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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Gators Chomp Bruins

The Florida Gators dispatched the UCLA Bruins 73-57 in Monday night's NCAA Championship Game. Florida easily broke UCLA's full court press, resulting in numerous dunks and only six turnovers. At the other end of the court, UCLA's forays to the hoop usually met with rejection (10 blocked shots) and the Bruins shot an abysmal 3-17 from three point range. Florida led by as much as 20 in the second half and even when UCLA cut the lead to 12 the outcome was never seriously in doubt.

This is the biggest margin of victory in an NCAA Championship Game since Duke beat Michigan 71-51 in 1992. While I was watching the game I thought to myself that NCAA Championship Games seemed more exciting and closely contested when I was younger. I wondered if this was really the case or if I was selectively remembering the good games and forgetting the bad ones. Here's what I found in the NCAA Final Four Records Book: From 1979--when Magic Johnson's Michigan State Spartans defeated Larry Bird's Indiana State Sycamores--until Duke's rout in 1992, the victory margins in NCAA Championship Games were 11, 5, 13, 1, 2, 9, 2, 3, 1, 4, 1 (overtime), 30, 7. Even including UNLV's rout of Duke in 1990, that adds up to 13 games decided by an average of 6.8 points. Take that anomalous game out of the mix--it is easily the biggest blowout in NCAA Championship Game history--and you have more than a decade's worth of championships decided by less than five points on average. It may sound corny, but it's true: the "good ol' days" really were better.

Give Florida credit--they play hard, they play smart and they play together. I enjoy watching them--but their dismantling of UCLA and the ease with which they scored against the Bruins' vaunted defense suggests that what I said in an earlier post is true, namely that some of the ugliness that we have witnessed in NCAA tournament games this year is not the result of good defense but poor offensive execution. Florida made two or three passes and UCLA's press disintegrated like papier mache in a meat grinder. The same thing happened in the half court set.

Joakim Noah earned Most Outstanding Player honors with his fine 16 point, nine rebound, six blocked shot performance. Still, someone needs to rein in Billy Packer before he adds Noah's name to the list of inductees for the Hall of Fame. Packer mentioned at the start of the game that he thought that Noah had a good chance to break the title game mark for blocked shots (four). Noah did indeed accomplish this and Packer actually compared him to Bob Kurland, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton, four legends who attended the game (by the way, how cool is that?). The only problem is that the NCAA did not record blocked shots until 1986; I'm going to take a stab in the dark here and suggest that at least one of those Hall of Famers (or Patrick Ewing or Hakeem Olajuwon, two other great pre-1986 shot blockers) had more than six blocks in an NCAA Championship Game. Packer's been covering these games forever and actually played for Wake Forest in the 1962 Final Four. Doesn't he know that blocked shots have only been recorded for the past 20 years? Isn't that worth mentioning? Play-by-play man Jim Nantz did raise this possibility under his breath, but it was not brought up again. Couldn't somebody at CBS look this up before the end of the game?

But wait--there's more. Packer also suggested that Noah's performance in this Final Four reminds him of Danny Manning and Glen Rice. Huh? Back to the Final Four Records Book, where we find that Manning had 31 points, 18 rebounds, five steals, two assists and two blocks in an 83-79 victory over favored Oklahoma in the 1988 Championship Game. Oklahoma had future NBA players Stacey King, Harvey Grant and Mookie Blaylock. Rice had 31 points (including 5-12 shooting from three point range) and 11 rebounds in Michigan's 80-79 overtime win over Seton Hall in 1989. Of course, Walton's 44 points (on 21-22 shooting from the field) and 11 rebounds in a 87-66 win over Memphis in 1973 is not too shabby, either. Noah is an excellent player and a joy to watch--but let's not put him in the pantheon of all-time greats just yet.

Now that the NBA will no longer be snatching the best players straight out of high school, I look forward to better, more competitive NCAA games in upcoming years. Next season, Ohio State will have a highly touted freshman class, headlined by center Greg Oden, who surely would have at least considered turning pro if that option were open to him. How much better might this year's Tournament have been if LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Amare Stoudemire, etc. were participating? Of course, Billy Packer may think that Noah is already better than all of those guys as well--but that is something that we will be able to evaluate with our own eyes soon enough. Noah will eventually be a good pro but I hope that he stays at Florida and battles Oden as opposed to jumping to the NBA; an extra year of seasoning would do him, college hoops and the NBA a world of good.

posted by David Friedman @ 12:15 AM

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