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Okafor to take sting out of Yellow Jackets


Final Four V-Recap: UConn, Georgia Tech advance in thrillers

SAN ANTONIO — What better way to end another great NCAA Tournament full of upsets and great games than with the underdog Georgia Tech playing Connecticut for the national championship, baby!

Emeka Okafor
Emeka Okafor should be the difference in the title game.
Who would've thought the Yellow Jackets would be playing for the ultimate prize after losing diaper dandy Chris Bosh to the NBA in last year's draft? On top of that, coach Paul Hewitt lost former ACC rookie of the year forward Ed Nelson -- to UConn, of all places!

It's a testament to his skills as a coach that Hewitt lost two-thirds of his starting frontcourt last offseason and still made it to his (and Georgia Tech's) first national championship game. He did a wonderful job this season of getting the Yellow Jackets to play to their strengths and to take advantage of their abundant quickness.

Of course, this championship appearance wouldn't be possible without the big-game play of guard Will Bynum. The past three tourney games, he's shown amazing heart and poise down the stretch with some big shots -- including the game-winning drive to beat Oklahoma State on Saturday night. Bynum is fearless, baby!

Also, the development of center Luke Schenscher during the tourney has helped key Georgia Tech's run. He'll get the ultimate test against All-American center Emeka Okafor.

These two teams have already played each other once this season. Yes, the national title game is a rematch of their Preseason NIT semifinal game on Nov. 26 at Madison Square Garden, when Tech came away with a surprising 77-61 victory over top-ranked UConn.

The Huskies were awful in that game. They were 25-of-66 from the field (1-of-10 from 3-point range) and only 10-of-30 from the free-throw line. Okafor was hampered by back spasms that limited him to just nine points on 2-of-10 shooting and 5-of-12 from the free-throw line (despite playing 34 minutes).

That win gave the Yellow Jackets the confidence that they could play with the big-time teams, which they did all season. In fact, they're the only team in America to beat both UConn and Duke this season.

College Hoops Is Just Fine, Thank You
I was surprised and disappointed to read a story recently in USA Today that said college basketball is struggling because of the early departure of college stars to the NBA.

Guess what? This isn't Struggle City at all, baby! There have been five straight thrilling, down-to-the-wire games in the NCAA Tournament, from the final three Elite Eight contests to the two national semifinals on Saturday.

In fact, even after Chris Bosh jumped from Georgia Tech to the pros last spring following his freshman year, Georgia Tech is here in San Antonio, playing for the national title with new big names like Will Bynum and Jarrett Jack. UConn features big-name stars Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon.

So college basketball is quite healthy, thank you. And remember: college basketball is about the names on the front of the jersey -- the team names, baby -- unlike the NBA, which is about the names on the back of the jersey.

That also means UConn is looking for redemption, and this time the Huskies are a different team. Okafor's back trouble has slowed him at times this season, but when he's healthy (as he is now) Connecticut is truly a special team. Okafor's presence in the post changes the complexion of the game for UConn on both offense and defense.

Guard Ben Gordon has had a tremendous tournament, and the Huskies are exceptionally deep with diaper-dandy big man Charlie Villanueva and sharpshooter Denham Brown coming off the bench. Plus, they should be extremely motivated by their thrilling win over Duke in the national semifinals.

Still, the Huskies must guard against the sloppy play they exhibited against Duke. They had twice as many turnovers as assists (18-9) Saturday night, which gave Duke 23 points off turnovers (to UConn's eight). UConn cannot be so careless Monday night.

UConn coach Jim Calhoun is in his second Final Four and second championship game -- remember, he and UConn defeated Duke for the 1999 title. Now he'll try to become the 11th coach to win at least two national titles.

I picked Connecticut as the preseason No. 1, and I feel that Okafor will not let the Huskies lose. As he showed against Duke, Okafor's dominance will be the difference -- and the Huskies should make Storrs, Conn., the capital of the basketball universe.

That's right, baby -- I believe both the UConn men and women will win the national title this year.

Editor's TV Note -- The UConn women play Tennessee in the women's national-championship game: Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Dick Vitale coached the Detroit Pistons and the University of Detroit in the 1970s before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979 (he's been an ESPN analyst ever since). Send a question for Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.

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