Get inside March Madness with SI.com's Luke Winn in the Tourney Blog, a daily journal of college basketball commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
3/31/2007 10:51:00 PM
For Ohio State, This Is No Surprise Party
OSU's (from left to right) Mike Conley, Ron Lewis, Greg Oden and David Lighty held Georgetown under 50 percent shooting -- and moved on to face Florida on Monday.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Freshmen Conley and Oden are strong believers in coach Thad Matta.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
ATLANTA -- The postgame modus operandi of Ohio State's Greg Oden, the most stoic superstar in college basketball, usually consists of perfunctory handshaking and a couple of good-game compliments for his teammates. "Normally, that's all he'll do," said fellow freshman Mike Conley Jr., the point guard with whom Oden has formed a devastating duo since they were seventh-graders at Craig Middle School in Indianapolis. Saturday night at their first Final Four, however, was a special occasion, and Conley said Oden took him aside on the floor at the Georgia Dome after their 67-60 win over Georgetown, and said five meaningful words:
"We're here. We made it."
Here, as in 40 minutes away from the national championship that Buckeyes coach Thad Matta told them they could win -- not eventually, if they hung around and developed, but in Year 1 -- back on his visit to the players' Indy homes in 2005. "This was his dream, and he was so confident about it," Oden said of Matta. "This is what he said on our recruiting trip -- that we were going to be here. It's just crazy, like, how the hell did he know that?"
Thad knew it, Greg, because he was bringing in one of the best inside-outside duos ever in college hoops, and putting them on an urgent timetable for greatness. In Conley, he had the phenomenally savvy floor general -- "from the first time I saw [him], I thought he was the perfect point guard for our system," Matta said -- who would go on to score 15 points and dish out six assists against one turnover in Saturday's semifinal. In Oden he had the best college 7-footer since Tim Duncan -- one who would overcome early foul trouble against the Hoyas to score 13 points, grab nine rebounds and affect the interior with his defensive presence. Insert them into a lineup with talented freshman role players like David Lighty (whose defense helped hold G'town star Jeff Green to nine points), and savvy vets like two-guard Jamar Butler (10 points, four assists, zero turnovers), and you have an instant formula for making a national title run.
After Ohio State's victory on Saturday, a beaming Matta stood in front of press row at the Georgia Dome, waiting for his CBS interview to commence. The fact that he was flanked, on such a grand stage, by two freshmen (Oden and Conley) who just sent a junior-laden Georgetown team packing, should be remarkable in the context of college basketball history. And yet the shock factor was entirely absent. This was not the equivalent of the 'Melo-and-McNamara March Madness run, which caught us by surprise in 2003. The rapid rise of the Baby Buckeyes to Monday night's title game had been a giant, red alert on the national radar screen for quite some time.
Conley and Oden last lost a tournament game together in 2003, which was their freshman year of high school at Lawrence North. Since then, they've won three straight high school state titles, a Big Ten tournament title, and gone on a 22-game winning streak to set up a rematch with Florida in Atlanta. To Conley, though, the latter two accomplishments didn't seem like locks when he arrived in Columbus in the summer of '06. "It was kind of weird, that coach was telling us from Day 1 that we were going to be in this moment, and I kind of believed him there," he said. "But now, I'm truly a believer."
If anyone threw doubt into the equation on Saturday, it was Oden, who picked up his second foul just 2:49 into the game and was sent to the bench -- for the rest of the first half -- with a stat line of zero points, zero rebounds, zero blocks and two turnovers. His dinosaur duel with the Hoyas' 7-foot-2 center, Roy Hibbert, looked like it would be a wash, as Hibbert also was whistled for his second foul at the 6:48 mark of the first half.
The only place Oden's presence was felt was on the outside of the Buckeyes' huddles; at the 15:38 media timeout he stood a step behind his ring of teammates, sucking on a water bottle and paying only mild attention to Matta's instructions. At a 9:48 break, Oden no longer looked to be sweating or had any need of hydration, and had drifted far enough away from the huddle that one of the managers actually had to gently nudge him back into the fray. Oden looked on with the expression of an outsider, as if he were peering at his teammates through a storefront window. Ohio State, it seemed, was in danger of its most dominant force checking out for the evening.
