Greg Oden, 7'0, freshman, C, Ohio State
25 points, 12 rebounds, 4 blocks, 2 turnovers, 10-15 FG's, 5-8 FT's
Of course, Greg Oden isn't the same player he was back in December. He is back to shooting with his right hand, and this obviously made a difference tonight. He converted several moves on the low block that can only be described as professional caliber, while the ease with which he brushed formidable post defender Al Horford aside bordered on scary. If he wasn't able to simply bull his way to the basket for a layup or dunk, he used deft footwork and a touch looking softer by the shot to dominate the game offensively. Back in December, Oden struggled gaining position, lacked assertiveness, and didn't know how to deal with a double-team. Tonight he took command of the Ohio State offense, decisively and actively attacking the Florida frontcourt. It didn't take long before Billy Donovan's entire front line, certainly not lacking in depth, was in foul trouble.
And then there was the defensive end. Oden was a game-changing shot blocker the moment he stepped on the court in mid-December, but has now evolved into a dominant individual defender as well. The officials finally gave the heralded big man a break, letting a bit of the incidental contact go. Oden pounded Horford with his thick frame, altering or blocking nearly everything the junior attempted on the low block. Early in the second half, his presence was clearly hindering Florida's ability to get easy baskets near the rim. If not for the hot hands of Lee Humphrey and Taurean Green, this game could have turned out a lot differently.
As the game wore on, Oden certainly tired (as a certain Mr. Packer felt obligated to point out on regular intervals), and this made his offensive presence manageable for the Gator defense. He will need to improve his conditioning before he is ready to emerge as a superstar at the next level, and there are still ways to bother Oden when he is forced to roam out on the perimeter to defend. But in terms of awareness, activity level, comfort level and skill, Greg Oden is now improving by leaps and bounds on a game-by-game basis.
While the Buckeyes wouldn't end up cutting down the nets, this type of performance was certainly a personal victory for Greg Oden. The timid, raw, step-slow freshman is gone. In his place is a truly dominant force, absolutely everything that was advertised when he first broke onto the scene. Greg Oden has made his case for the #1 pick in the draft. Will Kevin Durant be able to answer the call?
Corey Brewer, 6-9, Forward, Junior, Florida
13 points, 8 rebounds, 3 steals, 1 assist, 1 block, 4/12 FG, 3/8 3PFG
In the first half, everything was working for Corey Brewer, particularly on the defensive end. Defensively, he drew the assignment of guarding Ron Lewis, an experienced senior guard who came into the game averaged 19.2 points per game during the NCAA Tournament. Lewis was unable to create any offense in the first half, thanks to the long and athletic Florida junior. Brewer used his length to keep Lewis from going to the basket off the dribble, and showed great quickness in recovering to the ball when Lewis was about to get an open look at a jump shot.
Offensively, Brewer was a significant contributor in the first half, particularly with his three point shooting stroke. When it comes to the NBA, it will be important for him to knock down open three pointers, and he knocked down 3 of his 5 attempts on catch and shoot jumpers in the first half. In transition, Brewer also dribbled end to end and dunked the ball after stealing the ball from Lewis, showing that his poor ball-handling skills are slowly getting marginally better.
The second half was more of the same on the defensive end, though the same cant be said for the offensive side of the ball. Early in the half, Florida switched to a 2-3 zone, where Brewer was responsible for the left side of the floor. While playing in the zone, he displayed good anticipation as well as quick recovery speed as a help defender. While out towards the perimeter, Brewer made a great play on one possession by quickly jumping back into the paint in front of Greg Oden for a steal. On another, he came out of nowhere on a defensive rotation and impressively rejected the layup attempt of the 7-footer. He was a constant threat in the passing lanes all game long, and came up with numerous deflections thanks to his length, quickness and incredible activity level.
During the second half, Brewer seemed unable to replicate his performance on the offensive end. His three point jumper wasnt falling at the same clip, and he could not seem to finish any of his slashing moves to the hoop.
In crunch time, Brewers rebounding was a key factor in keeping Ohio State from putting together a run. Superior position and leaping ability allowed him to rebound the ball over Greg Oden and Othello Hunter on a few possessions.
Overall, Brewers complete defense will generate a lot of buzz with NBA scouts. He has lock down potential for the next level, and his length and quickness will allow him to guard both 2s and 3s effectively. Offensively, Brewer displayed a lot of progress this season. As a shooter, he can knock down the open three pointer, though he struggles to shoot on the move or off the dribble at this point. While Brewers handle still could use some improvement, he has better awareness with his dribble this season, and turns the ball over with less frequency going to the hoop. Off the dribble, he has terrific court vision and has made many nice passes throughout the season, while his length and ability to get off the ground helps his finishing ability at the basket.
