Different Roads to Final Four
Greg Oden - (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Greg Oden - (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Posted Mar 28, 2007

Ohio State's Greg Oden is the prospect. Georgetown's Roy Hibbert was the project. Jeff Goodman says we'll find out which road to the Final Four will end in the national championship game when these two titans clash Saturday.

Greg Oden was always considered the finished product. Strong, agile and dominant nearly every time he took the court. Roy Hibbert was always known as a project. Unorthodox in his movements, gangly and someone who somehow managed to blend in despite his massive size.

Now the two big men, who share a similar demeanor but come from opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of expectations, will battle one another when Oden's Ohio State Buckeyes face Hibbert's Georgetown Hoyas Saturday in the Final Four.

The 7-foot-2 Hibbert was brought along slowly by John Thompson III. He averaged 5.1 points and 3.5 rebounds as a freshman and shot just 47 percent from the field while playing less than 16 minutes per game. His confidence was sorely lacking.

The 7-foot Oden, arguably the most hyped freshman since Shaq, was thrown right into the fire just as soon as his wrist was healthy enough to take to the court. While he still hasn't lived up to some people's expectations, Oden has still managed to help get his Buckeyes into the Final Four.

His numbers are still fairly impressive: 15.4 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.3 blocks while shooting 62 percent from the field and 64 percent from the line — left-handed.

Both are gentle giants. They are soft-spoken and respectful off the court and — much of the time — too passive on it. They deflect the praise and accept the criticism. Both do well in the classroom and don't especially enjoy the media attention. Neither tries to be something that they aren't.

"I like sitting in the post with my back to the basket," Hibbert said. "It's fun banging around the post. ... I like what I am doing so far, I am not going to change my game."

Oden isn't about to roam out on the perimeter either. He's strictly a low-post guy — just like Hibbert.

Hibbert, who is young for his grade (he's only 13 months older than Oden), always wanted to attend Georgetown. In fact, his e-mail address has contained the word "Hoya" since he was in high school at, where else, Georgetown Prep. He wanted to follow in the footsteps of past Hoya big man such as Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning and Dikiembe Mutombo.

There were times when it was painful to watch Hibbert. He was unable to move, whether it was from twice breaking his foot in high school or just a lack of conditioning. He couldn't even do a single push-up or a squat without any weight when he first arrived at Georgetown.

However, his gradual improvement under Thompson has been remarkable. He has put up a double-double in each of the Hoyas' four NCAA tournament games and averaged 12.7 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks. His field goal percentage has increased 20 percent since his freshman season.

"Roy is as good as any offensive big man in the country," said ex-Georgetown guard Dwayne Bryant, who played with Mourning and Mutombo and coached Hibbert at Georgetown Prep. "People used to say Roy couldn't walk and chew gum at the same time, but that stuff really motivated him. His work ethic is unbelievable. It's second to none."

"He's a lock to go in the first round, if he comes out this year," one NBA executive said. "If Patrick O'Bryant was a lottery pick, so is Roy Hibbert."

While Hibbert has begun to earn admiration for his steady progress, Oden has never been lacking for a fan club. He's been the No. 1 player in his class pretty much since he entered high school at Lawrence North High in Indianapolis and the expectations placed on him since arriving at Ohio State have been astronomical.

The odds are that he wouldn't even be in Columbus right now if it weren't for NBA commissioner David Stern and the new rule that forces kids to go to college for at least one year.

Oden's impact on the game can't be judged solely by his own numbers. Check out the opposition's field-goal percentage. After sitting out the first seven games of the season, he played the next dozen or so without using his right hand. Now he's started to use his right hand, but he still has it wrapped and continues to shoot free throws lefty.

"He's a terrific player," Hibbert said of Oden. "He's a force down low and we're going to have to contain him and keep him off the boards."

Now these two 7-footers will finally go against someone their own size. It's happened before as Hibbert had to battle Pittsburgh 7-footer Aaron Gray, but Oden is far more mobile than the Panthers big man.

The key to the game could be as simple as who is able to remain on the floor and avoid foul trouble.

"I think Greg probably prefers playing against bigger guys," Matta said. "He's never said that, but I think in watching him this year he probably does a little bit better maybe big on big."

Well, this is about as big as it gets.

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