Final Four: The Value of Conservatism

By - March 31, 2007

Going back to his days at Xavier -- at the height of my Atlantic 10 fanaticism -- Matta has always struck me as a conservative coach. Never dangerously so but that's always seemed to be the governing principle behind his decision-making.

That tendency finds itself in the national spotlight at halftime. Ohio State holds a 27-23 lead over the Hoyas at the midpoint but Oden has played under four minutes -- picking splinters since picking up his second personal foul at the 17:13 mark. (Both were offensive fouls: a charge and a moving screen.) Should Georgetown come back to win -- regardless of how the second half unfolds -- a huge controversy will spring from the second-guessing of Matta's conservatism -- or as my Hang Time comrade David Scott has called it: "coaching scared."

For the record, I agree with Matta's choice. The advantage of conservative coaching is the ability to "keep it all in front of you" -- and the way Georgetown plays is inherently predictable which plays into the tactic, since it's rare that the Hoyas will blitz to a 10-point run that could change the game before Matta could get Oden into the game. So as long as the Buckeyes were able to sustain their two-to-three-possession cushion with capable pivotman Othello Hunter in the paint -- which they did -- Ohio State could get away with keeping Oden for the bench and saving those minutes for the second half.

Of course the devil's advocate would retort that the Buckeyes could have widened that advantage with Oden in the game, thus increasing their chances of victory. But risk -- losing Oden for an even lengthier period or even for the game -- outweighs that reward. Especially when you've got a team that's more than accustomed to playing without the freshman wunderkind (like the entire month of November).

Add in the fact that the referees seemed to be very vigilant in the early going (though they did ease up) and that makes Matta's decision that much more sensible.

Other notes of interest:

  • Ohio State was outscoring Georgetown in points off turnovers at the four-minute mark by a 13-0 margin. It's 13-1 at the break.

  • Georgetown didn't attempt a free throw until Jeff Green split a pair at the 2:44 mark. The Hoyas finished with four -- the second pair coming on a shooting foul with 4.2 seconds remaining.

  • Mike Conley, Jr., has been the best point guard in America since the beginning of March and that reputation is growing today. Oden's kemo sabe has a game-high 11 points on 5-for-7 from the floor with two assists against zero turnovers.

Posted by at 07:10 PM on March 31, 2007

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