by Chris Clement and Paymon Hashemi
National Semifinal #1
The Ultimate Preview: #1. Ohio State vs. #2. Georgetown
Every game needs high-profile names, like it or not.
The Big Ten conference and post-season champion Ohio State Buckeyes haven’t lost since a January 9th visit to
You might be surprised to hear this, but
In the end, I’m ecstatic for tip-off to begin. I would enjoy seeing both teams win and just want one heck of a game. Predictions can wait until Monday night. Tonight’s just about having fun. But I do have one thing to look for…
Now onto the night’s second national semi-final.
The Ultimate Preview: #1. Florida vs. #2. UCLA
In the second national semifinal, we'll have a rematch of last year's championship game. A year later, Ben Howland has officially brought UCLA back to the powerhouse ranks and Billy Donovan has three Final Four appearances and a National Championship before the age of 42. A year removed from the national title, Billy Donovan is fighting off rumors about returning to Kentucky as a head coach, where he was an assistant for Rick Pitino during their glory years in the mid-1990s. Either way, he's cashing in come next week guaranteed.
Last season, Florida's shocking championship run culminated a full-scale beatdown of storied program UCLA, 73-57. In that game, Joakim Noah and Al Horford posterized Ryan Hollins and whomever else the Bruins decided to put down all night in the blocks. Corey Brewer never let Arron Afflalo out of his sight and Jordan Farmar was deemed useless. When UCLA shot the ball, they were one-and-done.
This year, UCLA is a stronger offensive, but questions remain about their ability to score points regularly. Josh Shipp has taken up a portion of the scoring load while Darren Collison continues to be a very efficient scorer. However, his 7 turnover/1 assist game last Saturday should be something to forget about moving forward. Unlike last year's run to the Final Four, Florida has had the target on their chest all season, but this has not gotten in the way of their courage and resolve.
For Florida, one immediately thinks of the three guys who would have been drafted as lottery picks last year - Noah, Horford, and Brewer. Nevertheless, the catalyst for the Gators is none other than Taurean Green, who has been Florida's leading scorer in the NCAA Tournament. He's also rescued the Gators out of some binds, as they trailed in the second half against both Purdue and Butler. The point guard was crucial to both comebacks and eventual slayings of the Hoosier-state upstarts. Don't get me wrong, he'll do his best to include Noah and Horford early and often in order to exploit an obvious mismatch in the paint.
The Bruins feature AP All-America first team selection Arron Afflalo, who finally had *that* game against Kansas. Afflalo scored 24 points on 10-for-15 shooting from the field, including three from behind the arc. Also, the Bruins have the aforementioned Collison, who is undersized, but one of the best perimeter defenders in the nation. He will drive, penetrate, and look to dish to the big men, but he's not afraid to get fouled. More importantly, Collison won't be afraid to take the big shots from 3-point range (46.3%). His dagger heave from behind the arc proved costly in the win over Kansas, and Bill Self will have nightmares for years on end.
Can UCLA force turnovers and turn them into points?
UCLA has proven throughout the season and during the tournament that when they can force turnovers, they will turn them into points. Kansas was made a national example last Saturday. Let's not forget the flipside of this argument. UCLA committed 24 turnovers last Saturday. If that's the case, then Florida will be game-planning for Monday with a half left to play. As for Florida, they kept Oregon in the game on Sunday by committing a bevy of careless turnovers. UCLA needs to turn Florida over early and often.
v. Purdue 15 turnovers
v. Butler 11 turnovers
v. Oregon 18 turnovers
Florida from behind the arc
v. Purdue 5-18
v. Butler 8-19
v. Oregon 11-24
If Taurean Green begins to hit threes like he did in the Butler and Oregon games, UCLA has very little room for error. Meanwhile, Lee Humphrey is back to his old self, hitting 7 threes against in the regional final. For UCLA, they'll need Shipp and Roll to hit open shots in order to take pressure off of Collison and Afflalo, who will have their hands full. It should be noted though that Florida's increasing reliance on the deep ball may be their Achilles' Heel because UCLA is a better rebounding team than their size indicates.
UCLA production on the frontline
The real media is hyping Noah and Horford, and you can't really blame them. I watched last year's championship game and they seemed to dunk on every other possession. This year, they're not as dominant, but both are very good, especially Horford down the stretch. I would argue though that UCLA's frontline is stronger defensively than last year; moreover, they know their role. 4 guys (Mata, Mbah a Moute, Aboya, Keefe) with 20 fouls - provide help-side defense, rebound, box out, and be in position to attack the rim off of dribble penetration. There is no equivocation whatsoever.
Point Guard Leadership
If Florida wins the national championship on Monday night, look no further than the point guard. Brewer's been off, Humphrey was off until the regional final, Noah's been ordinary, and the bench has been non-existent. Green has hit the streak three-pointers and settled down the Gators whenever the opposition has gone on runs.
UCLA will win if... they cause 20 turnovers and hit open shots in the second half
Florida will win if... they stick to their guns and limit UCLA to one shot on every possession