Defending champion Florida and number-one ranked Ohio State are set to meet Monday night 9:15pm ET for the U.S. men's Division One national college basketball championship at the Georgia Dome. VOA Sports Editor Parke Brewer has a preview from Atlanta.
This is the match-up in the title game that many had hoped for. It came about when Ohio State beat Georgetown (67-60) and Florida defeated UCLA (76-66) in the semifinals Saturday in Atlanta.
Ohio State ended the regular season ranked number one in the polls and has won 22 straight games. Florida has all five starters back from last year's champions and aims to become only the second team in 33 years to win back-to-back titles.
These two teams met early in the regular season, on December 23, and Florida won big at home, 86-60. But that was only the fifth collegiate game for Ohio State's two-meters-13 star freshman center Greg Oden, who was coming off an injury.
Florida coach Billy Donovan says this game will not be similar.
"They are totally different. We are totally different," he said. "I know a lot of people want to talk about December, but December is over with. It is all about right now."
Ohio State coach Thad Matta agrees.
"I think that game taught us a lot about who we were," he said. "We were not a very good basketball team on December 23rd and quite honestly Florida had a lot to do with that. We have tried to draw from that experience. I think it taught us a lot about our strengths, about our weaknesses and gave us a point of reference to what we needed to work on to get better as a team."
Because of that lopsided loss to Florida in the regular season, Ohio State is the underdog in the title game.
Guard Mike Conley Jr. says he and his teammates will use that for motivation.
"I felt like we have been an underdog all tournament long. You know, even if we are picked to win a game, we are going in with the mindset that we are the underdog," he said. "We need to prove ourselves because there are still a lot of doubters out there that think we should not be here. And we just want to prove everybody wrong. I think we have done a good job so far."
But it will take one more victory - and it will have to come against reigning champion Florida - for Ohio State University to erase the doubters and win its first national men's basketball title since 1962.