NCAA Championship Preview
[img_assist|nid=3959|title=Corey Brewer - AP Photo: Eric Gay|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=250|height=357]Well, I was wrong again.
Guess what, I’m not learning. I’m going to doubt Ohio State once more. Florida is my pick. They were my preseason pick, and I doubted them only because of weaknesses shown at points in the regular season.
My preseason picks would have led to a better bracket than what I ended up with. Florida beating UNC in the championship, with UCLA and Kansas in the Final Four, to remind you. If Florida wins it all, I’m not going to claim to have gotten it right all along. However, I’ve learned that when a team like Florida shows signs of struggle in the regular season, it may not mean anything.
They’’ve looked dominant once again this postseason, and now have the opportunity to face a team they beat by 26 points early in the regular season. In that game, Greg Oden was bullied by Al Horford, Joakim Noah and Chris Richard, and didn’’t look like the No. 1 pick he will wind up being.
With that said, the Buckeyes and Oden have clearly improved. Mike Conley has taken his game to the next level over the course of the tournament and looks like a lottery pick at this point. Jamar Butler has settled into his role of playing off the ball because of Conley’s success. Ron Lewis has looked like a future Most Outstanding Player at times.
And with that said, I’m still going with the Gators to repeat. The matchups are in their favor and the Gators are proven. Very proven.
I’d like to see Ohio State win. Florida has taken home the past basketball and football championships, and it seems simply unfair to allow them to win another basketball championship.
I just don’t see it happening.
Anyway, as long as I keep claiming to be an analyst, I might as well inspect some of the matchups involved in this game.
Point Guard: Mike Conley vs. Taurean Green
Green looked awful against UCLA, the only Gators starter that didn’t have a fantastic game. Conley has played his best basketball of the season, looking like everything you would want out of a point guard. Darren Collison is a better defender than Conley, but Green will still face tough pressure as Conley is a capable defender with the ability to put pressure on the ball. Still, Green is a superior shooter and has much more experience. He will present a tough matchup for Conley, who has never faced a point guard of Green’s caliber in the postseason.
Shooting Guard: Jamar Butler vs. Lee Humphrey
Butler is a heady guard who is comfortable on and off the ball offensively. He is also a stout defender and outstanding streak shooter. Humphrey has been on fire in the past two games. He’s an amazing shooter with surprising quickness. He also benefits from having two great post players who kick the ball out to him for open shots regularly. As a result, he is infinitely valuable to the Gators who are unbeatable when the 6-foot-2-inch guard has a big game. However, Butler is a superior defender, ball handler and decision maker with the ability to double as a second point guard on the court. This is the toughest decision amongst the matchups, and could prove to be the biggest in the game.
Small Forward: Ron Lewis vs. Corey Brewer
Lewis carried the Buckeyes on his back early in the tournament, specifically in remarkable comeback victories over Xavier and Tennessee. However, he played poorly against Georgetown and throughout the regular season was inconsistent. If he is cold, the Buckeyes will really struggle. And against Brewer, the best defender in the NCAA, that is a very realistic possibility. Brewer’s length and athleticism make him an impossible matchup for anyone on the NCAA level. He has shown flashes of true brilliance and has complied an outstanding tournament. However, he is also subject to streakiness and can fall out of offensive rhythm easily.
Power Forward: Ivan Harris vs. Joakim Noah
With no offense to Harris, the former McDonald’s All-American has no shot at matching up one-on-one with Noah for an entire game. He will surely get help. Harris is an athletic shooter with good basketball instincts. He is a strong defender who can do a lot as a role player for the Buckeyes. Noah is a star on the collegiate level. Though he hasn’t been the top gun for the Gators during the course of the tournament, he has been very strong, especially on the boards and defensively. His well-rounded game and emotional leadership are crucial to the Gators’ success.
Center: Greg Oden vs. Al Horford
The Gators will likely throw a combination of big men at Oden. They may even use Brewer on the big Buckeye. However, Horford will likely be asked to be the primary matchup. Oden is the best player in the game. Horford is probably the second best. This matchup is one that the Buckeyes must win in order to stand a chance against the Gators. These two are very likely future top picks, and the marquee matchup of the game.
Top Bench Big Man: Othello Hunter vs. Chris Richard
In the easiest matchup to decide, Richard runs away with this contest. He may be the best sixth man in the country. He’s a bruising force and an outstanding low post defender who pushed around Oden earlier this year and looked like a top caliber starter against UCLA. Hunter is an athletic, talented big man who should have a strong season next year, when he will step into the starting lineup. Essentially, he is what you want coming off your bench. Richard is what you dream of.
Top Bench Guard: Daequan Cook vs. Walter Hodge
This matchup is complicated. Like most teams come tournament time, the Buckeyes and Gators rely heavily on their starting guards. So both Cook and Hodge have seen their minutes reduced. Cook is more talented. Hodge has played much better down the stretch. Hodge also has the advantage of being able to play both guard positions effectively. Both are streak scorers, though Cook can take over a game when he gets hot. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, it’s been a LONG while since he’s stepped up in a big game.
Coach: Thad Matta vs. Billy Donovan
Both of these men are geniuses. Both can really coach and are outstanding motivators, which is huge at this time of the year. Matta has proven his abilities throughout the tournament, making one of the most fantastic mid-game adjustments I’ve ever seen in the remarkable comeback win over Tennessee. Donovan has experience under his belt that every young coach would envy. He is intense and commands the respect of his players as well as any coach this side of Bobby Knight. Donovan’s experience - he’s been here twice before - gives him the slight edge even though Matta may be the better basketball mind.
I’m going to leave you with that. The Gators won five of eight categories. They have the better starting lineup and bench. The best player on the court will be Oden. In the end, if Oden can stay in the game Ohio State will certainly have a shot. Or the Gators could just win easily either way.
Or who knows, maybe my continued doubt of the Buckeyes will leave me proven wrong once again.
I’ll be watching.