King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Florida wins NCAA title. The Gators, a team for the ages, are too much for a heroic Greg Oden and Ohio State.


Salon Staff
April 3, 2007 8:00PM (UTC)

Some advice for Ohio State: Stop playing Florida.

That's actually good advice for anybody these days. The Gators added the men's basketball championship to their BCS football championship Monday night in Atlanta, putting an 84-75 beating on the Buckeyes to go with the football team's 41-14 rout of Ohio State in January.

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Greg Oden, Ohio State's freshman center, stayed out of foul trouble and turned in a heroic performance, playing 38 minutes, scoring 25 points on 10 of 15 shooting, grabbing 12 rebounds and blocking four shots. Fellow freshman Mike Conley Jr. added 20 points, six assists and four steals, and at one point in the second half he looked like he might just rally the Buckeyes single-handedly with his work in the full-court press, but it wasn't enough and wasn't to be.

Florida won with its quickness, its defense, its shooting and its depth. Coach Billy Donovan sent waves of big men at Oden, starting with Al Horford, who put a body on Oden on the defensive end and made him work on the offensive, pouring in 18 points and pulling down 12 rebounds. And then there was Joakim Noah and Chris Richard and even little-used Marreese Speights.

They combined to collect 15 fouls while Oden was whistled for four, the fourth not coming until the last minute, with the game decided. Donovan and his players complained mildly that the foul calls were all going one way, in favor of Oden. It did look as though a lot of ticky-tack fouls were going against the Gators frontcourt, as though the big wheel of fortune in the referees' dressing room had stopped on "touch fouls on Florida big men" in the pregame spin.

But Oden did a nice job of not reaching, not picking up the silly fouls that had been his downfall in earlier Tournament games. Coach Thad Matta helped Oden stay out of trouble by keeping him at home in the paint. He didn't flash out on screens or double-team. Matta was picking his poison, keeping Oden safe and betting Florida's shooters wouldn't bury the Buckeyes.

Florida's shooters buried the Buckeyes. They shot 49 percent, including 10-of-18, 56 percent, from beyond the arc. Lee Humphrey hit 4-of-7 threes, Taurean Green 3-of-3.

The Gators outplayed Ohio State early but couldn't build a big lead because their shots weren't yet falling. After Florida went on a run toward the middle of the first half for a 20-13 lead, the Buckeyes rallied, Ivan Harris nailing a 3-pointer to close the gap to 24-22 with about five and a half minutes left. Humphrey answered with a three, and the long-ball contest was on.

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Corey Brewer, who did a little bit of everything for Florida, wreaking havoc on defense, starting and finishing fast breaks, rebounding and hitting 3-pointers, hit one for an eight-point lead. Then Harris missed one. Then Green hit an NBA-length three. Matta called timeout. The Buckeyes looked like a heavyweight challenger who forgets himself and gets into a slugging contest with a knockout-artist champ. They needed a standing eight.

They trailed by 11. They would spend the rest of the game launching assaults on that deficit. Twice, they got as close as six points, 42-36 early in the second half and 66-60 with about five minutes to go. But Florida had an answer every time.

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The answer was shooting and quickness, and then good free-throw shooting in the end game. Every time Oden turned away a shot, Florida recovered the ball. The Gators seemed to get every loose ball all night. Horford and Oden each had 12 rebounds, but Horford's teammates outrebounded Oden's 26-15.

Oden wasn't able to do enough to rally Ohio State, but it wasn't because Donovan's wear-down strategy worked to perfection. Though a clearly fatigued Oden wasn't a major offensive factor for much of the second half, scoring one point over the middle 10 minutes, he scored seven in the last 5:25, with only the last two coming in garbage time.

It wasn't enough because Florida kept scoring. From the time Oden's two free throws brought Ohio State to 66-60 with 5:03 to go, Florida made 3-of-4 shots, including a 3-pointer, and 11-of-12 free throws. You lose late leads by missing free throws. The Gators didn't.

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Now most of the principals figure to leave. Florida is the first team ever to repeat as NCAA champion with the same starting five, and all of them except Humphrey have eligibility remaining. But if it was surprising for Noah, Green, Brewer and Horford to stay in school to chase a second championship this year, it would be shocking if they did it again to chase a third.

And the smart money is betting on Donovan taking the prestigious coaching job at Kentucky, where he was an assistant under Rick Pitino.

Oden, who only played college ball this year because of the new NBA rule banning 18-year-olds, figures to enter the draft and become one of the top two picks this summer. He's extremely poised for his age -- he turned 19 in January -- and he's an incredible athlete with an NBA-ready body, but he needs a lot of work to become a top-notch NBA center. At least another year of college ball would likely go a long way toward polishing his offensive game and getting him ready for the league.

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He'd be crazy to stick around for it.

Why not get NBA-level coaching and practice against NBA players for an NBA-length season while getting paid millions? No reason, and yet chatterers who claim to have the kid's interests at heart will advise him to stay in school. They should be liable for malpractice claims.

Oden's college career ends -- most likely -- in disappointment, but not shame. Considering the stakes and opponent, he played his best game in an Ohio State uniform Monday night.

He and his mates were beaten by a team that didn't always seem like one over the past two years, but turned out to be a team for the ages. Unusually talented, balanced and cohesive, they turned themselves from surprise champions to historic dynasty with their collective decision to return this season.

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We may see their like again someday, but we shouldn't hold our breath. The good news is that in about seven months, it just might be safe to play Florida again.

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You win Pool o' Experts [PERMALINK]

Only slightly less impressive than Florida's repeat championship is your taking the Pool o' Experts title for the second time in three years.

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You, the teeming public, in the form of the users at CBS.SportsLine.com, had the winning bracket. You escaped a tie with Clark Kellogg of CBS because you had Florida beating Ohio State in the title game, while Kellogg, ironically, since he was a star player at Ohio State, had OSU losing to Georgetown in the semis, and Florida beating the Hoyas.

The prize of dinner at my house is not applicable when the entire World Wide Web wins, but if you'd all like to get together and elect a representative, that person can come over for dinner on everyone's behalf.

Here are the standings.

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Expert     Points
1. CBS.SportsLine.com users
1,360
2. Clark Kellogg, CBS
1,240
2. Rick Majerus, JSOnline.com
1,240
4. NCAA Selection Committee
1,190
5. Tony Mejia, CBS.SportsLine.com
1,180
6. Tony Kornheiser, Washington Post
1,170
7. Luke Winn, Sports Illustrated
1,150
8. King Kaufman, Salon
1,090
9. Gregg Doyel, CBS.SportsLine.com
1,070
10. John McCain, R-Ariz.
920
11. Stewart Mandel, S.I.
880
12. Buster, CoinflipUSA.com
870
13. Grant Wahl, S.I.
840
14. Yoni Cohen, YoCoHoops.com
820
15. Seth Davis, CBS/S.I.
760

Previous column: Championship Game preview

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