When the NCAA Tournament tips off for the Florida Gators (29-5) in New Orleans Friday night against Jackson State (21-13), the Gators will be working to extend the best post-season streak in the nation. Starting with last year’s 3-0 run the SEC Tournament championship, Florida has won 12 straight post-season games.
The Gators will be playing in their ninth straight NCAA Tournament under Coach Billy Donovan. As impressive as that is, it’s even more powerful when you consider the Gators had been to the NCAA Tournament only five times in history prior to Donovan’s arrival. Florida has nine straight 20-win plus seasons under its belt and with a win Friday night, Florida will have won at least 30 games two years in a row, also a school record.
Since the arrival of Taurean Green, Corey Brewer, Al Horford and Joakim Noah, the Gators are 16-1 in post-season play. Florida has won three straight SEC titles, one NCAA regional title and one NCAA championship in the last three years.
I don’t know the statistics or if anyone has researched this, but when is the last time one team had all five of its starters go over the 1,000-point barrier in the same season? And is there another team in the NCAA Tournament with five 1,000-point scorers on its team?
The Gators will play rounds one and two of the NCAA Tournament in the New Orleans Arena where they are 1-0 all time. The last time the Gators played in the NCAA Tournament in New Orleans, it was at the Super Dome where the Gators beat Western Kentucky in the first round and lost to Temple in the second.
YOU CAN’T COACH HEIGHT: This is why UCLA is vulnerable in the West Regional. If you buy into the hype that the Bruins are just as good or better than last year, then there’s some nice swamp land south of Naples that I would love to sell you. The Bruins don’t have anyone on the roster taller than 6-8 and they’re not particularly physical on the inside. Remember those last two games UCLA lost? Washington killed the Bruins inside with 7-0 Spencer Hawes and 6-8, 260 Jon Brockman. Even Cal, which finished the season with a sub-.500 record muscled up inside on UCLA. Anyone remember what Florida’s bigs did to UCLA’s bigs last year? And that was when the Bruins actually had some size. There is a potential second round problem with Gonzaga, which could probably beat UCLA straight up if Josh Heytveldt was able to play (he did plead not guilty to possession of magic mushrooms) and there is a big problem if the Bruins get to the Sweet Sixteen and have to face Pitt, which has a seven-footer in Aaron Gray that doesn’t disappear against short people. He saves his disappearing act for someone his own size. UCLA has no one that can go eye to eye with him. And let’s say the Bruins escape that one, there’s a really good chance Kansas will be waiting. The Jayhawks are tall. Very tall.
SALIVATING FOR ANOTHER CHANCE: If Bruce Pearl can get by the first two rounds — and he should — then you won’t know if his suit is wet because he is sweating profusely or because he’s salivating at a chance to get the Ohio State Buckeyes on a neutral floor. Tennessee went 7-31 from the three-point stripe when they faced the Buckeyes in Columbus back in January. And get this. They only lost by two points. One measly three-pointer and the Buckeyes go down. Tennessee harassed the Buckeyes into TWENTY turnovers in that game and made a basket case out of Mike Conley Jr., who still has nightmares that Jamar Smith is going to take the ball away from him again. Everybody keeps talking about the possibility of the Buckeyes facing Texas A&M in San Antonio where the Alamo Dome will be packed to the rafters with Aggies, but Tennessee in the Sweet Sixteen is a potential nightmare. On a neutral floor, here’s betting Tennessee rains a few three-balls in against the Buckeyes. This one has upset written all over it.
EASY ROAD TO A REGIONAL FINAL: Georgetown might get bored the first three rounds and that’s about the only thing the Hoyas have to fear. Talk about riding in the fast lane to a showdown with either North Carolina or Texas, the Hoyas have it. First round: Belmont from the Atlantic Sun, which is a bottom feeder just above the SWAC and MEAC. Second round: winner of Boston College (yawn) and Texas Tech (bigger yawn). Third round: Either George Washington, Vanderbilt, Washington State or Oral Roberts. There isn’t a team in the lower half of the bracket that is capable of giving the Hoyas a scare. The only thing the Hoyas might have to fear is complacency because they certainly won’t have to play with the pedal down all the way to beat that collection of woofers.
