The heart of the matter (cont.)
Posted: Monday April 2, 2007 9:33AM; Updated: Monday April 2, 2007 9:33AM
So we can understand now in retrospect that Florida's pursuit of this title began last April, when Green, Brewer, Joakim Noah and Al Horford decided not to pursue NBA riches and return to Gainesville for one more try at the brass ring. Most of the time when a player makes that decision, the skeptic in me believes he came back because he didn't like his draft status. But that was not the case here. Having already faced the chance to turn pro, the players could return to school without worrying about their future. That was critical, because the No. 1-thing that derails a veteran team's repeat hopes is competing agendas from players who are trying to impress pro scouts more than they're trying to win games.
I think Noah deserves special credit for helping the Gators overcome the challenges that normally upend repeat seekers. He was the MOP of last year's Final Four and would have presumably been the highest pick of the four. So he gave up the most by coming back. Noah is also the emotional sparkplug on this team. Sometimes his emotions can go haywire, but because of the intense pressure and expectations, this team needed his incredible energy much moreso than last year's. I still hear people picking at Noah's offensive deficiencies, but you can't deny he's a great, great player. He scores a lot because he is a tremendous rebounder. He is a smart player and a highly skilled passer, which is a considerable weapon because he sees so many double teams. You will rarely see a player his size play such good defense both around the basket and beyond the three-point line.
As for the matchup tonight, Ohio State obviously has some weapons of its own, and we know the Buckeyes are a vastly improved team over the one that lost to Florida by 26 back on Dec. 23. (They also won't have to play this game in Gainesville.) But if Greg Oden has been dealing with foul trouble the entire tournament (after not fouling out once this season), then it's hard to see how he could avoid foul trouble tonight going up against Noah, Horford and 6-foot-9 senior Chris Richard, who came off the bench to score 16 points against UCLA Saturday night. The Gators are also much better equipped to stop Ohio State's transition game than Georgetown was. If anything, Florida is more comfortable playing at a quicker tempo. So unless Florida absolutely, positively cannot hit an outside shot, or unless it commits upwards of 25 turnovers, it's hard to envision a scenario that results in a Buckeyes' win.
So it's time to stop overthinking this stuff. It's time to stop denying the obvious. It's time to stop worrying about the specter of history and acknowledge the history we are witnessing. This is all over but the shouting, folks. Florida wins, 80-69. My heart is all-in on this one.