6:07 pm EDT (#2 East) Georgetown (30-6) vs. (#1 South) Ohio St. (34-3) - This is the game many have been anticipating all season. The matchup between the two best big men in the country, Ohio State's Greg Oden and Georgetown's Roy Hibbert.
Both 7-footers dominate the middle, can block shots, rebound well, distribute the rock and are serious scoring threats. Putting them on the same floor at the same time recalls famous bouts between Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain or Lew Alcindor and Elvin Hayes. The confrontation, on the biggest stage in college basketball, has the potential to be a classic.
Like many of these confrontations often turn out, this one may end up somewhat of a stalemate. Both centers are power players and thus, each will have their moments. Hibbert and Oden are so evenly matched that the only possible derailment of this encounter would be the refs calling the game too close. The last thing basketball fans want to see is one or the other cooling out on the bench because of foul trouble, but, as both players have shown, they are not very careful about picking up nickel-dimers (as Bill Raftery might say) and hurting their team's chances.
If there's any advantage at all, it would be Hibbert's maturity. As a junior, he's got a couple of years playing time over Oden, which means his footwork and game understanding is likely to be a little more advanced than that of the Ohio State star.
Statistically, Hibbert has the edge on paper, though not by much. His shooting percentage is 67%, as compared to Oden's 62%. Both are capable free throw shooters; Hibbert hits at 70%, Oden, 64%. Defensively, Oden has the edge with 9.5 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game, compared to Hibbert at 6.9 and 2.5. Hibbert averages 12.7 points per game, Oden, 15.4. Obviously, there's little separating the two.
That gets us to the rest of the starters, the bench and the coaches. The other star for Georgetown is Big East Player of the Year, Jeff Green, who can score from anywhere on the court, but it most dangerous on slashing moves to the hoop. His Buckeye counterpart would be Ron Lewis, an all-around performer who's leading Ohio State (and all remaining players) in scoring at 21.8 ppg. He's a proven commodity as a clutch player, having hit the game-tying 3-pointer against Xavier. When the Buckeyes stared elimination in the eye, Lewis didn't blink.
The Buckeyes may be known more for their 3-point shooting than the Hoyas, as, in addition to Lewis, Jamar Butler can also throw down from well beyond the arc and Mike Conley Jr. hasn't shown any shyness in hoisting from 3-point land. The Hoyas, however, have two players with high percentages from behind the line: Patrick Ewing Jr. and Jonathan Wallace, who hit at 46% and 49%, respectively.
Wallace is especially dangerous whenever he has an open look. A bona fide pure shooter, Wallace is the X-factor for Georgetown. If he gets hot, forget the Oden-Hibbert games and everything else; Ohio State will have to trade baskets with the Hoyas - no easy feat.
Jessie Sapp and DaJuan Summers of the Hoyas are both slashers, not necessarily outside threats similar to Ohio State's Conley Jr. The Buckeyes' Ivan Harris is more a jump shooter than a driver and he'll opt for 3's rather than drive.
Both teams can go 9 deep, with the key subs being Daequan Cook and David Lighty for Ohio State. Cook is the Buckeye's most consistent 3-point shooter at 42% efficiency, while Lighty is a good ball-handler, slasher and rebounder with excellent instincts. The Hoyas will have Jeremiah Rivers off the bench early on. He's an excellent point guard who can control the offense. Ewing Jr. will also see plenty of floor time when the Hoyas want to go big.
Emotionally, the Hoyas seem to have an advantage. They were a #2 seed, Ohio State a #1, so they may take on the relished role of underdog, thinking they have something to prove, while the Buckeyes, who came into the tournament ranked #1 in the nation, have bullseyes on their backs.
Both coaches, Georgetown's John Thompson Jr. and Ohio State's Thad Motta have serious top-notch credentials and are masters of discipline and game-situation understanding. Both will be into the game from the start and neither will hamper their teams chances of winning.
The other advantage in this contest is the Hoyas' overall height differential. Here's an odd stat, that you'll see nowhere else. Ohio State's combined starters' height is 32'2". The Hoyas starting five measure up at 32'11". That's 9 inches difference or nearly 2 inches per starter. Not that the Buckeyes' players are small, but there's a height advantage for the Hoyas just about everywhere. Hibbert is actually 2 inches taller than Oden. Whether the overall height makes a difference will be hard to tell, but there's definitely an effect.
Tomorrow, I'll present my final picks for both semi-final games.