A preface to previews(1) Ohio State vs. (1) Florida (9:21pm ET)
Don't read any preview today without this handy accompanying piece at your side....
1. Accept no discussion whatsoever of defense in any preview.
Florida's players and coaches will mouth the right words at press conferences and say how important defense is, how it leads to transition opportunities, how it all starts with Corey Brewer, etc. Don't believe it. Some nice shot blocks against UCLA the other night notwithstanding, in their innermost Gator souls they don't really think about defense. They don't need to. Their shots go in at a rate that renders defense an afterthought. (This is, after all, the best-shooting team in the nation.)
And, though Ohio State can play some D and (oh, yeah) has a seven-foot shot blocker in the paint, no one expects tonight's game to be a defensive struggle. Florida's offense will be productive tonight. They have been in every game since the LSU fiasco. (Even in a subsequent loss at Tennessee, the Gator offense was excellent.) If I were Thad Matta, I'd write this number on the white board: 1.15 points per possession. That's the minimum required for a Buckeye win tonight.
The good news for OSU fans? That's feasible against this defense....
2. Corey Brewer is indeed a great defender, but....
No one needs to be told at this late date that Brewer is 6-9, has the wingspan of an even taller player, and yet still possesses the quickness to stick with opposing guards. All true. Problem is, Brewer knows all of the above too and he's been relying on it too much. I've seen him leave his feet a surprising number of times and I've seen him driven on with good results. Position D is not his long suit. (If you gave Ben Howland or Bo Ryan this guy for a couple seasons, ay, carumba....) Much more important than any chinks in Brewer's armor, however, is the fact that he has teammates in the starting lineup who are on the floor primarily for offense.
So Florida simply dares you to outscore them. Most times you can't....
3. Just because Florida's been shooting a lot of threes lately doesn't mean it matters whether they go in or not.
Never mind that the Gators have devoted 46 percent of their shots to threes in the tournament. With any other team that would mean winning or losing would ride on whether said team is "on" from outside. But this isn't any other team. It's Florida. Against Purdue the Gators shot just 28 percent on their threes and still scored 1.13 points per possession by making their twos and going to the line 31 times. This offense simply will not be denied. They don't care what you take away. They will find another way to score.
4. Mike Conley's the best player on his team.
And really it's no contest. Sure, Greg Oden's better when he's on the floor but over the past three games that's been just 52 percent of the time. In terms of impact over 40 minutes, Conley's your man.
Four months ago when I took the showily and self-consciously reckless step of titling a post "Ohio State will play in the national championship game," I was at root trying to share with readers the full depth and extent of my "Whoa!" reaction to this freshman Conley after just six games. His eerie calm and ruthless efficiency are, like Oden's face, an insistent and unanswerable refutation of the statement: he's just a freshman.
5. Greg Oden's the best player in the country.
Oden's wrist injury and his teammates' occasional unwillingness to give him the ball deprived him of his Durantian moment. Here he is about to play his last college game and we never did get that 33-16 kind of dub-dub from him. But make no mistake: uncannily Mr. Burns-like CBS analysts notwithstanding, Oden's potential is vast. Indeed, he's been improving exponentially before our eyes (during those random stray moments when he's actually in the game). Given the extra foul and permissive officiating at the next level, the aforementioned analyst will be shown to have been wrong within a few hundred days here.