Final Four: Hoyas have tools to fill tall order
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ATLANTA -- By the time Roy Hibbert and Greg Oden crouch next to each other at center court for the opening tip tomorrow night, just about every conceivable and appropriate comparison of them will have been meticulously drawn.
One is 84 inches tall and 270 pounds, the other 86 inches and 278 pounds, and, as they are clearly the biggest people in the biggest college basketball weekend between last March and next, all kinds of speculative analyses on the potential blowback of banging two 7-footers together in the national semifinal between Georgetown and Ohio State are suddenly available.
So while we're speculating, let's at least go straight to the really cogent stuff, shall we?
How old does the Ohio State center look, really?
Oden is 19, a freshman, and possessed with the kind of talent that makes him the primary focus of every athletic event he has come near, practically. He further is possessed of the kind of visage, shared by LeBron James as it happens, that make him look much older.
He looks 29, maybe 39. OK, maybe I'm not ready to suggest that Greg Oden could double for Morgan Freeman in one of the 38 movies in which Freeman plays the wise old voice-over guy even as he's walking through the film in character, but Oden just looks like he was in college a long time ago when he was in high school only last year.
Maybe that's why by most informed scenarios, he'll be playing in the NBA next fall.
"He's a terrific player," is about all Hibbert has volunteered to this point. "He's a force down low, and we're going to have to contain him and keep him off the boards. I'm sure coach [John] Thompson is going to discuss ways to limit his touches."
The inverse discussion has been going on all week in Ohio State's cram sessions because Hibbert roars into the collision tomorrow night pulling five consecutive double-doubles. A 7-2 junior who is a slightly better ball-handler and passer than Oden, Hibbert leads this tournament in rebounding. Leads this tournament in blocks. He might further lead this tournament in confidence, a quality not always in evidence.
"I told him, 'Relax big fella,' " Thompson remembered about an in-game conversation in the second round against Boston College. "With about two minutes and change left in the first half [and Hibbert sitting next to him with two points], I had a long talk with him while the game was going on; I don't remember ever doing that with a player. I told him he was just too tentative. I'm not sure how many turnovers he had, but he was fumbling the ball out there. I said, 'Relax, we're coming to you.' "
In the second half, Hibbert scored 15 points, grabbed 10 of his 11 rebounds, and Georgetown was in the Sweet 16. But, even though Hibbert is hotter right now than at any time since he scorched the Pitt Panthers for 18 points and 11 rebounds in the Big East title game March 10, and even though Oden is leading this tournament in field-goal percentage at .625, the Oden-Hibbert issue has an equally compelling question hanging right there in its mirror.
The big question tomorrow might not come down to whether Ohio State plays better with Oden than Georgetown does with Hibbert. It just as likely comes down to which team plays better with its biggest player on the bench.
Pressed on it, I'd say that team will be Georgetown, because Hibbert's frequent absences due to foul trouble virtually ignite the creative aspects of Patrick Ewing Jr., the catalyst when the Hoyas have to play small, and the reliable reason they play small so very well.
It was Ewing, don't forget, who made most of the crucial plays and provided frantic defensive pressure along the back line as Georgetown dug out of an 11-point second-half hole against North Carolina. Ewing's basket off a Jeff Green miss pulled the Hoyas within one.
That's not to say Ohio State is exactly helpless when Oden is forced off the floor. Against Tennessee and Xavier, Ron Lewis and Mike Conley Jr. have led brilliant comebacks that have been the essential of Ohio State's postseason profile.
"If you just worry about Oden," Memphis coach John Calipari said, "you lose."
Oh there's plenty of worry to go around, but even though Ohio State has won 21 consecutive games, Georgetown's gathering momentum, particularly on defense, looks more telling at the moment. The Hoyas, don't forget, were never ranked higher than eighth in The Associated Press poll this season, slotting at 22nd as recently as Feb. 5. Ohio State never ranked lower than seventh, finishing at No. 1 in the final three polls.
Someone not necessarily named Hibbert or Oden will run out of miracles tomorrow night. It will be Georgetown that plays again Monday.
First Published March 30, 2007 12:00 am