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Florida Gators Becoming College Basketball Royalty

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When fans think of the Florida Gators, understandably the first thought is football. After all, the gators are a three time National Champion in football and also have three Heisman trophies in the trophy case at the 90,000 seat football venue known simply as ‘The Swamp.”

But almost while nobody has been paying attention, Coach Billy Donovan is building quite a college basketball dynasty in Gainesville. Think about these numbers for a minute:

Since 2000, the Gators have been to the NCAA Tournament Championship Game three times, winning twice (2006-2007). They have the only back-to-back championship in the 2000s. They have been to the Elite Eight six times, including the last three. Since 2006, Florida has a record of 21-3 in NCAA Tournament games.

Also since 2004, the Gators have played in six SEC Tournament Championship Games, winning three and have won two of the last three SEC regular season titles, even while the John Calipari juggernaut at the University of Kentucky has been churning out NBA lottery picks by the dozen.

How are this year’s Gators doing? Currently Florida is ranked #7 and they are 14-2 including 3-0 in the SEC. They have beaten the Kansas Jayhawks, Memphis Tigers, Florida State Seminoles, Richmond Spiders and just snapped a 25 game home court winning streak of the Arkansas Razorbacks. They have only two losses, both on the road and both close games against the Wisconsin Badgers and UConn Huskies. They were shorthanded in the Badgers game as Scottie Wilbekin sat out due to a suspension and in the UConn game he went down with an ankle sprain with still plenty of time remaining.

They have rarely had all their players available at one time. Their leading scorer, Casey Prather missed the Arkansas game and also the following game at home against the Georgia Bulldogs. Dorian Finney-Smith has missed games due to suspension and Kasey Hill has also had a sprained ankle. One of their prized recruits, Chris Walker, has yet to see the floor in a game.

Yet with all of the adversity, this team continues to roll. They have won eight in a row and against the Bulldogs led 36-16 at the half. In the first half, Georgia had six field goals and 12 turnovers.

Florida has been a team known as a perimeter team which is also a finesse team. But when Florida has been tough defensively, that is when they have made deep NCAA runs. In the 2000 Tournament, they forced teams like Duke and North Carolina to commit turnovers with a swarming full court press. In the championship seasons, they had guys like Joakim Noah and Al Horford dominating the pain and Corey Brewer locking down the Arron Afflalos. This team can do both very well.

This team forces turnovers with a pressing defense led by Wilbekin who is as good defensively as any guard in the nation. Then Patric Young, Wil Yeguete, Finney-Smith and Prather handle the paint. It is tough for opponents to get a shot off against this team and if they do they better hit it because the Gators can rebound as well.

The SEC will come down once again to the Florida-Kentucky winner. UK has a fantastic young team full of McDonalds All-Americans. Florida has a team that starts four seniors who have been to three Elite Eights. If we’ve ever wondered whether it is better to have a team full of “one –and-dones” or really good four year college players, just watch the race between the gators and Wildcats and we will have an answer.

Whatever happens though, Billy Donovan has done a remarkable job turning this “football school” in football’s best conference into a basketball powerhouse on par with any program in the country. Since 2000, in NCAA games they have beaten UCLA three times, Butler twice, North Carolina, Duke, Marquette twice, Georgetown, Villanova,  and BYU in Jimmer Fredette’s last game. If the football team doesn’t get it together soon, Florida may become a “basketball school” before we know it.

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