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December 22, 2006

Game of the Week: Ohio State at Florida

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Many were eager to see Greg Oden make his collegiate debut earlier than expected. We're guessing the Florida Gators were not among that group.

Unlike North Carolina (9-1), which got to face Ohio State (10-1) without the mega-hyped prep star last month, the Gators (10-2) won't be so fortunate.

Florida plays host to the Buckeyes and Oden on Saturday, a full three weeks after Oden played his first game. The top-five showdown has been chosen as Rivals.com's Game of the Week.

The 7-foot-1 Oden, who was originally scheduled to return from a wrist injury on Jan. 1, has played four games and is off to an impressive start. He's averaging 15.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 4.0 blocks a game, while shooting 73 percent from the field.

Making matters worse for the Gators is the recent news that power forward Al Horford, one of the nation's top post players, will miss the game because of a sprained ankle. Horford, who has missed the last two games with the ankle injury, is the Gators' leading scorer and rebounder. He is averaging 13.2 points and 8.3 rebounds a game.

We break down all the individual matchups (with the presumption that Chris Richard will start in place of Horford) in this in-depth preview:

Rivals.com Game of the Week: No. 3 Ohio State (10-1) at No. 5 Florida (10-2)
Greg Oden vs. Joakim Noah
This could be the best one-on-one matchup of the year. Plenty of pro scouts certainly feel that way. Noah (6-11, 230) might have been the No. 1 pick in the 2006 NBA Draft if he would have made himself eligible. Oden (7-0, 240) is considered a lock for the top pick in the upcoming draft. Both excel at rebounding and defense. Noah (12.5 ppg), who has a tremendous wingspan, is more versatile. He moves well without the ball and is able to defend smaller players on the perimeter. Oden (15.5 ppg) is stronger and has an imposing frame. The real difference could come down to experience. Oden has only played four games and has never been in a contest of this magnitude. Look for the Gators to use Noah in a lot of pick-and-rolls in an effort to test Oden's ability to defend away from the basket.
Edge: Florida.
Ivan Harris vs. Chris Richard
Finesse meets power when these two veterans go head-to-head. Harris (6-7, 220) is a 3-point specialist who spends much of his time hanging around the arc. He likes to wait for Mike Conley or Jamar Butler to penetrate to the hoop and dish the ball back outside. More than half of Harris' field goal attempts are from 3-point range (53 of 93), and he has made 49 percent of them. Richard (6-9, 255) does nearly all his damage around the basket. The big man lacks the athleticism and offensive polish of Horford, but he possesses tremendous strength and a good knack for getting the right position for rebounds. Harris should create the bigger matchup problem. Richard is not used to guarding players on the perimeter.
Edge: Ohio State.
Ron Lewis vs. Corey Brewer
Just three days ago, Brewer's status remained uncertain for this game. The versatile 6-9, 185-pound junior was recovering from mononucleosis. In his first game back last week he played just 11 minutes. On Tuesday, he looked every bit his former self. Brewer scored 15 points, grabbed six rebounds and added five assists in Florida's 88-67 win over Stetson. That's great news for the Gators, who also rely on his ability to shut down the opponent's best wing. For OSU, that's often Lewis (6-4, 200). A pure scorer, the senior can put the ball on the floor and get to the basket or knock down 3-pointers with regularity. Lewis' role has diminished since the arrival of Oden. He's taking just six shots a game with the big man in the lineup, compared to 12.4 a game before Oden's return. Lewis is averaging nine points in his last four games, compared to the 18.8 a game he was averaging through seven games.
Edge: Florida.
Jamar Butler vs. Lee Humphrey
Leave Humphrey (6-2, 190) open from beyond the arc and the senior is about as automatic as anyone in the nation. Humphrey led the SEC with a 46 percent shooting percentage from 3-point range last season. However, getting him open looks will be very difficult. Butler (6-2, 205) possesses the speed and quickness to really bother Humphrey, who is an average ballhandler at best. Offensively, Butler is much more of a catalyst. He gives the Buckeyes a second true point guard on the floor. The junior regularly beats defenders off the dribble and fires pinpoint passes to wide-open teammates. He's averaging 4.8 assists a game and has a 2.5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Edge: Ohio State.
Mike Conley vs. Taurean Green
Conley (6-1, 180) hasn't shown any signs of playing like a freshman point guard yet. The five-star recruit, who was teammates with Oden in high school, has done a masterful job running the Buckeyes offense. He has consistently made his way into the lane and has been creating offense for others. He has made great decisions with the ball in his hands. Conley is averaging a Big Ten-high 6.4 assists a game and owns a remarkable 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Green (6-0, 177) tends to make a few more errors, although he is more of a scoring threat. The junior is averaging 12.8 points a game, and his 25-point performance against Kansas earlier this year should concern the Buckeyes. The Jayhawks are filled with quick and athletic defenders on the perimeter, much like Conley and Butler.
Edge: Ohio State.
Ohio State bench vs. Florida bench
Being forced to move Chris Richard into the starting lineup is a major blow to Florida's bench. Richard and guard Walter Hodge (pictured), who started when Brewer missed three games earlier this year, are the only two reserves who have played regular minutes in big games. That likely means freshmen forwards Dan Werner and Maresse Speights will see more playing time than usual. The Buckeyes have a much deeper set of reserves, led by dangerous wing Daequan Cook (pictured). The mega-talented freshman is averaging 16.1 points a game despite having not started yet. Guard David Lighty (6.2 ppg) and forwards Othello Hunter (7.5 ppg) and Matt Terwilliger (4.0 ppg) all contribute as well.
Edge: Ohio State.
Coaching Matchup
No coach may be hotter than Ohio State's Thad Matta at the moment, on or off the court. While leading the Buckeyes to this great start, Matta and his staff have also managed to land several highly touted commits for the 2007 and 2008 recruiting classes. All this comes after Matta led the Buckeyes to the Big Ten title last season in just his second year in Columbus. Florida's Billy Donovan had developed a reputation as a great recruiter but underachieving coach due to a run of several disappointing losses in the postseason. That all changed last season when he led a young Gators team which wasn't ranked in the preseason polls to the school's first national title. Donovan likes to push the tempo of the game, often employing presses and risky defensive tactics. Matta is more conservative, although he seems to be giving his players more and more freedom on the offensive end this year.
Edge: Florida.



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