Tonight's NCAA final

April 02, 2007|By HEATHER A. DINICH

The game

What -- NCAA men's tournament championship game

Site -- Georgia Dome, Atlanta

Time -- 9:21

TV/Radio -- Chs. 13, 9/1090 AM

Line -- Florida by 4 1/2

The teams

No. 1 seed Florida -- 34-5; Southeastern Conference regular-season (13-3) and tournament champion; 15th NCAA tournament appearance.

No. 1 seed Ohio State --35-3; Big Ten Conference regular-season (15-1) and tournament champion; 20th NCAA tournament appearance.

The frontcourts

Florida's Al Horford and Joakim Noah are combining for 24.8 points, 22.2 rebounds and four blocks in the NCAA tournament. Horford grabbed a school tournament-record 17 rebounds against UCLA in the national semifinal Saturday and has been in double figures in scoring in 11 of the past 14 games. Noah has eight double doubles this season. Ohio State freshman Greg Oden leads the Buckeyes in scoring (15.4 points) and rebounding (9.5).

Edge -- Florida

The backcourts

Ohio State freshman Mike Conley Jr. has been in the shadow of Oden, but he is an extremely athletic player who runs the court well. He has scored in double digits in 10 of his past 11 games, including a team-high 15 Saturday against Georgetown. He and guard Jamar Butler combined for 10 assists Saturday and just one turnover. Florida lacks a true point guard, but Taurean Green is averaging 13.6 points and 4.2 assists in the tournament. The Gators' backcourt trio of Green, Humphrey and Walter Hodge combined to shoot 45.5 percent from three-point range in the team's 34 wins.

Edge -- Ohio State

The benches

The Buckeyes will need Daequan Cook, who has had an inconsistent season, to use his size and athleticism and be a factor. David Lighty added five points and three rebounds in 25 minutes Saturday, but Ohio State lacks a reliable bench player like Florida's Chris Richard. Richard is averaging 9.2 points and making 90.5 percent of his shots in the tournament. Hodge is making 50 percent of his three-pointers and adding 5.7 points per game.

Edge -- Florida

The coaches

Thad Matta put together a stellar recruiting class that has paid dividends, and he has a 12-5 record in the NCAA tournament, but this is his first appearance in the Final Four. Florida's Billy Donovan has joined Roy Williams and Tom Izzo as the only coaches to make three or more NCAA Final Four appearances since 2000.

Edge -- Florida

Keys to the game

Oden needs to avoid foul trouble, and officiating hasn't been too generous in the Final Four, especially for anyone 7 feet tall. His teammates can help him out by limiting the path to the basket for Florida's guards and helping out on rebounds. Ivan Harris was matched up with Noah the last time these teams met and needs to make him work harder for his shots if he defends against him again. Ohio State can't lose track of Humphrey, a sharp three-point shooter.

Prediction

The Gators have three potential first-round NBA draft picks in their starting lineup. They are one year removed from winning the national championship. All five starters are averaging in double figures and have reached the 1,000-point mark this season. Their career starting minutes in the NCAA tournament total 1,950, compared with Ohio State's 750. Although Ohio State has improved since it was beaten soundly by Florida three months ago, the Gators remain the better team.

Florida 79, Ohio State 66

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