A Look At The Final Four Matchups Saturday In Atlanta


Sunday, March 25th 2007, 5:37 pm
By: News On 6


UCLA vs. Florida

GETTING THERE

These teams meet one game earlier than they did in last season's national championship game, which Florida won 73-57.

The last time the storied UCLA program went to a Final Four for a second straight year was in 1976, the last of a run of 10 straight appearances that included seven consecutive titles. This team that ran through the West Regional wasn't an offensive juggernaut but the 2nd-seeded Bruins maintained what has become their trademark stellar defense throughout.

Florida, the overall No. 1 seed, is two wins from becoming the first repeat national champion since Duke in 1992. The Gators have been the team to watch since all five starters announced they would return to defend their title. They started slowly in the first three tournament games but always had more than enough to advance. The last reigning champion to get back to the Final Four was Michigan State in 2001.

THE ROAD

UCLA beat No. 15 Weber State 70-42; No. 7 Indiana 54-49; No. 3 Pittsburgh 64-55; No. 1 Kansas 68-55.

Florida beat No. 16 Jackson State 112-69; No. 9 Purdue 74-67; No. 5 Butler 65-57; No. 3 Oregon 85-77.

THE COACHES

Ben Howland has two Final Four appearances in his four seasons at UCLA. The Bruins reached No. 1 this season for the first time since 1995, the year of their last national championship.

Billy Donovan has taken Florida to three Final Fours, winning it all last season just two months before his 41st birthday. A guard on Providence's 1987 Final Four team, he is one of six men to have played and coached in a Final Four.

OFFENSE

With Arron Afflalo averaging 16.7 to lead three double-figure scorers, UCLA was solid on offense all season at 72 points per game until the tournament. With Afflalo struggling from the field until the regional final, the Bruins managed to reach 70 points just once in the four games. They did break out against Kansas, though, ending the Jayhawks' run of holding opponents to under 50% shooting by going 24-45.

Florida is 10th in the nation in scoring, averaging 80.1 points per game and the Gators do it with a balanced attack in terms of production and style. Four starters average between 13.4 and 12.1 points and the fifth is at 9.8. The inside game with Joakim Noah and Al Horford accounts for the gaudy 52.8 team field goal percentage and Lee Humphrey's 105 3-pointers _ 7 against Oregon _ leads an outside attack that shoots 41% from beyond the arc.

DEFENSE

The Bruins were one of 18 teams to hold opponents to under 60 points per game this season and they improved on that in the tournament, keeping all four teams to 55 or less. Kansas' 41% from the field was the best any opponent managed in that span and UCLA offset that with 15 steals against the Jayhawks. Darren Collison's quickness at the point is the key to turning over opponents.

The Gators allow opponents an average of 61.8 points per game but their defense has been more than solid in the postseason with nobody getting more than 72 points in the run through the Southeastern Conference and NCAA tournaments until Oregon in the regional final. Horford and Noah accounted for 136 of Florida's 185 blocked shots and both are very active in the middle.

REBOUNDING

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (7.5) and Lorenzo Mata (5.6) key the frontline that only outrebounds opponents by three a game and almost half of Mbah a Moute's rebounds come on the offensive end.

The Gators are fourth on the country with an 8.2 rebound margin and Horford (9.3) and Noah (8.4) are responsible for that. Both are solid offensive rebounders and Noah has an uncanny knack for keeping balls alive off the glass.

FREE THROWS

The Bruins' 67% from the line is deceptive because the people who handle the ball the most are all very good from the line, with Afflalo and Collison both at 80% and Josh Shipp at 75. Late in close games the ball can't go to Mbah a Moute (56%) or Mata (38%).

The Gators shoot 69% from the line with point guard Taurean Green leading the way at 86% and that's why it's tough to get the ball out of his hands late in the game. Noah and Horford have taken the most free throws and both shoot 65%.

INTANGIBLES

Jordan Farmar's decision to leave early for the NBA after last year's title game loss didn't hurt as much as expected with the emergence of Collison. How good the defense is was shown by the ability to overcome the offensive woes in the tournament run. Afflalo gets a chance to make up for a poor offensive performance in last year's Final Four when he scored a total of 19 points in the two games.

Nothing mattered this season for Florida until it was time to close in on the chance to repeat. A late season slump where the Gators lost three of four games has been erased by a strong postseason run. Experience is often considered a major factor in NCAA success and the five Florida starters have won 10 straight games in the tournament and have cut down the nets.

