Burlison: Plenty of Pop in FF

The 2007 Final Four has a little bit of something for just about everyone to get excited over . . . unless, of course, you're a Kansas or North Carolina fan. There is a defending champion, a defending runner-up and a couple of very big and very talented big guys all en route to Atlanta...

Unless you're amongst the hardcore North Carolina or Kansas faithful, it's difficult imaging anyone nitpicking about the 2007 Final Four field.

 

Florida? It's the defending national champion and it's bringing every starter who took the floor in the RCA Dome a year ago with it to the Georgia Dome this weekend.

 

UCLA? The Bruins were the team that lost to the Gators in Indy on the final night of the season last April. Jordan Farmar turned pro after the season and Cedric Bozeman and Ryan Hollins were seniors a year ago but Coach Ben Howland has plenty back from the team that stumbled against Billy Donovan's Crew, including first-team All-American guard Arron Afflalo.

 

Ohio State? The Buckeyes have lost only three games, road contests to North Carolina (which came within a missed jump shot in the closing seconds Sunday in East Rutherford from joining in on the Atlanta fun), Florida (the one and the same) and Big Ten runner-up Wisconsin. In case you haven't caught their act yet, they start a couple of pretty nifty freshmen. They're so nifty (as in immensely talented) that you might not see them as sophomores.

 

Georgetown? Sure, the Hoyas have an imposing set of post players in 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert and 6-9 Jeff Green. But Coach John Thompson III has much more than those future (as in soon to be) lottery selections, or else they wouldn't have rallied from 10 points down late in regulation and knocked off the Tar Heels Sunday.

 

It will mark the first time since 1997 that a defending champion (Kentucky) reached a Final Four.

 

And it will give us the first Final Four rematch since 1991, when Duke upset No. 1 UNLV in a semifinal in Indianapolis a year after the Blue Devils were blasted by the Rebels in the championship game in Denver.

 

REGIONAL WRAPUPS:

*North Carolina didn't see its 10-point lead with six minutes to play against Georgetown dissipate into a 92-84 overtime loss Sunday because there was too many quality players on its roster or because of Coach Roy Williams' subbing patterns.

 

The Tar Heels came up short of the Final Four bid many had conceded them before the season because of the same couple of issues that led to them losing five Atlantic Coast Conference games: Sometimes shaky shot selection and often less-than-airtight half-court defense.

 

And, let us don't forget, a very good Georgetown team had something to do with it, too.

 

*Florida had difficulty checking Aaron Brooks (27 points) and Malik Hairston (18) for much of the Midwest Region final against Oregon Sunday in St. Louis.

 

But the way the frontcourt of Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer was dictating things at both ends of the floor from the mid-point of the first half and beyond, and the fashion in which Lee Humphrey and Taurean Green (who combined for 11 of them) were knocking in 3-pointers soon rendered any defensive shortcomings moot.

 

As I've written and said about a zillion times now: The Gators were the favorites to repeat as the national champions back in November and will continue to carry that tag unless someone bounces them out of the tourney before they can climb ladders and take scissors to twine in Atlanta on April 2.

 

*Ohio State had plenty of difficulties with Memphis Saturday in San Antonio, trailing by four points with about 11 minutes to go. But they were nothing compared to what the Buckeyes had to overcome against Xavier (78-71 in overtime after a Ron Lewis 3 tied the score in regulation) or Tennessee (down 20 points late in the first half Thursday night before surviving, 85-84, courtesy the potential victory-saving shot block by Greg Oden at the buzzer).

 

Lewis' 3 may have sent the Xavier game into overtime and Oden slapped Ramar Smith's desperation shot away for Tennessee.

 

But the main reason the Buckeyes will be playing Georgetown Saturday evening in Atlanta is the same reason Ohio State won another Big Ten title and have lost just three times:

 

Mike Conley.

 

Repeat after me ``Mike Conley is the not only the best freshman point guard in the country, he is the best point guard, period."

 

See, it wasn't that tough.

 

*The UCLA Bruins figured to knock off Kansas Saturday night in San Jose if All-American Arron Afflalo could solve his jump-shooting woes.

 

And they did (68-55) because he did (10 of 15 from the field).

 

The Bruins' half-court defense is such that it was a given that Kansas' offensive productivity was going to be limited.

 

The only question concerned whether or now Coach Ben Howland's team could muster enough offense of its own to outscore the Jayhawks, especially since Afflalo had been mired in an 18 of 58 shooting slump over the previous five games.

 

In fact, other than their 24 turnovers (seven of those committed by point guard Darren Collison, who had just one assist), the Bruins were pretty good, offensively, against a very good defense.

 

They hit .533 of their field-goal attempts, the first time in 44 games that a Kansas team had allowed an opponent to hit at least 50 percent from the field.

 

ATLANTA LOOK AHEAD:

*Much will be written and said about the "rematch" of the 2006 championship game in the form of the semifinal hookup between the Bruins and Gators Saturday night.

 

Let's don't forget that the Hoyas and Buckeyes have a rematch of their own Saturday, that of the second-round NCAA Tournament in Dayton last year that was won by Georgetown, 70-52.

 

OSU Coach Thad Matta opted to put his team into a zone defense, instead of a man to man, for much of the game against the Hoyas' version of the "Princeton Offense", which is a pretty good indication of what he might do Saturday night.

 

*Speaking of that game, when is the last time a Final Four has had such a formidable matchup of 7-foot (or in the neighborhood thereof) centers as will be the case when Georgetown's 7-2 Roy Hibbert) and Ohio State's 7-0 Greg Oden) hook up on the Georgia Dome floor Saturday night?

 

I'll suggest 1984 in Seattle, when Patrick Ewing-led Georgetown knocked off Akeem Olajuwon, 84-75.

 

Both players were saddled with foul problems and had modest numbers, Ewing 10 points and nine rebounds and Olajuwon 15 and nine.



 

Inducted into the USBWA Hall of Fame in April, 2005, Frank Burlison is Scout.com's national basketball expert and is also a columnist for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at frank.burlison@presstelegram.com. Read more of Burlison's pieces at www.frankhoops.com


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