Should Corey Brewer decide to enter the draft, he will likely be a lock for the lottery. To improve his stock, more bulk on his skinny frame would help out greatly between now and draft night. Few if any wing prospects in this draft can match Brewer defensively, and the improvements he has made throughout his college career could pay off big on draft night. He was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, which truly reflects the impact he had on the semifinals and finals on both ends of the floor. In the process, hes helped his draft stock tremendously.
Taurean Green, 6-1, Junior, Point Guard, Florida
16 points, 6 assists, 6 turnovers, 3 rebounds, 4-6 FG, 3-3 3P, 5-5 FT
Green showed tremendous poise controlling the tempo of the game and running Billy Donovans half-court offense. He did an absolutely phenomenal job running the pick and roll in particular, playing at his own speed and finding the open man unselfishly time after time just like the play-book called for. His chemistry with Al Horford was particularly impressive, utilizing the terrific screens his big man set for him and making excellent split-second decisions both in his passing and scoring.
Green played with just the right amount of aggressiveness needed looking for his shot, while still running the half-court offense like a true playmaker. For some bizarre reason Ohio State decided not to switch or hedge onto him on pick and rolls, so Green punished them by pulling up instantaneously and knocking down two NBA-range 3-pointers, both of which were huge momentum shifts for the Gators. When the angle was available, he also showed a nice burst of speed turning the corner with Conley defending him and getting to the basket for an easy finish.
Defensively, he did a good job on both Mike Conley Jr and Jamar Butler, especially in the first 30 minutes of the game.
Floridas biggest Achilles heel all season long has been the fact that they dont have any true ball-handlers besides Green, meaning that an off game from their point guard (such as in their three losses in 10 days to Vanderbilt, LSU and Tennessee) could often spell disaster for them. Everything begins and ends as far as they are concerned with their point guard, meaning a quiet game such as the one he played in the National Championship is exactly what they needed.
As far as his draft stock is concerned, Green now has a very tough decision ahead of him. His three roommates and fellow juniors will be leaving Florida, meaning that next year will almost certainly be a transition season. Hes not a player that you can say has unlimited upside that will make him into a much better player should he decide to return next season, as he basically is what he is right now. After leading his team to consecutive championships, its hard to imagine his stock getting any higher than it is right now. Well have to wait and see how this plays out, but it probably wouldnt surprise anyone if Green at least tested the waters to see where he stands.
Al Horford, 610, PF/C, Junior, Florida
18 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks, 6-15 FG, 6-8 FT
This wasnt the first time Oden matched up against Horford, as he scored 11 points on him earlier in the season in a 60-88 Ohio State loss. Oden didnt get much of anything going in the post in that game, but the difference here was that Oden now has the use of both of his hands, and that hes a less raw offensive player than he was then. Horford gave up points to Oden on the interior on many occasions in this game, most of them coming when Oden simply got better position than Horford did down low, where it would only take one step for him to get close enough to the basket to score on a lay-up or dunk. Horford unsuccessfully tried to front Oden at times, which would usually lead to Horford losing his position when he went back to playing straight up, letting Oden get the inside track. Horford also gave up a hook shot to Oden on one occasion. To Horfords credit, he did force Oden into one travel in the post, and held his position well one or two times, mainly when he established better position prior to the entry pass, but his post defense was for the most part exposed against the 70 monster.
While Horford had trouble keeping Oden from scoring in the post, one area where Horford was not intimidated was on the glass. Horford actually went up to pull down multiple rebounds on both ends of the court, some over Oden and others with him in the direct vicinity. Horford came up with some very clutch rebounds down the stretch, where he fully used his length, athleticism, and timing along with a relentless hustle to help secure the game for his team. Horford did a good job boxing out when near the basket, and tracking down rebounds that flew away from the hoop.
Horford also was a strong presence on the weakside on the defensive end, heavily contesting more than a handful of shots over the course of the game, while also earning two blocks in the official box score, though many would contend there were a few more. Horford showed off his mobility by blocking cutters coming through the lane, as well as by making some post blocks on smaller players who tried to score when he was near the basket. Horford showed off a bit of his versatile perimeter defense for a big man by going step-for-step with Ivan Harris on a drive starting from behind the three-point arc early in the first half, forcing him into a missed shot from the middle of the lane.
