It turned out to be the night of disappearing stars.
First, it was Georgetown's Jeff Green forgetting to show up against Ohio State, then later it was Pac-10 player of the year Arron Afflalo getting shut down by Florida for the second consecutive year.
Both proved to be fatal to their team's chances of advancing to the championship game on Monday night.
Green absolutely was taken out of his game by the Buckeyes, who used a four-guard offense to swarm and overpower the Hoyas while center Greg Oden rode the pine with foul trouble. Afflalo finished with 17 points, but he scored the bulk of them with the game already out of reach. His team needed him, and he couldn't deliver.
Perhaps the thing that continues to surprise people is that the Buckeyes are far more than a one trick pony. So much was made by people such as myself of Oden's impact on that game, but the Buckeyes played some of their best ball while he was on the bench, as pointed out by reader drpezz. In fact, they were able to increase their lead in the first half while Oden was out of the game with two fouls.
Then, when Oden came back in with Hibbert in foul trouble, he took over, I believe scoring six consecutive points. Then when he got his fourth foul, the Buckeyes were again able to keep playing at a high level. Mike Conley Jr. is a heck of a point guard -- he dictates pace as well as just about any guard in this tournament -- and Ohio State proved it can beat a quality opponent in more than one way.
Other quick observations ...
- I came away very impressed with Roy Hibbert. He comported himself very nicely against Oden. He's not the most athletic guy, but he uses his body pretty well to play tall. Georgetown's coaching staff deserves a lot of credit for turning that guy into the player that he is -- he's clearly been coached well.
- The big battle between Oden and Hibbert never materialized, thanks to fouls. There was a lot of outcry on ESPN in the aftermath about letting the big guys play, but I came away with a different take: These guys need to play smarter. Both Oden and Hibbert picked up some silly fouls -- Oden's moving screen and Hibbert's chicken wing rebound come to mind -- and that changed the game more than anything. They have to know that they're big, and they have to not commit such silly fouls -- it jsut shows tremendous immaturity. I do agree with Vitale on one thing, though: I wouldn't mind seeing college basketball go to six fouls. These are kids still learning how to play the game, and it would keep silly fouls -- or questionable calls -- from changing the outcome of games.
- How about UCLA getting outrebounded 42-25 by Florida? The Bruins' big men just couldn't physically matchup with the Gators, as I suspected. Al Horford and Joakim Noah combined for 28 rebounds all by themselves. Let me repeat that: Horford and Noah had more rebounds than the entire UCLA team! And so much for that vaunted UCLA defense. Florida shot 53 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3-point range.
- If there was any doubt about Florida's intensity on its way to the Final Four, the Gators clearly showed they were just waiting for this stage. All those guys came back for this opportunity, and they clearly were not going to let this night pass them by. Should be interesting to see if Ohio State wilts under the championship game pressure in the face of a motivated Florida squad.
We'll have some more notes in the next day or so, including a full-blown preview of the game on Monday night. See you then.