by Robert Ferringo - 04/02/2006
And so this great symphony of buzzer-beaters, bracket busters and broken dreams will reach its crescendo on Monday night when Florida and UCLA will meet for the national championship. Three weeks of calamity and confoundment will come to a close as we finally crown a king of college basketball.
It’s the Smooth Stroke of the South facing the Wild Child of the West at 9:01 p.m. EST on Monday at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis. The Bruins are hunting for their 12 th national championship while the Gators seek their first.
The opening line had Florida as a two-point favorite, which quickly dipped to -1 at some books, and has since settled at -1.5. The total has held pretty firm at 128, but given the monster trend of the under in this tournament I expect that number to reduce.
The Neilson rating for Saturday’s Final Four was a decent 5.5 with a 10 share for the evening. CBS’s basketball telecast was the highest-rated event of the night, but it was by no means a dominant performance. Though interest is shaky on this particular Final Four, and nothing short of the Super Bowl can match the opening weekend of the tournament, I still expect a heavy amount of interest and action on Monday night’s game.
“The most active time are the first days of the event,’’ said Tony Delgado from SportingbetUSA. “The action is still very high for the Sweet Sixteen and then declines for Final Four and the big final game. That doesn't mean that nobody bets on the final, just that Americans bet a lot more when the 64 teams are all starting in that search of the American dream.”
Both UCLA and Florida are coming off dominating performances in the national semifinals on Saturday night. UCLA rocked the Baby to sleep with a 59-45 thrashing of LSU, and Florida was able to snipe off George Mason, 73-58.
The Bruins are on a 12-game winning streak. The key for UCLA has been their ability to disrupt opponents on the offensive end, holding victims to a meager 53.9 points per game over that run. That has also resulted in them going under in six of the last eight contests.
UCLA was efficient and effective on the offensive end versus LSU’s smothering defense. With the exception of Arron Afflalo’s 3-for-11 performance – a major concern heading into the Final is whether or not he can adjust to shooting in a dome – the top five scorers for the Bruins shot 50 percent. Jordan Farmar and Afflalo need to be on in order for this team to cut down the nets.
This will be the third SEC team that UCLA will meet in the tournament. Alabama (second round) and LSU were the others.
What was most impressive about their victory over LSU was their interior defense against the larger, more physical Tigers. However, LSU had only one player – Glen Davis – that could make a move and score on the interior. This allowed the Bruins to focus all of their attention on the Big Baby.
The Gators, on the other hand, have a plethora of options on the inside. Jaokim Noah, who shot just 1-for-7 outside of five feet on Saturday, can dunk and score on layups. Al Horford is powerful, but can finish with skill, and Chris Richard is a bull on the offensive glass.
Also, though it is not as renowned, Florida’s defense has been outstanding over the last three weeks. In their last six games the Gators are yielding just 55 points.
Florida may be the most impressive team in the tournament. I still believe they’re a bit overvalued due to the level of competition they’ve had to face on their road to the title game. However, they have won 10 straight, and four of their five victories in the tournament have come by double-digits.
As always, I believe the key to the Gators team is the play of Taureen Green. He was tossing daggers in the first half of the George Mason game, and finished with 15 points. However, he was just 3-for-9 from the field. If he can handle the perimeter defense of the Bruins then Florida’s offense should be fine.
Thus far in 2006 we’ve had two championship games – the Rose Bowl and the Super Bowl. In each of those events, the team with the better defense has won the title. You know, the whole “Defense wins championships” theorem. The winner of the national title game on Monday should again follow form. Now it’s just a matter of which team you believe deserves that designation.
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