Meanwhile, Georgetown -- one of the country's most well-oiled offensive units -- improbably failed to find a way to capitalize on Oden's absence. Part of it was the effectiveness of OSU's zone. Part of it was that Green forgot his mojo back in D.C., finishing with only nine points on five field-goal attempts. "We should have taken advantage of it more," Georgetown freshman DaJuan Summers said of Oden's foul trouble. "We should have gotten inside more. Guys were thinking about it too much. We weren't executing well, and we weren't running our offense the way we normally do."
Still -- how could Ohio State play Oden for less than three minutes against an elite frontcourt and be leading 27-23 at half? The credit goes to Conley, the lighting-quick kid who's so often referred to as Oden's sidekick, but in truth, has most frequently been the Buckeyes' most valuable player.
"When he goes out," Conley said of Oden, "I feel like that's my time to shine."
In the first six minutes of Oden's pine-sentence, Conley scored six points and finished the half with 11 on 5-of-7 shooting. More valuable was the fact that he took care of the ball (committing zero turnovers) while still pushing the pace to a level at which Georgetown was uncomfortable. "North Carolina got them in the first half with a lot of transition buckets, and it really hurt them," Conley said of the Elite Eight game in which the Hoyas trailed by six at the break. "We felt if we could do that, we'd be better off."
Said Matta of Conley, "He did some things today through scouting that I can't explain. I mean, it was amazing. ... When he gets the ball in his hands, he makes great decisions."
Thanks to Conley's breakaway speed (he is, after all, the son of an Olympic gold-medalist in track-and-field), Ohio State finished with a 14-4 advantage in fastbreak points. And although Oden lost the individual battle with Hibbert -- Big Roy had 19 points, and 11 in the second half -- the bearded Buckeye did eventually leave his mark on the game.
Hibbert went out with his fourth foul, a silly hold of Othello Hunter on a long rebound, with 8:50 left in the second half and the game tied at 44-44. Georgetown appeared to be launching into one of its patented, second-half runs, and the Buckeyes needed a counter-punch. Oden provided two brutal blows. He subbed in as Hibbert shuffled toward the Hoyas bench, and scored over Green in the paint 21 seconds later. At the 6:37 mark Oden erupted: He took off from a step inside the free-throw line and seemingly raised the ball up to top-of-backboard height before trying to dunk it over Green. The two players collided, the ball went off the back rim, and they both collapsed to the floor. Green was whistled for a block. While Oden only made one of his free throws, it was a statement play that riled the crowd and deflated the Hoyas, who never got closer than four for the rest of the night.
In the locker room afterwards, where Oden was cracking rare smiles and freely offering up his Matta memories, he had only one lament. "If I would have made that dunk," Oden said with genuine disappointment, "it would have been on the One Shining Moment tape."
Still 40 more minutes to audition for Luther Vandross' music video, Greg. If it plays out just like Matta envisioned two years ago in central Indiana, both you and your point guard will be among the final, indelible images -- and it won't seem the least bit crazy.
Today's game cemented in my mind the fact that Greg Oden is not ready for the NBA. I know he's got tremendous upside, but a marginal future NBA player (Hibbert) totally got the better of Mr. Oden.
Mike Conley, however, is far and away the most polished point in the country right now. The way he handles the Buckeyes is mind blowing from a freshman.
I hope the college game sees both Conley and Oden for another year, both to develop and to provide some excitement. But, by this time next year, I expect both players to be on lousy NBA teams wishing for the days of winning with Thad.
Oden isn't ready. He got dominated by Big Roy and everybody saw it except the sportswriters who would like to pretend it didn't happen. Also, it should be noted that the blocking call on Green when Oden plowed over and through him for that dunk attempt was criminal. Now the NCAA has what it wanted all along: the all-Nike final between Florida and Ohio State. Wake me up when next season gets started.
