King Kaufman's Sports Daily

This column gives: Florida over Ohio State for the NCAA title. But foul trouble is the great wild card.


Salon Staff
April 2, 2007 8:00PM (UTC)

Two minutes, 41 seconds into Ohio State's 67-60 win over Georgetown in Saturday's NCAA Tournament semifinal, Buckeyes center Greg Oden picked up his second foul and left the game.

It made me wonder: When college basketball teams are facing a dominant player, why do they even run an offense? Why not just keep running at the guy until he reaches or is late sliding over to help twice. His coach will dutifully take him out of the game for you.

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I'm specifically thinking Florida should do this Monday night in the National Championship Game. I think I'm sort of joking. But the more I think about it, the more I think I'm not joking.

If the dominant opponent is a center or power forward, as most dominant players are, just keep slashing through the lane or feeding your own low-post player until the whistle blows twice. When the second half starts and your big-time opponent returns, go back to cutting or posting up until he gets his third. Out he'll come.

In most cases, though this is less true with Ohio State than with any other team in the country with a dominant player, a team's losing its best player is a devastating blow.

It will happen, and sooner rather than later. It's the very rare college player who can resist reaching, who moves his feet early every single time down the floor, particularly as fatigue starts to set in, which happens quicker than you might think for most big guys. Add in the hair-trigger whistle most NCAA referees carry into games, and an opponent's foul trouble is there for the causing.

"So much for this marquee matchup of Oden vs. Hibbert," I wrote in my notes when Oden went out with 17:29 to go in the first half. "Now we know they'll play each other for maybe 20 minutes total."

I was wildly optimistic.

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Oden sat for the rest of the half, returning after halftime. We've been over this, but what Ohio State coach Thad Matta was doing was sitting Oden on the bench for nearly half the game -- nearly half the game! -- to try to keep him from fouling out. What happens if he fouls out? He has to sit on the bench. It's kind of like never driving your car so you don't get a flat tire, because if you get a flat tire, you can't drive your car.

Hibbert, who sat the last 6:48 of the first half after getting his own second foul, got his third after battling Oden for the first 4:04 of the second half, and out he came. He returned with 12:32 to go and he and Oden played against each other for another scintillating 42 seconds before Oden got whistled for his third with 11:50 left. To the bench, Greg.

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They were next both in the game with 6:37 to go, and played each other the rest of the way, except for the last three seconds, when Hibbert sat, the game long since decided.

Final totals: Oden and Hibbert were on the floor together for 11 minutes, 20 seconds, a little over a quarter of the game. The NCAA wasted no time in offering 70 percent refunds to ticket holders.

Oden and Hibbert were on the bench at the same time for 10:20. Neither fouled out. Well done, coaches Matta and John Thompson III! You kept your big guys from having to sit on the bench after fouling out.

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Florida has a center-of-attention big guy, Joakim Noah, but while he's a good player and the team's emotional leader, he isn't a dominant force. He isn't even the guy who figures to match up with Oden. That would be Al Horford. So Ohio State might as well run its offense. Florida should do the same, because Ohio State has shown, early in the season when Oden was out with a wrist injury and recently when he's had foul trouble, that it can survive without him.

But file this advice away for next year, boys! I'm half-serious!

The Gators are starting to remind me of the New England Patriots of a few years ago. I keep looking at the matchups and thinking they come out second best, and they keep winning. I look at the matchups in the title game, at Oden's dominance, at Mike Conley Jr.'s brilliant point play, the shooting of Jamar Butler and Ron Lewis, the depth -- and it looks like Florida is the better team.

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So Ohio State will probably win in a rout, but I'm taking Florida. I like the Gators' stifling defense, the polished inside play of Horford and Noah, the shooting of Lee Humphrey, Corey Brewer and Taurean Green, though Green has struggled in the tournament, and the fact that they're older and wiser than the Buckeyes, whose two best players are freshmen. They're no ordinary freshmen, but they're freshmen.

I don't put much stock in Florida's rout of Ohio State in December, but you can throw that on the Florida side of the ledger too if you want.

Yeah, Florida, the team I had losing to Oregon -- remember them? -- in the quarterfinals. Why do you ask?

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Mejia, you vie for Pool o' Experts title [PERMALINK]

For the first time in its five-year history, this column's NCAA Tournament Pool o' Experts will have a repeat champion. CBS.SporstLine.com writer Tony Mejia, who took the inaugural Pool o' title in 2003, will win again if Ohio State beats Florida in the National Championship Game.

If Florida wins, it'll be a return to glory for the 2005 champion, the masses. That is, the great unwashed, the hoi polloi. You. As represented by the "national bracket" at CBS.SportsLine.com, voted on by that site's users.

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Either way, this will be the fourth time in five years that someone connected to CBS has won the Pool o'. Broadcaster Tim Brando won in 2004, and the only non-CBS winner was Sports Illustrated typist Stewart Mandel in 2006.

The reason CBS is so successful in the Pool o' Experts? It doesn't put a camera in the worst seat in the house and broadcast the game through it for minutes at a time. The furies are kind to the well behaved.

As always, the prize for winning the Pool o' Experts is dinner at my house, home cooking not implied, and the prize is suspended if the winner is the entire damn public.

I guess I'll be rooting for Ohio State. If Florida wins, I'll finish eighth in the 15-entry Pool o', which is about where I usually finish, somewhere in the slogging middle. If it's Ohio State, I'll stay in third, which would tie for my best finish ever.

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My other third-place finish was last year, so I'll get to call it a trend if I do it again. You can write in all you want pointing out that my finishing third instead of eighth had nothing to do with anything I did. A trend's a trend, pal.

Here are the standings.

Expert     Points     Total possible     Title game winner
1. CBS.SportsLine.com users
1,200
1,360
Florida
2. Tony Mejia, CBS.SportsLine.com
1,180
1,340
Ohio State
3. King Kaufman, Salon
1,090
1,090
Kansas
4. Rick Majerus, JSOnline.com
1,080
1,240
Florida
4. Clark Kellogg, CBS
1,080
1,240
Florida
6. NCAA Selection Committee
1,030
1,190
Florida
7. Tony Kornheiser, Washington Post
1,010
1,170
Florida
8. Luke Winn, Sports Illustrated
990
1,150
Florida
9. John McCain, R-Ariz.
920
920
North Carolina
10. Gregg Doyel, CBS.SportsLine.com
910
1,070
Florida
11. Stewart Mandel, S.I.
880
880
UCLA
12. Buster, Coin Aficionado
870
870
Memphis
13. Grant Wahl, S.I.
840
960
Kansas
14. Yoni Cohen, YoCoHoops.com
820
820
Kansas
15. Seth Davis, CBS/S.I.
760
760
Kansas

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