We haven't seen a Hibbert-Oden in over two decades
A legitimate, 7-foot-plus center showdown in the Final Four? We haven't seen anything like this since the mid-80s, writes Andy Katz.
Sure, Oklahoma State's Bryant Reeves and UCLA's Zidek were true centers, but that 1995 national semifinal clash wasn't highly anticipated. Neither guy was your classic, can't-miss pro that Georgetown's Hibbert and Ohio State's Oden are on track to become in the next year or two.
Saturday's national semifinal matchup is the most anticipated, true low-post center showdown since Patrick Ewing versus Hakeem Olajuwon when Georgetown played Houston in the 1984 national championship game.
No one is comparing Oden or Hibbert to either of those stars yet. It's just that we have grown so accustomed to seeing centers who look like power forwards that it's refreshing to see a legit 7-foot-plus post matchup in the Final Four. These two can score on the blocks, pass well out of the post, block shots and keep alive many a possession with offensive rebounding.
"I'm going to have to play my hardest and limit his touches," Hibbert said after Georgetown's Elite Eight win over North Carolina on Sunday night. "I've got to keep him off the offensive boards. Besides going against Aaron Gray, I haven't gone against someone like him. I'm going to have my hands full."
"It's going to be great for the fans, for everyone," said Ohio State assistant coach Alan Major. "People forget that Hibbert is a seasoned veteran as a junior. That's a fact that gets lost."
This has all the makings of a classic clash, but how did we arrive at this point, in which an ultimate post-player showdown has become so rare?
"The big kids are gone, they went to the NBA," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "Oden stayed and Hibbert is a developmental guy, so that's why we have two really good big guys. We haven't seen a guy like Oden, and we wouldn't have seen him had there not been the draft rule."
John Thompson Jr., former Georgetown coach and father of the current coach, said the 3-point shot is as much to blame for why there haven't been as many, if any, true low-post matchups in the Final Four.
Thompson, who coached Ewing in that '84 clash with Olajuwon, is one of the top evaluators of big men in the last 30 years, so what better source to ask for thoughts on Oden and Hibbert?
"It's hard for me to evaluate [Oden] because of his hand [which was injured last summer]," Thompson said. "It's fantastic what he's been able to do. Obviously, he has great instincts. That one block he made [at the end of the Tennessee game in the Sweet 16] was enough for me.
"He realized the sense of urgency. I'm not about quantity. I'm about quality -- when you get a block, a rebound -- and offensively, he can do more than we've seen. He's physical, and that's what I like about him."
Thompson also thinks Ohio State shot more 3s this season in part because of Oden's injury, which might have affected Oden's ability to receive the ball and score.
As for Hibbert, Thompson loves his passing.
"He's a very good passer and that's why he has to be more aggressive in terms of receiving and demanding the ball," Thompson said. "When it gets to him, he has to be more effective and not only score but find other people."
Thompson also added that, unlike North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough, who has a variety of ways to receive the ball in position, Hibbert and Oden were more similar to each other in that they are sitting targets in the post. That's fine. That allows us to watch one of the best big men matchups we've seen since Thompson Jr. was coaching Georgetown games -- not broadcasting them.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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