Oden may not be ready for the leage quite yet, but for anyone to say he was dominated by hibbert is absolutely absurd. They were on the floor together for a total of 6 minutes of the entire game. In that time, hibbert may have gotten a couple of extra buckets just because Oden was being smart and not committing fouls on shots he couldnt stop. Anyone that says the reason georgetown lost this game was because of hibberts foul trouble, should jump off a cliff because hibbert only averages 26 minutes a game as it is. He played 24 minutes. Oden averages almost 30 minutes a game and only played 20. Points count, but nobody can underestimate the mental edge that Oden gives the bucks when hes on the floor....whether he's scoring, blocking shots, rebounding, or just picking his damn nose. He is the most influential player in college basketball. Other notes.....Conley is probably the best point guard in the country, Butler is the most underated two guard in the country, Ron Lewis just played his way into an NBA conract, and Lighty is one of the premier defensive players in the country....ps. mad props to Terwilliger, Cook, Harris, and Hunter!!!!
What was criminal was the flop Green took for Oden's second foul. Remember you can not move underneath someone when they are in the air. I agree that Oden is not readdy for the NBA, but Hibbert did not get the best of him. I would call it a draw. Conley again was the best player on the court and is the best point guard in the country.
Oden got dominated by "Big Roy"? What game were you watching? Oden had 13 points and 9 rebounds in the second half after basically not playing in the first half. This came from a guy that is a freshman, missed the first 7 games of the season and played with one hand until recently. Did you see the air Oden got on that attempted dunk over Green? Hibberet could only do that with a trampoline. Hibbert played well, but I'll take Oden over Hibbert any day of the week and that will be proven eventually in the NBA draft.
I have a ton of respect for the tradition of tenacious defense, sound coaching, and strong character started by John Thompson II, and you certainly think that anyone who played against Bill Russell in practice everyday certainly earned his paycheck. So, am I a Hoyas fan, hoping the III is cut from the same fine piece of cloth? No, not until they ditch that accursed Princeton offense. It is just plain ugly. As an NCSU fan, I saw more of that than I ever want to see again. So, God bless the Thompson family, but Pulll-EEEEEEEEZE, find an offense that it not offensive to watch. It should only be allowed in the NIT.
OHIO STATE has once again shown that they can play ball with all the other so called "giants" of the NCAA. Mike Conley Jr. is very underrated and he is really the key to that OSU ball club. Also, the officiating in Saturdays game was horrendous. BUCKS-GATORS! YOU CAN'T BEAT THAT!!
The bottom line is that when Oden and Hibbert were both in the game, Georgetown was the better team. The fourth foul call on Hibbert, which was a ridiculous call in a game like that, basically gave the game to the Hoyas. And then the block call when Oden tried to dunk it over Green was TOTALLY absurd when Green was camped out there. Hibbert scored on Oden whenever he wanted. Oden got most of his points when Hibbert was not in the game.
To the guy who said that Oden and Conley would be happier playing on a bad team as long as they had huge contracts... They have their entire careers to get huge contracts. They may only have four years of having a team that can win four national championships. Also, as far as I'm concerned, there is much more glory in winning the NCAA tourny than the dragged-out NBA title. College is some of the best years in a persons life and people need to remember that money can't get you everything!
Saw Ogden play in the Southern Regional Finals against Memphis. For a freshman he has excellent skills, great footwork, and is just simply intimidating.
When he was out of the game, Memphis had the opportunity to win. It would not have been a cakewalk by any means. OSU has a very tricky slashing offense when Ogden is off the court, and the OSU players play it to almost sheer perfection. For a freshman Conley is outstanding. He is outstanding for a Senior. They do get a tremendous amount of fouls out of their offense and are ok at shooting the free throws. They have been stellar in the tourney.
When he was in the game, he simply just shifted the momentum of the game to OSU. Memphis is a little light at big man. After Dorsey, Memphis is light in this area. Ogden is a little quicker, taller, and a few more tools than Dorsey. Not as much as the stats showed I think but he did have the advantage.
Ogden could benefit greatly from a couple more years in colledge. He obviously has some skills to refine. And there is also the simple joy of growing up, gaining some wisdom, and enjoying your youth before the grind of NBA life.
For all the hype... He is a legit lottery pick. However, he would not simply dominate in the NBA as a rookie.
He and OSU will be a handful for the high flying Gators.