On the offensive end, Horford started off the game shooting the ball from mid-range, as hes grown accustomed to doing over the past few months. He missed an array of shots from 15 to 18 feet early in the game, though hit two of them as the game went on. In the post, Horford had trouble getting things going when matched up with Oden, being blocked on one occasion, in which he dived on the floor to grab the loose ball and recover the possession for his team. Horford did most of his work on the inside when Oden was out of the game, as he went to quick work on the Ohio State reserves when he had the chance, scoring a nice lefty lay-up off the glass on a spin move on one occasion and drawing a foul on another spin move from eight feet out on another. Horford also hit a running 12-foot floater with the shot clock winding down late in the game.
While Horford played well in most areas for his team, and was one of the driving forces leading his team to victory, aside teammate Corey Brewer of course, he was also exposed in one key area that could shake up his NBA draft stock. Because he showed similar issues against another NBA post player in Randolph Morris earlier in the season, this is something NBA teams will look at more closely in making their evaluations. Horfords normal style of defense in the post is to play with his hands up and by keeping his body in front of his man, forcing them into tough shots. That clearly didnt work here against Greg Oden, and its an adjustment hes going to have to make at the next level, using more physicality and adding some more strength to his excellent frame to maintain his position down low. Theres a chance this could push him down a few spots in the lottery, but he still has all the defensive tools in the world, excellent basketball IQ, and a great motor, which will allow him to learn to make those adjustments at the next level, should he have the right coaching.
Mike Conley Jr., 6-1, Freshman, Point Guard, Ohio State
20 points, 3 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 turnovers, 4 steals, 7-13 FG, 5-6 FT, 1-3 3P
Less than a minute into the first half, Conley made his presence felt by stripping Taurean Green of the basketball and sprinting the other way for a breakaway layup. Just a couple of minutes later he took the ball coast-to-coast for another layup, weaving his way through Gator defenders. That would be it for a while for Conley who didnt score very much in the first half, as he was hampered for the most part by foul trouble. Despite this, he still kept Ohio State in the game thanks to his stellar point guard play. Relying on his unbelievable control with the ball, quickness, and craftiness, Conley was able to drive and kick several times in that first half, including one particularly impressive drive and dish along the baseline that set up teammate Ivan Harris for an open three.
In the second half, Conley would step up his scoring efforts, finishing with 20 points in the game. A mediocre shooter from the outside during the year, he couldnt manage to get his jumper going, hitting just a floater in the lane and a meaningless three in the games waning seconds. What he lacked from the outside though, he more than made up for going to the basket. Twice, Conley fooled defenders along the baseline with a crossover move, and twice he went strong to the basket taking a reverse layup. He converted on the first attempt in spectacular fashion, and missed the second amidst heavy pressure from the Florida interior. Later in the game he showed his elusiveness again, this time fooling Joakim Noah with a quick spin move in the lane that ended in another easy layup.
On defense, Conley had another solid game, playing pesky on the ball. He got caught napping a couple times and was burned off the dribble by Taurean Green, but in general Conley looked very sharp. He has great hands, and it showed in this game as he deflected several passes, and a couple of them wound up as steals, either for him or a teammate. More so than his hands though, its his instincts and knowledge of where to position himself when his man doesnt have the ball that makes him dangerous. A couple of Conleys steals came from his anticipation and playing the angles correctly on defense, cutting off passing lanes. These are little nuances that most freshmen havent added to their game yet defensively.
Despite disappearing for a stretch in the first half due to foul trouble, this was still a great performance from Conley. When he wasnt hitting shots, he was setting up teammates or drawing fouls by being persistent. When he wasnt on the ball defensively, he was forcing his man to work anyway. This was one of the most impressive seasons by any freshman in the country, and the future is clearly very bright for Conley.
Joakim Noah, 611, PF/C, Junior, Florida
8 points, 3 rebounds, 1-3 FG, 6-6 FT
Noah was mostly invisible for the rest of the game, occasionally stepping in to contest some shots on the defensive end or pulling down a rare rebound. He gave up two drives on switches against Ohio State guards, one against Mike Conley and another against Ron Lewis. Noah was rarely matched with Oden in the game, but when he was he couldnt physically play against him, not boxing him out on one occasion and giving up position in the post for an easy Oden jam on another.
This game shouldnt hurt his stock all too much, mainly because of his foul trouble and the fact that he was hacked without a foul called on multiple occasions in the post on offense. Noah could face some problems at the next level when he cant get his post game going, mainly because he wont have many mismatch opportunities at the PF position to get his face-up game going, so thats something teams might want to be concerned about. Noah also wont get the benefit of many foul calls early in his career, so he could have trouble scoring in the post there as well. Noah should follow in teammate Al Horfords footsteps by working on his mid-range shot, as that, along with offensive rebounding, are the two offensive skills that most easily translate to the next level for big men, and it could help ease his transition when the other areas of his game arent on.