National Championship Game preview
We knew this could happen.
After the Gators/Buckeyes clash in the BCS title game, we knew there was a possibility that the two schools would meet again in a title game -- this time on the basketball court. As if this matchup needs any more drama, the Gators could become the first team in 15 years to repeat as national champions. They return virtually everyone from last season’s championship squad and have four solid NBA prospects in their starting five.
The good news for the Buckeyes is that they are playing the best ball they’ve played all season. After the unlikeliest of comeback victories against Xavier and another scare against Tennessee, Ohio State has settled down and played terrific games against Memphis and Georgetown. Mike Conley has really come on of late, averaging 18 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists in the tournament, and as a result, his draft stock has never been higher. He has said that he intends to come back for his sophomore year, but this year’s draft is thin on point guards, and he’s the best of the bunch. He is not as battle-tested as Taurean Green, who did a nice job limiting Darren Collison in the semifinal, but Conley is very poised for a freshman, so this matchup is at worst a draw for the Buckeyes.
Greg Oden played pretty well against Georgetown -– when he played. Predictably, he and Roy Hibbert were both hampered by foul trouble, and while Hibbert got the best of Oden stat-wise (19/6 vs. 13/9), Oden looked far more fluid and athletic. It’s likely that Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Chris Richard will all spend some time covering Oden, but he’s more of a headache defensively than he is offensively. Florida wants to attack the post before utilizing their potent long-range game, but the Gators haven’t been quite as dominant inside as they were during last year’s title run.
When these two teams met in December, the Gators killed the Bucks with the screen and roll. Oden spent much of the game in foul trouble and the Gators went on to win 86-60. Look for OSU to play a ton of zone to limit the number of pick and rolls that Oden has to face. The main problem with this strategy is the Gators’ ability to hit the long ball. If Green, Corey Brewer and Lee Humphrey are on, it will be a long night for the Bucks.
There has been a lot of talk about how Kentucky’s interest in Billy Donovan will be a distraction for the Gators, but it’s simply not the case. Most of the main players won’t be back next year either, so it’s doubtful that they’re spending much time thinking about it.
OSU is capable of pulling off the upset, but the Gators have the talent and experience to win their second straight title. The real X-factor is pressure –- it’s all on Florida. Everyone expects them to win, which means when it’s a tie game with five minutes to play, the Gators might be thinking about their legacy instead of keeping their eye on the prize. But this game is the reason Noah, Horford and Brewer came back to school, and it would be shocking if they let the opportunity to win a second title slip through their fingers.