NCAA tourney Final Four picks are here

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Joakim Noah

STAYING ON TOP. Expect Joakim Noah and the Florida Gators to top the Georgetown Hoyas and repeat as NCAA champions.

Over the past few weeks, hoops fans have been dazzled by a spectacular array of college basketball games. Many regard March Madness as the most exciting sports tournament out there, but rarely does it have this many high-calibre games.

With no major upsets heading into the Final Four, the games’ quality will likely be higher than ever. As always, a team’s success comes down to the play of its guards.

Ohio State vs. Georgetown
The individual matchup of the tournament, Roy Hibbert vs. Greg Oden, is the game’s highlight. Rarely do two seven-footers meet in college ball, so all eyes will be on the battle in the lane. The winner will be measured in fouls, as he with the fewest will stay in the game.

The attention will be down low, but the other eight players’ efforts will decide the game. Georgetown’s key guys are Jonathan Wallace and Big East Player of the Year Jeff Green. The Buckeyes need Mike Conley Jr. and Ron Lewis to excel to have a chance.

The Hoyas also have the edge in intangibles. Georgetown’s John Thompson III is simply a better coach than Thad Matta. Georgetown also starts mainly juniors while the Buckeyes generally start freshmen. These differences could be decisive in the pressure-packed Final Four.

Look for Georgetown to slow the game down and to ride Green to its first national championship game since 1982.

Florida vs. UCLA
Hopefully, this rematch of last year’s championship game will be more exciting than the original. With all five starters returning from last year’s title squad, Florida is favoured to win this game and the tournament. Its biggest strength is its ability to beat opponents from any position; it has one of the best starting fives in the country. UCLA relies primarily on its guards to win games.

The most important question for UCLA coach Ben Howland is how to handle Florida’s loaded frontcourt of Joakim Noah and Al Horford. The Bruins have undersized big men, so they’ll have to pick their poison " let Florida’s frontcourt score or double down and take their chances with the Gators’ suddenly hot outside shooting.

Don’t count UCLA out, though, as its pressure defence will force many turnovers from sloppy Florida guard play. The Bruins also find ways to win against superior talent, as they did in their recent win versus Kansas.

This game will finish much closer than last year’s title match, and if it comes down to the final shot, UCLA should win because of All-American Arron Afflalo. It won’t, though; the Gators’ all-around skill will propel them to their second consecutive national title game.

Georgetown vs. Florida
Florida will beat Georgetown to repeat as national champions. Though Georgetown may match Florida down low, the Gators’ guards are better than Georgetown’s and will win the game even if Florida loses the low-post battle.

Other final possibilities
If Ohio State beats Georgetown, it should struggle against Florida. Oden can’t win the inside battle against Florida’s big men alone, and Florida’s skilled backcourt will definitively outplay the OSU guards.

If UCLA makes the final, it’s skilled enough to beat both OSU and Georgetown. The Bruins’ advantage in guard play will overcome their inferior post play.

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