Infamous play-by-play announcer Al Michaels once coined the phrase, "do you believe in miracles?
The rhetoric question, posed to audiences world wide about the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team is one being asked right now by Ohio State basketball fans celebrating a first National Championship game appearance since 1962.
Of course, opposing fans might also say it's a miracle Ohio State is still alive after the non-intentional intentional foul on Greg Oden in the waning moments of regulation in the Buckeyes' second round victory against Xavier. Either way you slice it, Ohio State's got their moment on the big stage.
Pundits say Ohio State is only in Monday evening's 2007 National Championship on the good will of the tournament officials. You probably won't hear that from Florida fans, because the Gators have had good fortune in their own right. In five tournament games, Florida's opponents have been whistled for 126 fouls to just 74 for the Gators. That's an average of 25 fouls to 15 per game.
But it's not just Florida.
Collectively, people are having a mass orgy to cry about the officiating conspiracy. Those tyrannical referees. That crooked NCAA. They're fixing themselves a Florida - Ohio State rematch to bring mega bucks to CBS, playing off the "BCS National Championship" storyline.
Although you might get some spirited debates in Los Angeles, Lawrence or Chapel Hill, this National Championships was probably the most anticipated. It was also arguably the one that matched up the nation's two best teams.
Is Ohio State lucky to be here? What's luck go to do (got to do with it)?
In all reality, they probably are. But 'tis better to be lucky than good, says many a wise man. I've never seen a good daunt through the grueling NCAA Tournament obstacle course without a little bit of luck.
Ohio State's lucky charms and Joakim Noah's hair will not be the center of attention Monday evening. Nor will it be Billy Donovan's U-Haul truck heading northbound on I-75 to a horse farm somewhat in Lexington the following day.
This will be about one team that's played Rodney Dangerfield's "no respect" card perfectly all season to self-motivate themselves, and accordingly defend last year's dominating victory. It's about another team that has learned to play two styles - one with a 7-1 wooly mammouth and another with a bunch of antelope.
The Jan. 8 shellacking aside, these two teams have been there. Done that.
December 23, 2007 was an 86-60 beating that Ohio State fans not soon forget. If not for 41-14, maybe it would be that particular day that live in infamy. But much has changed since then.
Some might say history repeats itself. Others will say third time's a charm. Where you sit on that particular fence might have something to do with whether you're wearing blue or red. But one thing's for certain, when the ball is tipped tomorow evening at 9 pm eastern, it all will be charming ancient history.
Since that day three months ago, Oden grew a healthy right hand. Al Hoford isn't nursing an injured ankle. Ron Lewis isn't still trying to become an NBA lottery pick. Othello Hunter isn't horrified by a large crowd. Corey Brewer isn't huffing and puffing from mononucleosis. Matt Terwilliger is using two hands for a rebound and Noah isn't screaming after every dunk, pounding his chest at every timeout and swatting at basketballs and pom-poms.
OK, not everything is different.
This much is true: Ohio State (35-3) will play Florida (34-5) for the National Championship. There are several reasons why either team might pull out victory in Atlanta. One could argue it's Ohio State that has ammuntion to pull the "no one believes in us," approach that worked for Florida head football coach Urban Meyer against the Buckeyes in January as nearly every single national basketball analyst is picking the Gators to win.
If Ohio State fans want their own "Kirk Herbstreit" motivation, they can take a gander at the poignant columns of CBS Sportsline writer, Gregg Doyel. If you don't believe Florida is overwhelming favorites, I'll save you the yacking, hurling and tell you not to bother.
My take? Here are 10 reasons why Ohio State will beat Florida Monday evening. In interest of fair game, I'm also going to give 10 more reasons why it will be Florida hoisting the trophy (again) in a seperate column Monday.
10 REASONS WHY OHIO STATE WILL BEAT FLORIDA THIS TIME AROUND
10. This game will not be played at the O-Dome. Ohio State head coach Thad Matta called the previous meeting in Gainesville, "one of the best atmospheres" he's ever seen. Although the rowdy reptile fans were out in numbers in Atlanta this weekend, Florida will not have the homecourt advantage.
9. Ohio State is mentally tougher than three months ago. With 17 minutes left in the game, Ohio State had used a 9-0 run to tie the game at 40-40 back in December. From there, Florida went on a 12-0 run and the floodgates opened for a convincing 86-60 win. Since that time, Ohio State has escapped last second shots against Tennessee (twice), Michigan State, Wisconsin and Penn State. In addition, the Buckeyes survived a 20-point deficit to the Volunteers and rallied from a 9-point deficit against Xavier in the second round.
8. The not-so-lumbering-limb of Oden is alive and well. With a healthy right wrist, Oden has a wider arsenal of go-to moves in the post. Also back in December, Oden was lumbering a bit with coordination and still getting into game shape. Now that Oden is confident and on top of his game, double teams and help-offs won't be nearly as effective this encounter.
7. Florida knows they beat Ohio State badly. For a team that uses slights and disrespect as motivation, will Donovan be able to trick a team's psyche into thinking it's an underdog against a team it beat by 26 points? Likely not. Florida regained the mental edge after losing to Vanderbilt, Tennessee and LSU and has since been picking up steam. However, Ohio State has won 22 games in a row and there's a whole lot of reasons (26 of them) for the Buckeye players to play with a chip on their shoulders.
6. Fate. This can be a two-sided argument as Florida fans (rightfully so) probably feel like they're destined to win another title. But this game is nearly the polar opposite of the situation in football where Ohio State was the heavy favorite and Florida just kept winning and winning, despite no one believing they were as good. Ohio State fans feel like something's meant to be, and for the football comparisons - where Ohio State has not fared well against the SEC in bowl games, it's done remarkably well against the SEC in the NCAA Tournament.
5. Since December, a lot has changed with Ohio State. Lewis has improved shot selection, David Lighty's defense and all-around play has improved ten-fold while Conley has become one of the most unstoppable players in the nation. The 22-game win streak doesn't do justice how much more complete a team Ohio State has become since they last met Florida. The Gators are playing better basketball, but beyond the emergence of Chris Richard, the dynamic of the team hasn't changed.
4. Ivan Harris and Terwilliger mean business. Not to ruin an objective analysis, but mother mary button down the hatches - when Harris and Terwilliger both come to play with intensity and a sense of focus, something's gone terribly awry in the cosmic universe.
3. Oden has something to prove. No, he doesn't have to "prove" anything to be the No. 1-pick in the NBA draft this June. He also doesn't have to do anything more to justify his worth to any casual observer. That said, Oden has been watching half of Ohio State's tournament jog from the bench and if there's one thing you should know about Oden, it's that he holds himself to a higher standard than that of your average bear. Whether or not this will be Oden's last college game is officially undetermined, but if in fact he's leaning that direction, don't discount him going out with a bang.
2. Both Florida and Ohio State are "battle tested." That said, Florida's M.O. all year has been rally from early deficits to pull away in the second half or later in the game. What happens if Florida is in a tie game or within a few points in the game's final minute? Ohio State has already survived those situations but it remains to be seen how the Gators will react.
1. Ohio State is no longer a jump-shooting team. The Buckeyes have morphed into a team that attacks defense off the dribble, have a better blend of inside-outside play and have improved defensively. The Buckeyes are likely to learn lessons from the hedging nightmare on screens created by Noah and Horford the first time around.
Stay tuned early Monday for 10 reasons why Florida will win (again.)