Tuesday, April 04, 2006

National Champions

I've been dying for three weeks now to write about the Florida Gators basketball team. I didn't want to jinx them. I've seen very good Gator teams lose to team they should beat far too many times. I knew this team was different, but I didn't want to tempt fate.

Now I don't have to worry about that. The season is over and The Gators are national champs! They've had such a great season. A lot of people didn't notice them too much until The Tournament. It's easy to forget they were undefeated in late January and ranked #1. Of course they promptly lost six of their next eleven games. They had finally shown their age. The Gators were unranked at the beginning of the season, mostly because they had lost their star players from the previous year and were incredibly inexperienced. They must have learned a lot from that tough stretch in February, and were unstoppable as soon as March arrived. They easily won the SEC tournament, avenging their two losses to South Carolina (who went on and won the NIT) in the finals. Only Georgetown challenged them in The Big Dance.

So what's next for The Gators? Well a lot of that depends on if Joakim Noah turns pro. On one hand, it's hard to imagine his stock going up anymore with another year. Anybody who blocks 29 shots in The Big Dance is going to be an NBA player. He should at least have Theo Ratliff or Ben Wallace potential, and that's enough to guarantee a high pick in the draft. However, I think Joakim has a lot more offensive potential than Ratliff or Wallace. He doesn't have a great outside shot, but he can get his own shot off, especially in the paint. He can handle the ball and is a good passer (even better than fellow future NBA-er Al Horford.) With another year of seasoning, it's not a stretch to imagine Joakim developing into an Alonzo Mourning kind of player. Just look at how much he improve his game via his incredible work ethic.

If Joakim stays, then I really think Horford and Corey Brewer will stay. I think they both have NBA millions in their future, but still might stay even if Joakim leaves. Of course if they all stay ... it's hard to imagine who is going to beat them next year. But let's not start jinxing next year already!

Who can blame them if they all turn pro? They've brought a championship to Florida. It's the first college basketball championship for any team from the state, but I don't think it will be the last. Florida has been a contender for a decade now, starting with Lon Kruger's 1993 team that lost in the Final Four against Grant Hill and Duke. FSU has been compettitive in the ACC for several years now. They had a good team in the 90s also, with Sam Casell and Bob Sura. Miami was also a dangerous team this year, and should be even more dangerous next year. It may be awhile before the state of Florida becomes more a basketball state than North Carolina, but don't be surprised if it happens. Look at all the talent the state produces and the great football and baseball teams from the big three colleges. It's just a matter of time before Dick Vitale is announcing Florida-FSU games on ESPN in primetime...

1 comment:

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