Saturday, March 31, 2007

NCAA Semi-Finals Game Picks

6:07 pm EDT Georgetown (-1) vs. Ohio State - As has been noted almost everywhere, the looming confrontation between the big men in the middle, Ohio State's Greg Oden and Georgetown's Roy Hibbert, is supposed to be the main focus of this game.

While what the 7-footers accomplish in the lane will certainly have an impact on the game, there are going to be 8 other players on the floor at all times and none of them are more important than Georgetown's Jeff Green and the Buckeyes' Mike Conley Jr.

Conley has been an exemplar of consistency and cool throughout the tournament. Even as a freshman, he's displayed the kind of floor leadership that has propelled Ohio State to the pinnacle of college basketball. Often overlooked because of the plaudits going to Oden or the 3-point exploits of Jamar Butler or Ron Lewis, when there's a big play to be made it's Conley who's the trigger man. Whenever there's a critical play, Conley's usually in the middle of it.

While there's no way to accurately measure things like off-the-ball movement, intensity and hoops instincts, Conley gets high marks on all of those. His penetration and distribution of the ball will be key to Ohio State's success.

For the Hoyas, beyond Hibbert, they have the incomparable Jeff Green, the Big East Player of the Year. Green exploded in last year's post-season and has been vital to the Hoyas' success this season. He's already hit two big shots in tournaments this year - game winners against Notre Dame in the Big East tourney and last weekend's tough banker for the win over Vanderbilt.

Green's game is complete. He's got the size to compete in the lane and a shooting touch that is deadly from 3-point range. Defenders have a difficult choice when guarding him. Get in his face and he's likely to blow by you for an easy layup or dunk. Lay off him and he'll knock down long and mid-range jumpers.

Defensively, Green is a ferocious rebounder with incredible leaping ability. He's the most athletic player on the floor most nights and his all-around play will lead Georgetown to a win here.

One other player to keep a close eye on is Georgetown's Jonathan Wallace. The purest shooter in the game, if he gets hot, the Hoyas could romp.

Bottom Line: Hibbert gets a slight edge over Oden, Green has 20 or more, Ohio State goes cold from beyond the arc and Georgetown wins 82-71.

8:47 pm EDT Florida (-3) vs. UCLA - Call this one "The Rematch." Most of the characters from last year's championship game are back in similar roles.Sports Training Products

The Florida Gators, while they haven't shown much of the emotion that got them the rings last season, are nevertheless on a mission, this time to prove that they are once again, the top team in the land. They're just doing it with a little more control and confidence this time around.

It's difficult to say which players will be key for the Gators, but since Arron Afflalo is the key to UCLA, Corey Brewer, who will likely be guarding him, is the main focus for Florida. Brewer is long and lean and difficult to defend himself, which creates matchup problems for the Bruins.

Afflalo, however, is regarded as the Bruins' best defender and top scorer and should be able to front Brewer effectively. When he has the ball, he's going to have to create offense on his own, and that's going to prove difficult. In last year's finals, Afflalo was invisible for large parts of the game, mostly due to Brewer's defense.

This time around, however, it's a little different. Ben Howland has a different offense, with explosive Darren Collison at point instead of the more careful, sometimes plodding, Jordan Farmar. If Collison is handling the ball, Afflalo and Josh Shipp should be able to work off screens for open looks and keep UCLA from going though extended scoring droughts.

Beyond the matchups, the real impact here is going to be UCLA's team defense. They're better than they were a year ago, and they know what's coming. While they won't exactly frustrate the Gators, the Bruins will be able to create enough havoc and turnovers to keep the game close and maybe put together some scoring runs of their own.

Bottom Line: UCLA turns up the defense, Joakim Noah spends much of the 2nd half on the bench and Collison emerges as star of the game in a 74-69 Bruins win.

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