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Ohio State vs. Georgetown

GETTING THERE

Top-seeded Ohio State dodged two upsets on the way to the South Regional title and its first Final Four since 1999. The Buckeyes trailed Xavier by 11 points in the 2nd half of their second-round matchup before Ron Lewis hit a 3 at the regulation buzzer and Michael Conley Jr. took over in overtime. In the regional semifinal against Tennessee, Ohio State overcame a 17-point halftime deficit.

The 2nd-seeded Hoyas didn't appear to have a chance at advancing to the Final Four, trailing North Carolina by 11 points with 12 minutes to play, but they rallied to tie and then dominated the overtime. Georgetown was last in a Final Four in 1985, which was the last of three in a four-year span. Like those Hoyas, this one has a big man in the middle and a Thompson on the bench.

THE ROAD

Ohio State beat No. 16 Central Connecticut State 78-57; No. 9 Xavier 78-71, OT; No. 5 Tennessee 85-84; No. 2 Memphis 92-76.

Georgetown beat No. 15 Belmont 80-55; No. 7 Boston College 62-55; No. 6 Vanderbilt 66-65; No. 1 North Carolina 96-84, OT.

THE COACHES

Thad Matta is in his third season at Ohio State and led the Buckeyes to their first No. 1 ranking since 1962. His previous deepest run in the NCAA tournament was in 2004 when Xavier lost to Duke in the regional final.

John Thompson III becomes the first son to follow his father to a Final Four. This is Thompson's third season at the school his father led to three Final Fours, including the 1984 national championship.

OFFENSE

The Buckeyes average 74.2 points per game and the top six players in the rotation average between 15.4 and 6.0 points. Freshman Greg Oden is the high scorer and his strength around the basket is obvious as he shoots 61% from the field. The perimeter game is solid with four players accounting for most of the 3-point attempts although Lewis takes _ and seems to make _ the ones at crunch time. The Buckeyes had just eight turnovers in each of the last two games.

The Hoyas aren't a high-powered offense, but they are efficient. They shoot just over 50% from the field led by 7’2 Roy Hibbert at 67% and forward Jeff Green at 51%. Jonathan Wallace hit 68 3-pointers and shot almost 50% from beyond the arc.

DEFENSE

The defense is much better when the 7’ Oden is in the game and not saddled with foul trouble. He has 100 of the team's 211 blocked shots and his intimidating presence makes opponents hurry when they're near the basket. The perimeter defense is solid, but opponents did average seven 3s against the Buckeyes this season.

The Hoyas were fourth in the nation on defense, allowing 56.8 points per game and they not only don't let you score, they are intimidating if you even try. Opponents shot a paltry 38% from the field. Hibbert had 89 of the Hoyas' 186 blocks and Green rejected another 43. The guards are quick, but they get even more brazen with the big men behind them to cover any mistakes.

REBOUNDING

Oden leads the way averaging 9.6 rebounds per game and Othella Hunter, his backup, is solid at 4.6 per game. The Buckeyes outrebounded opponents by just over three per game, not an overly impressive number and they were outrebounded in their last two tournament games.

As expected, Hibbert (6.8) and Green (6.1) led the rebounding, which saw the Hoyas grab just over six more per game than their opponents. More than half of Hibbert's rebounds came on the offensive end.

FREE THROWS

Jamar Butler shoots 84% from the line and Lewis hits 76%. Oden, who shot free throws left-handed for most of the season until switching back to his natural right hand, is a concern at 64%. The Buckeyes were 35-41 in the regional final against Memphis, making 18 straight at one stretch.

The Hoyas shoot 72% at the line, led by Wallace's impressive 87%. The front line all have more than solid numbers with Green at 79%, freshman DaJuan Summers 76% and Hibbert 70.

INTANGIBLES

The Buckeyes' 21-game winning streak is the longest in the country and they haven't lost since falling to Wisconsin on Jan. 9, a game they had a chance to tie at the buzzer. Keeping track of Oden's fouls has become a huge concern in the tournament. He fouled out at the end of regulation against Xavier and then played just 18 and 24 minutes against Tennessee and Memphis.

The Hoyas are a power team inside that runs a Princeton-like offense that comes up with a number of backdoor cuts every game. That makes them tough to prepare for and their ability to rally in games, something they did in both the regional semifinal and final, adds another touch to a team that started and finished the season ranked in the top 10 after falling out of the poll for nine weeks.