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
*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
*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
*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
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
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
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
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
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
I wonder if Donovan and his
assistants sensed that when they were recruiting each of them?
It’s hard to imagine
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
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
firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more of Burlison’s pieces at