And then there were two. Tonight, Indiana will face off against Maryland to decide who is the best men's college basketball team in the country this year. Both teams have fought through the long and hard regular season, conference tournaments and then the NCAA tournament to claim the honor of competing for college basketball's greatest prize on its grandest stage.
So who is going to win? Well, let's break it down.
Point Guard: Maryland junior Steven Blake vs. I.U. junior Tom Coverdale
Blake is better at distributing the ball, averaging about eight assists a game this year, while Coverdale has the higher scoring average. Neither guard is amazingly quick, but Coverdale is slower than usual thanks to a bum ankle he suffered against Kent State. Because of that injury, the advantage goes to Maryland at this position.
Shooting Guard: Maryland senior Juan Dixon vs. I.U. senior Dane Fife
This is definitely Indiana's key defensive matchup. Dixon is an amazingly dangerous scorer and has been for about three years now. Fife is a defensive specialist who usually draws the other team's top guard. Monday night, he draws arguably the best off-guard in the nation. A few days ago, I would have given the nod to Dixon in a heartbeat. After watching Fife shut down Oklahoma's electric Hollis Price, however, I'm going to have to think about this one. I'm still going with Dixon.
Swingman: Maryland senior Byron Mouton vs. I.U. junior Kyle Hornsby
Statistically, the edge goes to Mouton in nearly every category. Indiana does not ask Hornsby to do as much for them as Maryland asks of Mouton. Mouton is a more physical-style guard, while Hornsby is most effective from the perimeter. It is really like comparing apples and oranges, but if I have to pick one, I'm picking Mouton.
Power Forward: Maryland sophomore Chris Wilcox vs. I.U. sophomore Jared Jeffries
Jeffries is Indiana's go-to guy and is coming off a poor performance against Oklahoma. Physically, Wilcox matches up well with him. Jeffries, though, is just the better player of the two. Advantage: Indiana.
Center: Maryland senior Lonny Baxter vs. I.U. senior Jarrad Odle
Put simply, Baxter is a monster. Odle really has his work cut out for him when it comes to defending the bigger, stronger, more talented, surprisingly quick Baxter. His best chance at dealing with Baxter may be forcing him into foul trouble early because that has been a problem for Baxter in the past.
Bench: Indiana's Jeff Newton can look to see a lot of time off of the bench after his stellar showing against Oklahoma. In fact, I.U.'s whole bench played well against Oklahoma. The Hoosiers will need to duplicate that performance against Maryland for a chance to win.
Maryland has an experienced bench that knows it role and does what is expected of it. Both Tahj Holden and Drew Nicholas will see significant time.
Someone always seems to come off the bench in the national title game for the winning team and provide the spark that pushes his team to victory. So who is it going to be this year? Your guess is as good as mine.
Coach: I have to go with experience here. Maryland's Gary Williams has many more years as a head coach under his belt and his team has been here before.
Intangibles: Maryland has never been to a title game. Indiana is 5-0 in its title-game appearances. Maryland is more experienced as a team. Indiana is the underdog, a role it has excelled in as of late.
So, we are back to the original question: Who is going to win? If we are just looking at talent and records, Maryland is the clear choice. But Indiana has been playing amazingly well as team lately and is constantly finding new ways to win.
So who is going to win? I don't know, that's why they play the game.
Write to Cole at firstname.lastname@example.org