Florida or Ohio State?
ATLANTA ” Now we’ll see who’s really No. 1. Florida, the top overall seed in the NCAA tournament, and Ohio State, which finished the regular season as the top-ranked team, rolled into Monday night’s championship game.
After a tournament filled with nail-biters, Saturday night’s games were downright pedestrian. Ohio State (35-3) beat Georgetown 67-60 despite more foul trouble from Greg Oden. Florida (34-5) romped to a 76-66 victory over UCLA in a rematch of last year’s title game that wasn’t any closer than the original.
It will be a title game rematch of sorts. The Buckeyes and Gators met for a title in January – only it was on grass, not hardwood. The gridiron Gators won that one in an upset, beating Ohio State 41-14 and making Florida the first school to hold titles in football and men’s basketball at the same time.
Now Florida is looking to add to its title collection. But the Buckeyes might want a little revenge for their football brethren. Yes, that was Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel sitting in the front row Saturday night with his Florida counterpart Urban Meyer across the way.
Florida is trying to become the first team since Duke in 1992 to repeat, and the first ever to do it with the same starting lineup.
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“They’re a very, very good team,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said of Ohio State. “We got a chance to play them in December. It was a game where I think our team and their team have gotten better and improved as season has gone on.”
The teams met in Gainesville in December, and it was barely a contest. Florida routed the Buckeyes 86-60, embarrassing them in every facet of the game. It was only Oden’s fifth game back after offseason wrist surgery, and the Gators ran him off the floor. He couldn’t keep up with Joakim Noah or a gimpy Al Horford and finished with almost as many fouls (four) as he did points (seven) and rebounds (six).
Monday night’s game is sure to be different.
The Buckeyes haven’t lost since Jan. 9 at Wisconsin, a streak of 22 straight. But they’ve looked vulnerable in the NCAA tournament, and Florida will be their biggest test.
The Gators, meanwhile, seem to be playing their best. Again. They’ve won nine in a row and have allowed only two teams to score more than 70 during that stretch.
The Oden-Horford matchup is the most intriguing. Oden has come a long way in the last three months, and it’s only been in the last few weeks that his full array of skills has been on display. He leads the Buckeyes in scoring and rebounding, and was named an All-American.
Horford gives up two inches and 35 pounds to the 7-footer, but the bigger the game, the bigger Horford plays. Though he only had nine points Saturday night, he had 17 rebounds – the very margin by which Florida outrebounded UCLA (43-26).
Still, the championship game will likely come down to guard play.
Florida’s Lee Humphrey has a knack for hitting big shots, and he scored all but two of his 14 points against UCLA from long range. Taurean Green struggled with his shot, hitting only 2-of-9, but he is able to go off at any time.
Mike Conley Jr. is overshadowed by Oden, his high school teammate and childhood buddy. But he is arguably the most valuable of Ohio State’s “Thad Five” right now. He’s carried the team in their last two games, and he was the reason Ohio State didn’t self-destruct when Oden went out Saturday night.
Jamar Butler is a steady shooter, and Ron Lewis is the reason the Buckeyes even got this far. It was his long 3-pointer that forced overtime against Xavier in the second round.
This is the Buckeyes’ first trip to the title game since they played in three straight from 1960-62. They won the title in 1960 and were runners-up the next two years.