Analyzing the Madness - Final Four Preview
By Adi Joseph
[img_assist|nid=3972|title=Mike Conley - AP Photo: David J. Phillip|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=250|height=376]Why do I still doubt Ohio State?
At every point this year, I’ve continued to feel that Ohio State was not an elite level team. In their loss to North Carolina, even with Greg Oden’s return in mind I felt like their front court was simply too weak. Oden was back for the Florida game, but he played weak and Florida ran all over the young Buckeyes. Against Wisconsin, despite a brilliant comeback I felt the inexperience of the Thad Five was showing.
Then they didn’t lose again. Sure, they showed their vulnerability in several games throughout the season, not the least of which were back-to-back incredible comebacks against Xavier and Tennessee which propelled the Buckeyes into the Elite Eight. However, they’ve also looked dominant in beating Wisconsin for the Big 10 title, and crushed more opponents than not throughout the course of the year.
Saturday’’s win over Memphis should have told me something more about this team - about how good they can be. Still, I enter the Final Four a non-believer. I have come up with excuses of sorts as to why they aren’t worthy. Yet no one entered the tournament riding a hot streak as impressive as the Buckeyes, and no one has continued that hot streak quite like them either.
So maybe I am picking against them again this weekend. Maybe I believe Georgetown is the hottest team in town. Maybe I just prefer a deep front court over a deep backcourt. Or maybe I’m just wrong, again.
After breaking down each team’s strengths and weaknesses last week, I’m going to rank them in several key categories this week. Enjoy.
1. Florida Gators (Corey Brewer, Al Horford, Joakim Noah)
2. Georgetown Hoyas (Dajuan Summers, Jeff Green, Roy Hibbert)
3. Ohio State Buckeyes (Ivan Harris, Greg Oden)
4. UCLA Bruins (Josh Shipp, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Lorenzo Mata)
Before going any further, the frontcourt and backcourt rankings are based on starting lineups alone. As a result, Florida’s got a major advantage. Brewer-Horford-Noah has been the best starting frontcourt combination all season, and the primary reason the Gators have been the odds-on championship favorite all season. Those three have amazing athleticism and versatile skill sets. Georgetown’s outstanding as well, with Green being one of the top 10 players in the nation and Hibbert coming into his own throughout the tournament. Watch out for Summers, too, who will be a star next season. Ohio State is weak around Oden, but simply having Oden means they have the best player left in the tournament. Harris is a good x-factor type player, too. UCLA is adding Kevin Love next year, but for now could use more production out of their big men. Shipp is a nice all-around player but Mbah a Moute and Mata add next-to-nothing on the offensive end, holding the Bruins back.
1. UCLA Bruins (Darren Collison, Arron Afflalo)
2. Ohio State Buckeyes (Mike Conley Jr., Jamar Butler, Ron Lewis)
3. Florida Gators (Taurean Green, Lee Humphrey)
4. Georgetown Hoyas (Jonathan Wallace, Jessie Sapp)
UCLA has the best backcourt duo in the nation. Collison is an amazing defender who can single-handedly prevent opposing offenses from settling into offensive rhythm. He is also a great creator and capable scorer. Afflalo is a leader and a great scorer when he’s on. Though he has a tendency to be streaky, Afflalo is the heart of the Bruins and has the ability to lead them to the promised land. Ohio State has the best freshman point guard in the country in Conley, who has proven himself to be wise beyond his years and an instinctual point guard with great skills. Butler and Lewis have a penchant for big shots, especially three pointers, and both are capable of exploding on a given night. Lewis has been on fire throughout the tournament. Florida’s Green and Humphrey have displayed a strong combination of smarts and skills throughout the season. Both are marksmen, and with Green improving his decision making these two provide a nice compliment to the Gators’ incredible frontcourt. For Georgetown, Wallace has developed into a nice point guard, hitting a huge three-pointer against North Carolina near the end of regulation. Sapp is a hardnosed defender with point guard instincts. Neither is a true point guard though, and both have had some issues with decision making.
