Monday, April 02, 2007

March Madness: The Championship Game

1Florida Gators (34-5) vs. 1 Ohio State Buckeyes (35-3)

The BCS rematch should feature plenty of big plays by star players, but in order for the Buckeyes to avenge the football team's humiliating title loss, center Greg Oden needs to stay out of foul trouble and on the court.

There are a number of firsts that would be established should the Gators hoist the national championship trophy just a few hours from now. It would be the first team to repeat as champion since the Duke Blue Devils did it in 1992; the first team to win both the football and basketball titles in the same season; and the first team to beat the same school for said titles in the same year.

Oh yeah, and the first team to repeat using the same starting five both seasons.

Whew, that's a lot of potential firsts.

But there is no guarantee in this sport, and Ohio State has as good a chance as anyone to knock off the reigning champs and stealing back some of the thunder the gators stole from the university after that BCS Championship game blowout.

Let's take a look at what both teams need to do to take home the title.

Ohio State will win if...
...they play the same kind of smart, team basketball that has gotten them to this point: a 22-game winning streak and oozing boatloads of confidence.

In order for that to happen superstar center Greg Oden is going to have to steer clear of the foul trouble that has plagued him throughout this tourney; the 7'0" frosh has amassed 17 fouls in the last 4 games and has only averaged 24 minutes per game in that span. When he's on floor he will negate some of the inside presence of Joakim Noah and Al Horford; when he sits those two will tear the Bucks apart underneath, and the title will be all but theirs for the taking.

Also, point guard Mike Conley Jr. must continue his stellar play; the fab freshman is averaging 15 points and 5 assists per game in the tourney and his expert ball handling, cat-like quickness and smart decision making has kept the team afloat when Oden has had to ride the pine. Oh and senior guard Ron Lewis, the hero of OSU's win over Xavier in the regional semis, needs to play like the guy who averaged 25 PPG against Xavier, Tennessee & Memphis, not the one who scored 9 against Georgetown Saturday night.

Throw in a few threes by G Jamar Butler, points from Ivan Harris and Davis Lighty and quality minutes from big men Matt Terwilliger & Othello Hunter and the Buckeyes could surprise the college basketball world.

The Gators will win if...
...if they play like they did the other night against UCLA. That team came out with a passion, intensity and determination that had been absent from nearly every Florida game this tourney. Sure they were beating people, but they weren't beating up people.

And make no mistake the Bruins did get beat up by the Gators for the second season in a row. UCLA is an extremely tough, disciplined and fundamentally solid team and Florida made them look like Coppin State, forcing the Bruins into taking bad shots, committing bad fouls, and taking them out of their game before the halftime buzzer had died down. if the Gators come out playing like that again tonight, the Buckeyes might have no chance against that kind of juggernaut.

Noah will be the key once again. Even if he doesn't score, which he hasn't done much of in the tourney (12 PPG), he must clog the middle and rebound & block shots like he did against the Bruins. That will leave perimeter players like Lee Humphrey and Taurean Green to hit from the outside while versatile forward Corey Brewer, who scored 19 against UCLA Saturday night can score from beyond and from inside the arc. Widebody Al Horford will surely get his rebounds, and don't forget about underrated & emerging forward Chris Richard, who had 16 points Saturday night.

When the Gators are clicking on all cylinders they are an efficient and deadly animal, literally & figuratively. Even when a couple members of that special returning starting five has an off night though, the rest of the group is talented enough to kill off most threats with just a slight increase in intensity. It's going to be tough to keep this team from its supposed destiny, and it's going to be tougher to live in this state as a Gator Hater after that.

MY PREDICTION: The Buckeyes are young, talented, and fearless when it comes to the big stage. But just like in the BCS title game, all that cockiness and talent doesn't mean a thing when the whistle blows. The bright lights of being square in the middle of the national spotlight will almost surely rear it ugly head with the young Bucks, while the Gators should have a Patriot-like "been here, done this, let's take home another trophy and collect our NBA paychecks" attitude. Could be close, but should be Gators.

Florida 77, Ohio State 70

MOP: Brewer

No comments: