Florida Approaching End Of Remarkable Run
Al Horford
Al Horford
Scout National Basketball Columnist
Posted Apr 1, 2007

Florida takes on Ohio State Monday night in the NCAA championship game in Atlanta's Georgia Dome. Regardless of what happens, how will history treat the Gators? You can count on it being with a great deal of respect.

ATLANTA – How good is the team that will be try to make the University of Florida program only the seventh to produce consecutive NCAA champions?


The Gators are so good that:


*The starting lineup of Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Corey Brewer, Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey is the foundation of a club that has won 67 games since Nov. 9 of 2005;


*They have won 11 consecutive NCAA Tournament contests by an average margin of 15.6 points;


*They have a reserve forward (Chris Richard) who hit all seven shots Saturday night in the Georgia Dome against a UCLA defense that was widely considered the best in the country;


*They have three players (Noah, Horford and Brewer) who almost certainly will be lottery (top 14) selections in the June 28 NBA Draft yet none of them average more than 9 ½ shots or 13 points per game.


And here is another reason why they are so good:


*Monday night in the championship game against the Ohio State Buckeyes, they’re going to face a team with the best freshman point guard (Mike Conley) to play in a Final Four since Arizona’s Mike Bibby led his team to a championship upset of Kentucky in 1997.


And it’s the same team that has the most talented and dominant freshman center (Greg Oden) to play in a championship game since Patrick Ewing of Georgetown scored 23 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the Hoyas’ 63-62 loss to North Carolina 25 years ago.


But even with Oden and Conley – who helped the Buckeyes toppled Georgetown (which had lost just one game in 2 ½ months) Saturday night in the other semifinal, 67-60 – to deal with, I’d be startled if the Gators aren’t trimming nets against for the second consecutive first Monday night in April.


It would take a really lopsided victory Monday night (say, with a margin in the range of what took place in Gainesville on Dec. 23, when the Gators pounded the Buckeyes, 86-60) before I’d start to really think that Billy Donovan’s team should be lumped with the Larry Johnson-, Stacey Augmon- and Greg Anthony-led squads UNLV fielded in the 1989-90 and ’90-91 seasons as the best that the college game has produced in 20 years or so.


But this team is close enough in terms of talent, depth, defensive commitment, and offensive efficiency and explosiveness, to merit consideration to those Jerry Tarkanian-coached teams, regardless of Monday night’s score (or, even, if the Buckeyes knock them off).


 I think many NCAA champions of fairly recent vintage have had more future NBA talent this one, including as recently as two years ago, with the North Carolina Tar Heels had a roster that included four 2005 lottery selections (Sean May, Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants and Marvin Williams, as well as a 2006 second-round choice in David Noel).


And Noah, Horford and Brewer will all be lottery selections (on June 28, if they each, as seems to be the consensus of though, elect to bypass their senior seasons in order to start picking up NBA paychecks), and another junior, Green, is a first-round probably as well, this June or next.


But so many things beyond “future NBA talent” make this team a cut above most NCAA champions.


Its collective selflessness is truly remarkable.


Any of the starters could rack up the kind of gaudy numbers that most college basketball followers seem to think are the earmarks of an “elite player”.


But, as their statistics and on-court harmony so clearly illustrate, all of them “get it” that it’s not about “getting numbers” but about “doing whatever it takes to make a team click as a unit”.


I wonder if Donovan and his assistants sensed that when they were recruiting each of them?


It’s hard to imagine otherwise.


And, defensively, here’s one tidbit that illustrates how good the Gators are individually (most notably in Brewer, maybe the most versatile defender in college basketball over the past couple of season) but, more importantly, collectively: Over the past two Marches (20 games), they have allowed as many as 70 points just three times.


Oden, Conley and their teammates have made incredible strides since they were slapped around by the Gators 3 ½ months ago.


But I don’t think they’ve made enough of them to beat a team that seems poised to go out with the sport’s ultimate “bang” – another NCAA title.


Inducted into the USBWA Hall of Fame in April, 2005, Frank Burlison is Scout.com’s national basketball expert and is also a columnist for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at frank.burlison@presstelegram.com. Read more of Burlison’s pieces at www.frankhoops.com

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