King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Final Four preview: A pair of NBA-ready centers are the highlight as Ohio State meets Georgetown. Plus: Florida-UCLA rematch. And: Pool o' Experts.


Salon Staff
March 30, 2007 8:00PM (UTC)

It's not every day you get to see two legitimate NBA centers play each other in a college basketball game. Come to think of it, it's not every day you get to see it in an NBA game, but we'll get to see it Saturday night when Georgetown and Ohio State meet in the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament.

Florida and UCLA, who played for the title last year, meet in the second semifinal this time around. The Final Four tips off with OSU-Georgetown at 6:07 p.m. EDT Saturday.

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Ohio State freshman Greg Oden and Georgetown junior Roy Hibbert are both 7-footers projected as lottery picks if they decide to turn pro this spring. Oden figures to be either the first or the second pick, depending what Kevin Durant of Texas does and how NBA teams view the two. Hibbert is projected by most draft watchers around the 10th pick.

Oden vs. Hibbert has basketball pundits searching the old Wayback for a comparable Final Four matchup, and they keep landing on Patrick Ewing of Georgetown vs. Hakeem (then spelled Akeem) Olajuwon in the Championship Game in 1984.

If Oden wants a picture of the future, he should imagine a boot pouring $100 bills on his face -- forever. That's roughly what awaits him if he abandons precalculus -- spring classes started Monday -- and heads to the NBA.

Oden was probably ready for the NBA coming out of high school last year. He's by far the more athletic of the two. But Hibbert, who was a project as a freshman, has improved dramatically and is a more polished player. He makes good, quick decisions in the low post, he is an excellent passer, and while he doesn't dominate the paint on defense the way Oden does, he positions himself well and blocks and alters shots.

Oden has yet to play against a top-notch college center. Hibbert played against Pittsburgh's Aaron Gray in the Big East tournament. Here's how that went: Hibbert 18 points, 11 rebounds; Gray three points, five rebounds. To be fair, Gray played Hibbert evenly, as the teams split a pair of regular-season games.

Here's the thing about Hibbert, though: He's Georgetown's best NBA prospect, but he's not the Hoyas' best player. That would be Jeff Green, who also projects as a first-rounder, though not a lottery pick. He may end up being caught between the two forward positions in the pros, but in college ball, he's plenty quick enough to play small forward. He's basically a big point guard, and Georgetown's game goes through him.

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Oden is clearly the best Buckeye, but almost as important is point guard Mike Conley Jr., a terrific floor leader who can also shoot, pass and defend.

Georgetown plays tight defense and a cutting, Princeton-style offense. Both of those approaches can take a decent team a long way at this time of year, and Georgetown is better than decent. This is a pick-'em game.

I think it'll come down to which of Oden and Hibbert can stay out of foul trouble. Hibbert has had problems in that area lately, and Ohio State would be wise to keep attacking him, even if it results in a lot of early blocked shots. He will get himself called for those ticky-tack fouls that make college basketball so much fun, and then Oden, if he isn't already, will really have a chance to dominate.

UCLA will try to get some revenge for last year's title-game blowout in the nightcap. It's as close to a different-year rematch as you're ever going to get in college basketball. The Gators have the same starting five as last year, and UCLA is essentially the same team. Point guard Jordan Farmar has been replaced by Darren Collison, which is a slight improvement, and wingman Josh Shipp is in the lineup for the Bruins. He was hurt in the Tournament last year.

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Unlike most great college teams, Florida doesn't have that one go-to guy. The good news for the Gators is they have five of them. Any of Florida's starters is capable of going off. That's an insurance policy against an off-shooting night. If Lee Humphrey starts raining down 3-pointers on the Bruins, it could be another long night for them. But if Humphrey's shots aren't falling, Florida needn't worry. He's not even one of their top three options.

What the Gators do have to worry about is turnovers, which they've been giving up at too high a rate, and which UCLA's pressure defense is adept at causing.

UCLA does have that one guy, Arron Afflalo, fresh off a torching of Brandon Rush and Kansas to the tune of 24 points. Afflalo, Collison and Shipp are a formidable three-headed backcourt, both offensively and defensively.

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If the Bruins can get a solid game from their frontcourt role-players, who'll need to slow down Florida's frontcourt of Al Horford, Corey Brewer and Joakim Noah, and if the Bruins can force turnovers and not have any of their big three go cold, they should be able to get a very different result from last year's last game.

Monday's final: Too much Greg Oden. Ohio State over UCLA.

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Pool o' Experts: Can we stop now? [PERMALINK]

Well, look who's leading the fifth annual Pool o' Experts.

It's fool's gold, alas. I can't win the thing. But I've never been in first place this late in the Tournament. In fact, I don't think I've ever been in first place ever.

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Ohio State's win over Memphis in the Elite 8 was devastating to the chances of my son, Buster, coin-flippinest 4-year-old not currently in the running to coach at Kentucky. He fell from first place to 10th, his worst fall since the Great Kitchen Slip of Ought-Six, which sent him to the emergency room with a gashed lip.

This fall was much less traumatic for him, since he doesn't know about it yet and won't care if I ever tell him, but he did get a cool hospital gown out of the last one. This time? More exploitation in service of his dad's sagging career.

Here are the standings, with 400 points still on the table:

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Expert     Points     Total possible
1. King Kaufman, Salon
970
1,090
2. Clark Kellogg, CBS
960
1,360
2. CBS.SportsLine.com users
960
1,360
4. Tony Mejia, CBS.SportsLine.com
940
1,340
5. John McCain, R-Ariz.
920
920
6. NCAA Selection Committee
910
1,190
7. Tony Kornheiser, Washington Post
890
1,290
8. Stewart Mandel, S.I.
880
1,280
9. Buster, Coin Aficionado
870
870
9. Luke Winn, Sports Illustrated
870
1,150
11. Rick Majerus, JSOnline.com
840
1,240
11. Grant Wahl, S.I.
840
960
13. Yoni Cohen, YoCoHoops.com
820
960
14. Gregg Doyel, CBS.SportsLine.com
790
1,070
15. Seth Davis, CBS/S.I.
760
880

I'm enjoying first place while I can, ordering in champagne, making it rain at the strip club, that sort of thing. But it's all going to end for me soon and I'll have to watch others celebrate, and possibly come to dinner at my house, which is the prize for winning the Pool o' Experts -- home cooking not implied.

It's comforting in defeat to know that the prize really doesn't do a lot for me. I mean, I eat dinner at my house a lot, and I can assure me, I'm not missing out on much by not winning.

Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated will repeat as champion if UCLA wins the Final Four, or if the Bruins lose the title game to Georgetown. Clark Kellogg of CBS will win if Florida and Georgetown play in the Championship Game, no mater who wins. Tony Mejia, the 2003 champ, will win if Ohio State wins the title. And the CBS.SportsLine.com users -- that is, basically, you, the great unwashed, the 2005 champs -- will win if Florida beats Ohio State in the title game.

The offer of dinner at my house does not apply to the users' bracket. I only have six chairs.

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Previous column: National League preview

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