Sunday, April 01, 2007

March Madness: No Foolin'- BCS title game rematch

Florida manhandles UCLA (again) and Ohio State outlasts Georgetown to set up an unprecedented title game rematch.

OSU's Ron Lewis had every reason to celebrate and GU's Jeff Green had every reason to hang his head after the Buckeye's Final Four win over the Hoyas. (AP/CBSportsline)

Florida 76, UCLA 66

Ohio State 67, Georgetown 60

Is it any surprise that I carried my penchant for making horrid picks in the NFL season over to college hoops?

With my 0-2 stink bomb in the Final 4 I held onto my well-earned moniker of The World's Worst Gambler, which is why I'm smart enough not to actually throw my money away. Unless you count the office pool, in which my bracket has been dead longer than Anna Nicole Smith (friggin' Longhorns!)

But despite my shitty predictions the title game will be a compelling match up for many reasons, not the least of which will be the "rematch" angle. You can be sure ESPN and every other network, talk radio show and Internet site will beat this one to death, so be prepared to hear "this is the first time two schools have played each other for the football and basketball championships in the same year" about 64,527 times between now and tomorrow night at 9:00.

Another surefire storyline will be the young Bucks going up against the veteran Gators. If Florida was to go on and win the title it would become the first team in history to repeat with the same exact starting five as the previous season. Meanwhile Ohio State has cruised to a 22-game winning streak since it got crushed by the Gators back in December on the strength of its two Fab Frosh plus excellent support from an emerging supporting cast.

Before we get to the championship game let's recap how both teams locked up the right to go toe-to-toe again. Although I was at the wedding and reception last night and didn't see much of the action live, thanks to the trusty HD-DVR I caught the edited version of the FF this afternoon as I lounged off my tanguerayover.

Despite Oden's foul trouble the Buckeyes lead early and pull away late to knock off disappointed Hoyas

Mike Conley Jr. strapped the Buckeyes to his back and got them to the title game

I knew it was going to happen. Billy Packer knew it was going to happen. Dickie V. knew it was going to happen. Shit Borat probably knew it was going to happen. And sure enough, it happened.

"It" would refer to the much ballyhooed "Battle of the Big Men" between Greg Oden and Roy Hibbert turning into a foul-plagued washout as both 7-footers compiled fouls early and often to negate what could have been the best match up of the tournament. Oden picked up his 1st foul :18 into the game and his 2nd less than three minutes later and had to sit for the rest of the half, while Hibbert got whistled for his second midway through the opening half, pulling the e-brake on what was shaping up to be a monster game.

As everyone also predicted once the big men had to sit the other star players would take over, and Mike Conley Jr. had no problem rising to the occasion. The fearless freshman guard carried the Buckeyes in the first half, scoring 11 of his 15 points on 5-6 shooting while wreaking havoc on defense and moving the ball brilliantly. The Buckeyes capitalized on numerous Hoya turnovers and at one point had scored 13 of its 20 points off of takeaways to take a 27-23 lead at the break despite Oden having zero points and zero rebounds in 3 minutes of PT.

Georgetown woke up to start the second half, shooting 70% from the field in the first 10 minutes while outscoring OSU 21-17 to tie the game at 44 despite Oden playing and playing well (8 pts, 4 rebs to begin the half.) Unfortunately for the Hoyas superstar forward Jeff Green came up very small in the biggest game of his career. The Big East Player of the Year was held to nine points and took just five shots; he didn't even take his first shot until there were 3:00 minutes left in the first half. Blame part of the awful performance on a solid Ohio State defensive scheme, but a big part of the blame for this loss will rest squarely on that man's shoulders.

That's because once Hibbert picked up his 4th foul with just under 9:00 left having scored 15 of GU's 44 points, Ohio State would break the game open with a quick 6-0 run. The Hoyas would stay within striking distance, but with Oden working his way to a decent 13-point, 9 rebound effort, Hibbert shut down and Jeff Green doing his best invisible man imitation the Buckeyes were able to hang on and seal its first entry to the championship game since 1962.

What if? What if the two big guys had been able to stay foul-free and we were able to witness a memorable clash of true top-flite college centers dunk and swat their team to the title game. One thing we learned from this one is that while the Buckeyes would love Oden to be on the floor for more than 20 minutes a game they know they can still win without him.

Georgetown cannot say the same regarding Hibbert.

The Gators bitchslap the Bruins again and end their season for the second consecutive season

Noah, Richard and Brewer are three big reasons the Gators have a chance to repeat

Arron Afflalo should grab some serious couch time with Dr. Melfi (gotta get in Sopranos mode)after he and his UCLA Bruins were manhandled by the Florida Gators for the second year in a row.

Last year the Gators trounced UCLA in the championship game as leading-scorer Afflalo was held to a meager 10 points and only 10 shots. Last night Afflalo did score 17, second-highest on the team, but struggled from the field (5-14) and was limited to 24 minutes due to Oden-esque foul trouble. And for the first time this postseason the Gators looked like they were ready, willing, and able to play quality basketball from start to finish, and because of that they did finish off the Bruins yet again.

Although Joakim Noah had his worst scoring game of the tourney with only 8 points, his 11 rebounds and 4 blocks set the tone defensively for Florida. With Al Horford contributing a mammoth 17 board performance but only 9 points the offense ran through the trio of Lee Humphrey (14 pts), Chris Richard (16pts) and Corey Brewer (game-high 19 pts.) Brewer kept the Gators in control in the first half when he had scored 12 of the team's first 19 points while Afflalo sat most of the half with three fouls.

The game was low-scoring and tight early, just the way the Bruins wanted it, and the teams were tied at 16 with 6 1/2 to play in the opening half. The Gators then went on a quick 10-0 run sparked by consecutive treys from Brewer and Humphrey, and with Afflalo and center Lorenzo Mata in foul trouble the defensive-minded Bruins could never get its true game going. In fact it was the imposing defensive play of Florida, exemplified by back-to-back blocks by Horford and Brewer during the run, that may have decided this one. Florida blocked 6 shots, out-rebounded the Bruins by 17 and held UCLA to just 39% from the field.

UCLA did cut it to a 6-point deficit, 29-23, at the half, but a soul-crushing 17-4 run near the start of the second half spelled doom for the over matched Bruins. The Gators finally played like champions and dispensed with the team it faced in last year's title game.

On Monday night we'll see if they can knock off the same school that its football team bludgeoned for a championship less than 3 months ago.

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