PARTY POOPING POTENTIAL: Nevada and Memphis can’t be pleased to find Creighton looming. Nevada has Nick Fazekas, who is a fine big man capable of doing a lot of things. But, he’s going to see what real shooting is like from Creighton’s Nate Funk. Funk won’t hit the contested three-pointers like Tennessee’s Chris Lofton, but Lofton can’t put the ball on the floor and create his own shot like Funk. This guy is a one-man wrecking crew. Remember Kyle Korver, the Creighton shooter deluxe that sent the Gators packing early in the NCAA Tournament a few years back? This guy is a better shooter. And Creighton isn’t a one-man team. The Blue Jays are disciplined, good defenders, and they won’t take bad shots. Nevada could roll in round one; Memphis in round two.
PARTY POOPING POTENTIAL, II: These guys aren’t afraid of anyone even if they are from the Big South Conference, which is about as close to the bottom as your basic catfish. Well, everybody in the league except Winthrop, that is. The Eagles lost to North Carolina by seven in Chapel Hill and that was a home job — Winthrop shot only one free throw the entire game (Tom Lopes was calling the game, need I say more?). They lost by 11 at Maryland and by only three at Wisconsin. They haven’t lost since they faced Texas A&M in College Station on January 2. They get Notre Dame on a neutral court. That’s trouble for the Irish.
PARTY POOPING POTENTIAL, III: I love this one. VCU and Anthony Grant against the Dookies. See Winthrop (these guys aren’t afraid of anyone). Dook’s guards stink, particularly against teams that pressure 94 feet. Dook has no answer for Eric Maynor, who is averaging more than six assists per game and a measley two turnovers a game. Why Greg Paulus (see Dook) averages nearly twice that (or more) each half. The Rams are going to spread the court and make the Dookies defend. If they hit some three-balls early, this could be righteous. Dook out in the first round. Whoodathunkit?
HULLABALLO CANECK CANECK!: That’s from the Aggie War Hymn. I totally don’t know what that means but if you’ve ever watched 40,000 (or more) Aggies sing it, you’d think it’s the code words for the vaults at Fort Knox. This is sacred stuff to an Aggie and there will be about 40,000 of them in the Alamo Dome making the place as inhospitable as it can be for whoever makes the Sweet 16 in the South Region. And don’t think for a second these guys can’t win it. As long as they’ve got Acie Law, anything’s possible. Acie Law is Nate Funk, Big 12 style. He can shoot you crazy and if a game’s on the line, he’s the guy you want with the ball. He’s 6-3 but when he goes inside, he reminds you of Randy Foye of Villanova, another 6-3 athletic guard that had no fear at all playing among the tall timbers.
CAN TUBBY WORK SOME MAGIC?: Even in the last couple of years when the Wildcats haven’t been all that great, Tubby Smith has outcoached some folks in the NCAA Tournament. Figure the Wildcats will get by Villanova in the first round and face Kansas in the second. Kentucky’s capable of giving Kansas fits on the perimeter. If somehow (I know this is asking a lot but bear with me) Randolph Morris can stay out of foul trouble and play on the offensive end like he did in the SEC Tournament, the Wildcats could put a scare into Kansas. By the way, Randolph Morris was my choice once again for SEC Defensive Player of the Year. He held himself to below 15 points and eight rebounds a game. That’s a consistent defensive effort, even if he did do it on himself. Watch out for Big Blue in this one. I know it’s a long shot but Kentucky always plays well in the NCAA.
FIVE FUN GUYS TO WATCH
1. KEVIN DURANT, TEXAS: Enjoy it while you can. He’ll be the NBA Rookie of the Year next year.
2. DERON WASHINGTON, VIRGINIA TECH: You’ll hold your breath when he leaves the floor on a breakaway. Maybe the most creative dunker in all of college hoops.
3. STEPHEN CURRY, DAVIDSON: His dad is Dell Curry, one of the most unconscious three-point bombers in the history of the NBA. Stephen is a freshman and a chip off the old block. A lot of big time programs whiffed on this guy.
4. TREY JOHNSON, JACKSON STATE: Jackson State will get killed by Florida in the first round but he’ll probably score about 30 points and there will be a couple of highlight reel dunks.