Five things we learned
Gators close in on rare feat, Ohio State is versatile
Posted: Saturday March 31, 2007 11:34PM; Updated: Saturday March 31, 2007 11:34PM
ATLANTA -- Five things we learned today at the Final Four (while whiffing in our comical attempt at a "shug" with Kevin Durant):
1. Repeat after me: The History Boys isn't just the name of a good movie. It's also starting to look like a good nickname for the Florida Gators, who are on the brink of achieving one of the rarest feats in modern American team sports: a repeat NCAA men's basketball championship. When the Gators are hitting their three-pointers -- and they certainly were in their 76-66 win over UCLA, going 9 for 22 from long range -- they're nearly unbeatable. If Ohio State is going to have any chance of knocking off the champs (who drilled the Buckeyes 86-60 in December) on Monday, they'll have to defend like demons on the perimeter and keep Florida's talented big guys from taking advantage of Greg Oden's foul-prone ways.
2. Having "two teams" isn't a bad thing for Ohio State. "The hardest part for us is that in essence we've been coaching two different teams this year," Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said recently, noting how everything changed when Oden's wrist injury kept him off the court early in the season. But based on Oden's chronic foul trouble during this tournament, I'd say it's a good thing Ohio State is so comfortable both as a lethal transition team (when Oden's on the bench) and as a punishing halfcourt team (when Oden's working down low). When Oden was out for most of the first half against Georgetown due to foul trouble, point guard Mike Conley Jr. took over the game, scoring on slashing drives and spraying passes like a magician. But when Oden returned the big guy seized control, scoring all 13 of his points in the second half and imposing his will on the game at the defensive end. If both Buckeyes teams can keep this up on Monday, maybe they should award them two trophies.
3. The zebras should have swallowed their whistles. It's a shame that UCLA's Arron Afflalo picked up three fouls in the first nine minutes against Florida, virtually sinking the Bruins' chances. As for Game 1, the only thing rarer than a Final Four battle between two 7-footers is a Final Four battle between two 7-footers without foul trouble. Oden and Georgetown's Roy Hibbert picked up their first fouls in the opening minute and barely spent any time on the court at the same time, a crushing disappointment for everyone who came to see the main event between the two Godzillas. On the few occasions when they did go mano-a-mano, it was a sight to behold. Hibbert certainly improved his NBA stock by holding his own against Oden (and even showing off a surprising 17-foot jumper), while Oden dusted off a smooth right-handed hook when he wasn't busy intimidating the hell out of anyone who dared enter the lane.
4. Lee Humphrey is becoming a Final Four legend. If you're keeping score at home, that's three straight Final Four contests in which Humphrey has broken open the game early in the second half with a three-point barrage. Yet just as important as Humpty's two treys to kick off the second half were the remarkable assists by Al Horford, who created both shots with cross-court diagonal inside-out passes. Amazing stuff. Small wonder Horford was Florida's leading assist man (with 3).
5. Florida thinks its snazzy new Nike jerseys are cursed. Don't expect to see the return of Florida's fancy alligator-skin-patterned jerseys that debuted in the Gators' 86-76 loss at Tennessee on Feb. 27. The reason depends on who you talk to. "We're superstitious," Joakim Noah told me the other night. "The jerseys are nice, but Tennessee wasn't one of our best games, and the numbers don't lie." I also liked the reason guard Walter Hodge gave: "A couple of guys thought they were too tight. I loved it, but Chris [Richard]'s jersey was a little smaller. And if one guy doesn't like it..." When asked if the jerseys would return this weekend, Noah shook his head. "No way."
Sports Illustrated senior writer Grant Wahl covers college basketball for the magazine and SI.com.