They bend but do not break. Not yet.

by Mickey Charles

As predicted, by myself and thousands, tens of thousands, of others, it is Ohio State and Florida for the championship of college basketball. No shoulder pads, helmets, goal posts or footballs this time around. Just 94? basket to basket and 50? side to side, 15? for an unobstructed foul shot, 10? floor to rim and 19? 9? to add three points to your team?s tally. Piece of cake. Easy game.

Same schools vying for the trophy here that did so in the BCS battle just months ago. Unlike that match-up, this will be a toe-to-toe war. Many of the games we have seen so far on the road to this evening have been some of the best tournament competition in years. This time, March Madness has lived up to its billing with both winners and losers along the way not disappointing us. Monday night has Florida installed early as a 4 ?-5 point favorite, depending upon whom you call for that, and the over under number is hovering at 140. My guess is that the public will run, not walk, to Ohio State.

Greg Oden
Could this be the last collegiate game for freshman Greg Oden?
Repetitious reporting has become the order of the day, ad nausea. Journalists from coast to coast have Greg Oden as the first choice in the NBA Draft and attending Ohio State only because he could not make the jump from high school thanks to the NBA?s rules on robbing the cradle. Once an athlete can hold a rattle all bets are off. Lawrence North in Indianapolis is where he and Mike Conley, Jr. won the Indiana high school state championship. Now they want another at the college level. We will see. One thing is for certain, all the propaganda and posturing aside ? size is not everything. Potential is one thing but honing it in the NBA is not the appropriate course for Oden. He is not ready to make the leap. Oh, inch by inch no team can pass on him but the talent necessary to do battle in the pros is not there, not yet.

He will make his millions, whether it is next year or the one after that. The custom SUV can wait, as can the estate home and endorsements. Someone - family, friends and/or coach, have to convince him to stay with the Buckeyes for at least one more season, maybe more. It will be more than worth it, as then he will really be ready. He might win a championship in 2008, either his first or, after tonight, another. He might even play in the Olympics and try to add a gold medal to his growing jewelry and trophy case collection. He will be there, the operative word being ?be.? It does not come with ?immediate.?

Oden does not, at this moment, have anything remotely resembling the talents of Russell, Chamberlain, Kareem, Olajuwon, Ewing, Parish, Duncan, Yao Ming, Malone, Reed, Walton, McHale, O?Neal. Being drafted number one will not change that but the smart money, and all the money he is about to earn will alter that. Being a realist often conflicts mightily with an opinion. This is one of those times. Oden will do the expected and enter the draft, win or lose. Good move for his banker, agent, investment counselor and family. Bad move for him.

Florida?s front line will challenge the big guy, looking for those early fouls that put him on the bench with unerring regularity in the first few moments of the game. They will be as aggressive and assertive offensively as he will defensively. Someone is going to get into trouble fast.

Forgotten will be the game of December 23rd between these two in Gainesville and the 86-60 blowout by the Gators. It was Oden?s fourth game, he had just returned from wrist surgery and was playing with one hand. But, not forgotten will be watching Florida start in slow motion (six points in eight and a half minutes) in a game that looked like the final would be something like 17-14 and they still managed to explode for 76 points against a heralded UCLA defense, whose early choke hold disintegrated. They were up 29-23 without one offensive rebound, while committing 10 turnovers in the first half. They adapt and make things happen.

Billy Donovan
Billy Donovan's club could be the first team to repeat as champions since the 1991-92 Duke Blue Devils.
Billy Donovan?s charges are not bothered by much and it is a good bet that the executive board of the university is going to match whatever carrot(s) Kentucky might be dangling next week, dollar for dollar?plus. Hardly a distraction when you are in the catbird seat. From here, Florida will be the first team in the last 15 years to repeat, to duplicate what Duke did back in the early 90?s. It will take place in front of 53,000 plus and a huge television audience that will have their TIVOs set for everything else. That does not elevate Donovan to the stature of one of the greatest college coaches ever but it does, for now, assure him a place in collegiate basketball history and folklore at age 41.

The major key(s) to his eventual decision will be dollars and whether he determines that basketball at Florida can ever measure up to the football program. He will attract talent no matter where he is next year and the biggest plum at Kentucky is that basketball is, and always will be, the number one. But, building an ongoing contender for the national title at Florida sounds like a better challenge to me.

Can the two freshmen, Conley and Oden, carry this team, in its first championship game since 1962, when Ohio State was a dynasty, having won it all in 1960 and finishing second for the next two years? Make no mistake about it, coach Thad Matta has a hell of a contingent playing for him. I just think that Florida is better right now. This is not a game, however, for which you go to the drawer to see how much is left on the mortgage for the farm.

How about just settling in at 9:00 p.m. ET for what promises to be a great game? Don?t tell me that you have something else planned. You gotta be kidding! Even Jack Bauer and the gang at ?24? can wait one more day.

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