- The Washington Times - Friday, March 24, 2006

MINNEAPOLIS — Aesop would bet on the Hoyas.

When Georgetown meets Florida tonight in a classic tortoise vs. hare matchup at the Metrodome, be prepared to watch a power struggle to establish pace.

The Gators (29-6) want to sprint. The Hoyas would prefer to stroll.

Florida wants transition chaos, a freeform frenzy in which coach Billy Donovan’s superior athletes can shine. Think hoops as envisioned by Jackson Pollack — bright, bold, flamboyant, erratic.

The Hoyas (23-9) want a methodical halfcourt grinder in which to display the patient nuances of coach John Thompson III’s Princeton offense. Think roundball by Rembrandt — crisp, precise, conservative, predictable.

“Florida likes to get up and down. Their main focus on offense is the transition game,” Georgetown swingman Darrel Owens said yesterday. “We can go up-tempo, but if we did, we’d be playing right into their hands. It’s up to us to play smart, value the ball, and slow this thing down. Make them work for their points.”

Though five players average double-digits in scoring for the Gators, the squad’s posterboy is 6-foot-11 NBA lottery lock Joakim Noah.

Like his famous father — Hall of Fame tennis player Yannick — Noah (13.9 points, 6.7 rebounds) is chatty, demonstrative and anything but predictable. His frizzy ponytail, penchant for full-length man-dresses and poor form on his jumper belie the athleticism that makes Noah as capable of starting the Florida fast break as he is of finishing it.

“The main difference between Connecticut’s transition game and Florida’s is that [Connecticut pivots Josh] Boone and [Hilton] Armstrong are solely outlet guys, whereas Noah and [Florida center Al] Horford will take off up the court with the ball themselves,” Georgetown senior guard Ashanti Cook said. “Their big guys are gazelles.”

Georgetown’s poster boy, 7-foot-2, 283-pound center Roy Hibbert (11.6 points, 6.9 rebounds), is more Goliath than gazelle. Hibbert pounded Northern Iowa and Ohio State for an average of 18.5 points and 11.5 rebounds as the runaway MVP of the Dayton sub-region.

So which big man, and which team, is more likely to impose his preferred pace on the proceedings?

History says the Hoyas.

Nobody has run successfully on the Hoyas all season. That’s a pretty serious statement when your resume includes games against the sprint-centric likes of Connecticut, Villanova, Illinois, Oregon and Ohio State. The transition-happy Ducks scored a season-high 13 fast-break points against the Hoyas in a 71-57 loss to Georgetown in Eugene on Dec. 3. No team has cracked the double-digit barrier in transition scoring on the Hoyas since.

“We spent a ton of time working on that at the beginning of the season, but a lot of it is just desire,” Cook said. “Coach told us at the beginning of the year that we weren’t going to give up transition layups — period. And for the most part, we haven’t. We want to make people try to beat us in the halfcourt because that’s our game.”

Georgetown also holds a major advantage when it comes to experience. Thompson is fond of describing his squad as a young team. And while the Hoyas do start three sophomores, three other members of Thompson’s seven-man rotation are seniors. Florida starts four sophomores and a junior, and Donovan only plays one senior (rarely used eighth man Adrian Moss).

The disparity in experience only has been heightened by the teams’ bipolar schedules. Georgetown has played 14 games against the top 40 teams in the current RPI rankings this season (recording a 7-7 split). Florida has played just five games against such teams, finishing 3-2.

There’s even a glaring disparity between last week’s opponents. Georgetown beat a seasoned bunch from the mighty mite Missouri Valley Conference (Northern Iowa) and then crushed No. 2 seed Ohio State just 68 miles from Columbus. Florida topped a pair of no-names, basically at home (Jacksonville), in South Alabama and Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

“Coming out of the Big East, we know that we’ve already seen all there is to see, so there’s a lot of confidence and comfort that comes with knowing you’re not in for any surprises,” Cook said. “We know that we’re just as good as anybody in the nation. I truly believe that. With all the hard work we’ve put in and all we’ve come back from as a program, we’re as capable of winning the national championship as anybody. And we know it.”

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