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Fueled by 'hate' (cont.)

Posted: Monday April 2, 2007 10:24AM; Updated: Monday April 2, 2007 5:34PM
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3. Florida's most underrated quality is its ability to defend the three ...
... and as much as Oden is the bearded baron of the paint, the Buckeyes have depended on treys for 30 percent of their points this season. They wouldn't be in the title game if not for clutch three-pointers from Ron Lewis, Jamar Butler and Ivan Harris. The Gators, meanwhile, have been locking down the perimeter all year, holding opponents to 28.9 percent. That's second in the nation only behind Belmont. The Buckeyes shot just 30.4 percent (7-of-23) from beyond the arc in the Dec. 23 meeting between these teams, and in Saturday's semifinal, Florida held UCLA to 21.7 percent (5-of-23).

The Gators' feel that the most likely scenario in which they'd get upset -- since they're always the most talented team on the floor -- involves a hot-shooting three-point team. Therefore, they do everything in their power to limit (or at least contest) long-distance attempts. As Florida assistant coach Larry Shyatt said, "If we can make people take tougher twos instead of threes, over the course of the game, we'll be behind less scoring runs."

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Two-guard Lee Humphrey, whose rep is as a devastating three-point shooter, is also a valuable perimeter defender alongside Brewer and Green. He described their defensive tactics thusly: "We always talk about keeping our heels above the three-point line. We feel like if we've got guys taking threes, at least they're taking hard threes. ... And a lot of times, we'll sacrifice a two-pointer instead."

4. Oden is incapable of staying out of foul trouble.
It sure would be a nice story -- although not nearly as historic as Florida repeating -- if Oden played like a T-Rex in the title game and delivered a phenomenal farewell performance before entering the NBA draft. One problem: The men holding the whistles aren't going to let it happen.

Oden fouled out against Xavier in the second round, and has been burdened with four fouls in every game since. He played just under three minutes in the first half against Georgetown, and said on Sunday, "It just seems to me that [the referees] call more ticky-tack fouls than they did in the regular season, especially in the Big Ten season."

Oden was right: ticky-tack was the theme of the first half against the Hoyas. But his failure to adjust from liberal Big Ten officiating to the more careful refereeing of the Big Dance has limited his impact. When he gets caught bodying Brewer on a slashing move to the hole, slapped with his second foul in the first 10 minutes and sent to the pine, it will be the beginning of the end for the Buckeyes.

5. Florida is delusional enough to cast the NCAA tournament as Gators vs. A World Of Haters ... and it's exactly the faux-fuel their mission needs.
The worry about a team like Florida, which has already experienced a national title and lives like royalty in Gainesville, is that it could have become complacent. These Gators have interpreted any doubt that they could repeat as "hate" -- and then poured it into their proverbial gas tank and milked it for Prius-level mileage. After winning the Midwest Regional in St. Louis, Noah said, "Keep hating! It fuels the fire. Hopefully we can get two more wins -- then people can really keep hating."

Noah has often referred to the "microscope" that Florida has been under, and it's very real; the Gators' juniors have been under intense scrutiny during their encore run. But the "hate" part might be little bit of a stretch. I suspect that even though Noah only mock-scoffed at Ron Lewis' press-conference statement that they were just "good" rather than "great" -- it was a subtle George W.-like dig, a la his "Democrat Party" assault -- they'll use it for additional fuel.

Everywhere but inside Florida's locker room, the Gators are the overwhelming, undoubted favorite. Hardly a soul in Atlanta doesn't expect them to win. And they will win. They'd just prefer to feel persecuted in the process.

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