208 blocked shots and is averaging 9.7 rebounds. The only Sweet 16 player with a higher rebounding average is Ohio State's Greg Oden; the two could meet in Saturday's regional final.
At the offensive end, Dorsey is averaging 4.5 rebounds. Five other Memphis players have attempted more shots, and put-backs are a main reason he's made 61.3 percent of his field-goal attempts en route to 8.7 points a game.
Dorsey is playing more and fouling less. Across the board, his numbers are up from last season, when the Tigers were two baskets from beating UCLA in a regional final and getting to their first Final Four since 1985.
When Calipari got Massachusetts to its only Final Four in 1996, he depended upon Donta Bright, a sharp forward from a great Dunbar team. His incoming class includes players from championship teams in Illinois, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and Dorsey is another example of that recruiting philosophy.
Dorsey anchored a perfect Douglass team in 2001-02. He got the ball. Gerald Brown, an all-conference guard for Loyola College, and Colorado State's Tyler Smith shot it. In that regard, as Dorsey said earlier this season, Memphis is just like Douglass.
"In a way, this is just like high school," Dorsey said. "The guards put up the shots and I get the rebounds."
At the rate he's going, Dorsey will leave Memphis ranked second in school history in rebounds and blocked shots, behind only Keith Lee, a landmark player of the 1980s.
Memphis last lost before Christmas, but the team with the nation's longest winning streak (24) has been considered vulnerable. The Tigers had the lowest free-throw percentage (.618) of any team in the 65-team tournament, and it got so bad at the line, Calipari told his players to forget about practicing and just visualize success.
It worked, as Memphis made 26 of 34 against Nevada. Dorsey, one of the Tigers' biggest liabilities at the line, made four of six to improve his free-throw percentage to .473, another career high.
Larry Brown, the only coach to win championships in the NCAA and NBA, visited Memphis in the preseason. Dorsey remembers getting free-throw advice; Calipari recalls how Brown told Dorsey to emulate a center from his 2003-04 Detroit Pistons, rather than a friend from Baltimore.
"To be Ben Wallace, you have to go after every ball, defend every possession. It's much easier to make [an offensive] play every fifth time down the floor. Joey has never been that workhorse, but that's the only way he's going to be a professional."
Sweet story lines
Defending champion Florida and UCLA hope to buck a trend. Since Maryland won the 2002 title a year after getting to the Final Four, the showcase has had zero returning teams among 16 participants.
SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE
Tennessee's Chris Lofton, who gets nearly half his points on three-pointers, is the only 20-point scorer left. Ohio State can extend its defense on Lofton tonight because it has Greg Oden, the top shot-blocker in the Sweet 16.
If North Carolina is stopped this weekend, the Atlantic Coast Conference will be absent from the Final Four for a second straight year. That last occurred in 1979 and 1980.
FIRST TO 50 POINTS WINS?
Watch the shot clock tonight in San Jose, Calif. UCLA, Ben Howland's current team, allows fewer than 60 points a game. Pittsburgh, his old team, gives up 62.8 per game.
WE'RE ALL NO. 1
Will the Final Four consist of No. 1 seeds for the first time? In 1993, North Carolina, Kentucky and Michigan were all No. 1 seeds. The fourth, Indiana, lost to Kansas, a No. 2 seed.
DON'T GO AWAY
Be flexible about dinner this weekend. In 2005, three of the four regional finals went to overtime. Last year, two needed an extra five minutes.