1. Ohio State Buckeyes (Daequan Cook, Othello Hunter, David Lighty)
2. Florida Gators (Chris Richard, Walter Hodge, Dan Werner)
3. UCLA Bruins (Michael Roll, Alfred Aboya, Russell Westbrook)
4. Georgetown Hoyas (Patrick Ewing Jr., Jeremiah Rivers, Vernon Macklin)
More than any other team remaining, the Buckeyes rely on good bench play. Cook is an amazing streak shooter, who can bury a team when he catches fire, while Lighty can play lock down defense and occasionally provides an offensive spark. Hunter and Matt Terwilliger have proven to be solid big men who can relieve Oden from time to time. The Gators have one of the nation’s top sixth men in Richard, a bruiser with biceps the size of trees. Hodge is an undersized shooting guard with enough ball handling abilities and speed to run the point as well. He can be electric at times. Those two alone give the Gators good strength as the key rotation players. UCLA relies heavily on their starting lineup, but Roll and Aboya are very capable reserves. Roll provides a smooth gunner to relieve Shipp and Afflalo while Aboya is an athletic big man with developing skils. Beyond Ewing, Georgetown really lacks a bench threat. Rivers is incapable of running the offense full time while Macklin has worked his way into John Thompson III’s doghouse.
1. Florida Gators (79.8 points per game)
2. Georgetown Hoyas (69.3 points per game)
3. Ohio State Buckeyes (74.7 points per game)
4. UCLA Bruins (71.5 points per game)
Florida is and has been the best offense in the nation all season. The Gators rank first in field goal percentage and points per possession, and do so because of their great balance and tremendous size, which allows them to score down low consistently. All five starters and both top reserves are outstanding scorers, so the Gators are capable of exploiting matchups better than any team in the country. Georgetown runs arguably the best half court offense in the country with their twisted Princeton style whittling away at the clock and finding the open look more often than not. Ohio State’s propensity to shoot has made them as good a scoring team as you’ll ever find in the Big 10, and Oden provides some diversity. UCLA gets almost all their scoring from Collison, Afflalo and Shipp, but that works just fine for the Bruins, who are very efficient on the break.
1. UCLA Bruins (59.5 points allowed per game)
2. Ohio State Buckeyes (61.4 points allowed per game)
3. Florida Gators (62.2 points allowed per game)
4. Georgetown Hoyas (57.8 points allowed per game)
One blatant fact is that the four teams remaining all play outstanding defense. Each has a top three defender at their respective position (Collison, Oden, Brewer and Hibbert), to go along with a number of other individual defensive stars. Each team also buys into the team concept. UCLA slows their opponents down with outstanding ball pressure at every position. Mbah a Moute, specifically, has found a niche guarding bigger players, so they can matchup against teams with much more size. Ohio State plays in the Big 10, the league of defense. They’ve grinded it out enough to figure out how to pressure on the ball aggressively while relying on Oden to alter every shot inside. The Gators simply combine their size and athleticism with great defensive intensity, giving them the matchup advantages in nearly every case. Georgetown slows the pacing down enough on the offensive end that other teams cannot develop rhythm. The Hoyas use their intelligent, mistake-free offense to force other teams into scoring in the half court, then they use their outstanding athletes to make that task difficult as well.
Game Notes: North Carolina blew the game and their chance at a Final Four because of poor shot selection out of their backcourt, which boggles my mind. Brandan Wright was having the game of his life and Tyler Hansbrough is the team’s best player, yet the Tar Heels decided to jack up jumpers instead of pushing the ball inside… The NIT Finals are here, and Clemson vs. West Virginia should be a study in contrasting styles. I’m giving my edge to the Mountaineers, who are simply too efficient and intelligent to be affected much by Clemson’s tough zone. Clemson’’s inability to defend in the half court has been exploited before, and they will struggle to defend against the Mountaineers’ spacing and shooting abilities… I don’t have much more to say, but look for a season wrap-up next week. It’s been fun.