ATLANTA – Florida, Georgetown, Ohio State and UCLA didn’t arrive at this point of the season, just two victories
removed from cutting down nets on the Georgia Dome on Monday night, by anything
resembling fluke or accident.
And each has an exceptional head
coach manning the helm of squads that have won at least 30 games
But the coaches would also tell you
that getting this deep into a season is about the players.
And each has a marvelous starting
Let’s take a look at each of those
starters and how one observer – yours truly – rates them:
1. Mike Conley (6-1, Fr,
Frank Says: He has
everything a coach could dream of in a playmaker/point guard/floor leader –
minus something beyond an average deep jump shot. It’s taken awhile but I think
most analysts (of the TV, newspaper, Internet and NBA varieties) are finally
catching on to the likelihood that he was the very best in the country at his
position this season, Acie Law included.
2. Taurean Green (6-0, Jr.,
Frank Says: It’s hard to
knock his pedigree after leading the Gators to a national championship a year
ago, clearly outplaying UCLA’s Jordan Farmar (a first-round pick of the
Los Angeles Lakers) in the final in Indianapolis. His assist-to-turnover ratio
(3.6 to 2.3) isn’t exceptional and he’s not quite the pressure man-to-man
defender that Conley and Darren Collison are. But he’s fearless,
tough-minded and capable of scoring, via his underrated jump shot or his
deceptive quickness on drives, anytime the Gators need a hoop.
3. Darren Collison (6-0,
Frank Says: There wasn’t a
quicker player in the country dribbling the ball this season and there isn’t
anyone who put more pressure on the ball or who jumped into passing lanes as
readily, defensively. And his jump shot has improved immensely over a year ago,
when he got extensive time behind Farmar and alongside Farmar. But he is capable
of getting a bit careless with the ball (he committed seven turnover in the West
final against Kansas).
4. Jonathan Wallace (6-1,
Frank Says: He shares
playmaking duties with Jessie Sapp and Jeff Green within the
framework of the Hoyas’ half-court offense. His jumper at the end of regulation
kept the Hoyas’ season alive against North Carolina Sunday.
1. Arron Afflalo (6-4, Jr.,
Frank Says: Most NBA talent
evaluators aren’t convinced he would be a “definite” first-round choice if he
enters the draft (as many expect him to do after being a first-team All-American
and the Pacific 10 Conference Player of the Year). But that’s moot when it comes
to analyzing his on-court performance for the Bruins this season. There is no
one who is tougher, more determined or as absolutely fearless when it comes to
guarding an opponent’s best offensive player or taking a shot with a game’s
outcome on the line.
2. Lee Humphrey (6-2, Sr.,
Frank Says: There isn’t a
better “catch and shoot it” threat among the four teams that will take the
Georgia Dome floor Saturday evening. He is one of the biggest reasons the Gators
were able to make the Bruins pay for doubling the Florida post players a year
ago, and the reason why UCLA Coach Ben Howland may have to think twice
before doing it so consistently often this time around.
3. Jamar Butler (6-2, Jr.,
Frank Says: He was the
Buckeyes’ playmaker a year ago but is now part of the reason why OSU can
surround Greg Oden with so many quality jump shooters. If defenders close
out on him too early, he is more than clever, quick and strong enough to get
into the lane and finish or pitch to an open teammate.
4. Jessie Sapp (6-3, So.,
Frank Says: Again, he and
Wallace could swap categories. He’s got a nice assist to turnover ratio (3.4 to
1.9) and doesn’t deviate from the things John Thompson III wants him to
within the framework of the team’s half-court offense. He’s not a “pure shooter”
but does knock in big jump shots.
1. Corey Brewer (6-8, Jr.,
Frank Says: Along with
Jeff Green, he is one of the two most versatile players in the Final
Four. His defense was magnificent against Arron Afflalo a year ago and
he’ll need a similar effort this time around against a player who has thought
long and hard about that Indianapolis night a year ago when he was 3 of 10 from
2. Ron Lewis (6-4, Sr., Ohio
Frank Says: He and Afflalo
are the two guys we’re most likely to see hit critical jump shots Saturday. He
stretches the defense more than anyone (well, with the exception of Lee
Humphrey) in the Final Four. He doesn’t drive it much but belly up to him
and he’ll drive and slam. If the Buckeyes win a national title Monday night, the
Buckeye Nation has the overtime-creating 3-pointer he hit against Xavier in
Round 2 to thank.
3. Josh Shipp (6-6, So.,
Frank Says: He’s not the
defender or ball-handler that Cedric Bozeman was for the Bruins at the
position last season. But he gives Howland something the Bruins didn’t have a
year ago: a third jump shooter on the floor at all times. He is also a physical
rebounder and drives and finishes better than Bozeman did.
4. DaJuan Summers (6-8, Fr.,
Frank Says: Absolutely
loaded with “upside” – and he’s not too shabby right now. He shoots it, drives
it and dunks it. Look for him to have a breakout sophomore season . . . an
all-Big East season at the very least.
1. Jeff Green (6-9, Jr.,
Frank Says: At least on the
offensive end of the floor, he’s the best player in the Final Four. His
offensive game has the maturity of 10-year NBA veteran. Posting up . . .
driving . . . nailing shots from
the corner . . . setting up teammates – dang! He is so good!
2. Al Horford (6-9, Jr.,
Frank Says: He and Joakim Noah can play either post position for the Gators, but I’m listing Horford
here. He has very reliable hands, there isn’t a sturdier player inside the lane
and he could be the best defensive rebounder in the field.
3. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
(6-7, So., UCLA)
Frank Says: He’s the best
man-to-man post defender still suiting up for a college team this weekend. He is
a big reason the Bruins’ traps are so daunting for opponents to deal with. He’s
very quick to the ball as an offensive rebounder and is an effective “slasher”
after one or two dribbles. His jump shot is often an adventure,
4. Ivan Harris (6-7, Sr.,
Frank Says: He’s probably
more comfortable on the perimeter, offensively, than in the low post area. And
with Greg Oden and Othello Hunter around, Coach Thad Matta
can let Harris play to his strengths (as a jump shooter and driver).
1. Joakim Noah (6-11, Jr.,
Frank Says: He gets an
ever-so-slight edge over Oden because, a) He’s got two years of college
experience over him, and, b) he was the Most Outstanding Player in the Final
Four a year ago. No one plays with more energy. Watch him guard people 25 feet
from the bucket – his quickness (at that size) borders on the
2. Greg Oden (7-0, Fr., Ohio
Frank Says: OK, Noah and
Oden should be “1-A and 1-B”. If Oden stays out of foul trouble this weekend
(something he hasn’t been able to do in the NCAA Tourney so far), I’ll probably
be embarrassed as heck late Monday night that I didn’t list him in the top slot.
3. Roy Hibbert (7-2, Jr.,
Frank Says: Not only is he
one of the most improved big men in the country, I find it hard to imagine too
many college players of any size or shape making the kind of progress he has
since his freshman season. He’ll join Jeff Green as an NBA lottery
selection in June, if both decide to bypass their final seasons as
4. Lorenzo Mata (6-9, Jr.,
Frank Says: He is much
improved over last season and is a big part of why the Bruins have been
overwhelming, at times, defensively. He has a better collection of scoring moves
within 12 feet of the bucket than most realize. His free-throwing (38 percent)
means he is usually off the floor if the Bruins are protecting a small lead late
in a game.
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
firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more of Burlison’s pieces at