Best Performance: Corey Brewer, Florida
Pick your tired, beaten-to-death cliché: Defense wins championships. There’s no “I” in team. The only stat that matters is the score. He rises to the occasion. All apply to Corey Brewer, who deservingly took home the Most Outstanding Player award and a piece of college basketball history Monday night.
Brewer was magnificent at keeping the Gators in front, particularly in the first half. He scored 15 points in the first 20 minutes against UCLA in the semifinal, ending up with 19 in all. In the title game, just about any time the Buckeyes looked like they were starting to build some momentum and keep the game close before halftime, Brewer stopped it in its tracks. Ohio State pulled within 17-13, Brewer nailed a 3. Ohio State came back and was down just 5 with the score 22-27, Brewer hit another three.
In all, in the biggest game of his life, Brewer scored 13 points, pulled down 8 rebounds, and had just a single turnover. For the Final Four, he shot better than 50% from beyond the arc (7 of 13) and missed one free throw. More importantly, his unselfishness was one reason his teammates were able to find open looks and shoot better than 50% overall from the field.
However, it was Brewer’s defense that made the difference. In one of his three steals, he took the ball clean away from Mike Conley in the backcourt for an easy dunk at a crucial point in the first half. He held Ron Lewis - who up until the Final Four had been having an outstanding Tournament – scoreless from three for the second night in a row.
In fact, here’s a stat for you: UCLA and Ohio State combined to shoot 9 of 46 from 3 point range against the Gators in the Final Four, or just about 20%. UCLA shot 5-23 and Ohio State was 4-23. Obviously that is a testament to the Florida defense as a whole, and Billy Donovan’s brilliant game plans, but Brewer was unmistakably a big part of that effort.
First Runner-up: Mike Conley Jr., Ohio State
In a college basketball season dominated by freshmen, Mike Conley had mostly flown under the radar throughout the year. That is until the NCAA Tournament, especially the Final Four.
He ran the point as well as anyone, committing just three turnovers for the Final Four versus a dozen assists. He also scored 35 points (20 of which came in the title game) on 14-25 shooting, and showed tremendous poise and leadership for someone who was just graduating high school last year.
Early indications are that Conley will return next year, regardless of Greg Oden’s decision. If that is the case, look out Big Ten. The Buckeyes will be a force to be reckoned with once again.
Second Runner-up: Greg Oden, Ohio State
Greg Oden might have saved his best for last.
In easily his best game as a collegiate, Oden finally stayed out of foul trouble to play a full 38 minutes, scoring 25 points, grabbing a dozen rebounds and swatting away four shots to almost single handedly keep the Buckeyes’ title hopes alive most of the game as they went ice cold from the perimeter.
Oden was the dominant force inside scouts said he would be all year long during the Final Four, and especially on Monday night. In limited minutes against Georgetown, he still came within a rebound of another double double, and pulled down a total of 7 crucial offensive rebounds for the weekend. He also showed the kind of passion and competitiveness some said he was lacking, evidenced by his numerous, emphatic dunk/chin-ups.
On a side note: Should Oden defy the odds and actually return for his sophomore year, it would mark a watershed moment in college basketball. It would mean that the sport has come almost full circle from the days when any player who thought they had any chance to be drafted, even in the non-money guarantee wasteland known as the NBA Draft second round, would be gone. At the end of every season, there have been countless underdeveloped players with real potential declaring for the draft against any and all sound advice, only to be found toiling in the NBDL or Europe a year later.
Instead, last year, sure-fire NBA first round picks like Noah, Brewer, Horford, Davis and Hansbrough all returned. Should that happen this time around (granted, a long shot to be sure) it would indicate a trend, rather an aberration. More and more players would be valuing their college experience and simply just enjoying being a kid - even if that means putting the equivalent of a winning Powerball ticket in the drawer for another year.
Corey Brewer, Florida
Collegehoopsnet.com All-Final Four team:
Corey Brewer, Florida
Mike Conley, Jr, Ohio State
Greg Oden, Ohio State
Al Horford, Florida
Josh Shipp, UCLA