March 23rd, 2012 10:02 AM║ Posted By: John Pennington ║ Permalink
║ Schools: Florida
Tags: Elite Eight, Final Four, SEC, UF
It was just three short years ago. Billy Donovan’s Florida Gators had just wrapped up a three-game run in their second straight NIT. There were more than a few rumbles, grumbles and questions about whether the coach had lost his mojo. Maybe it was time for a change. After all, Donovan had also taken an NBA job only to give it back hours later. His heart just wasn’t in the college game anymore. In the minds of a few, Florida needed someone new.
All this talk came after Donovan had already won back-to-back national titles in 2006 and 2007. His whole team had gone pro on him afterward. He was starting from scratch with his program in ’08 and ’09 and still winning 20+ games (he’s now put together 14 such seasons in a row) and he was still making postseason tournaments (15 in a row as of this season, with only three NITs in that mix).
Well, with Donovan’s Gators upsetting Marquette 68-58 last night in Phoenix to reach their second consecutive Elite Eight, maybe it’s time to look back and mock those finicky, fairweather folks who questioned UF’s coach. Talk about “what have ya done for me lately.”
Tomorrow, Donovan and his 7th-seeded Gators will face 4th-seeded Louisville in the West Regional final. Florida’s coach will be battling the man he played for at Providence, Rick Pitino.
“Obviously, I’ve said that outside of my parents, he’s the most influential person in my life,” Donovan said last night of the man who is a perfect 6-0 against him as a coach. But if UF can get past Louisville — who upset top-seeded Michigan State last night — Donovan will make his fourth trip to the Final Four.
Two national titles. Five Elite Eights. On the verge of a fourth Final Four. People, that’s rarefied air. That’s the Mount Olympus inhabited by the Mike Krzyzewskis, Roy Williams, Tom Izzos and Pitinos of the world. That’s lifetime contract stuff. In other words, it’s the kind of success that should keep fans’ mouths closed the next time Donovan’s program has to go through the bumps of a rebuilding cycle.
John Calipari might soon make Kentucky what it once was in terms of regular Final Four visitors and occasional national champs. The Wildcats certainly appear to be heading in that direction. But for now — until Coach Cal captures a crown — Florida and Donovan are the Kentucky of the SEC. (Any insulted Gator fans should look up UK’s hoops history and realize what kind of compliment I just paid them. Ditto insulted UK fans.)
As for last night’s win, it was a big dose of Bradley Beal — 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting — and some stingy defense that earned UF its latest Elite Eight trip. Holding the up-tempo Golden Eagles to 58 points is no easy feat. In its three NCAA tourney wins so far, the Gators have allowed just 51 points per game on average.
Earlier this week we told you that Marquette star Jae Crowder had said Florida is “a great offensive team,” but “they lack a few things defensively… we’ll get a lot of things we want offensively.”
Not so much.
Crowder scored 15 but connected on just 5-of-15 shots. As a team his Golden Eagles shot just 30% from the floor.
With a dynamic Beal impressing on a nightly basis and the ability and desire to play some downright nasty defense, Florida is an uber-dangerous team right now. And whether they take down Pitino’s Louisville squad tomorrow afternoon or not, Florida’s coach remains the SEC’s best. Kentucky’s Calipari is good, but he’s got a ways to go before he equals Donovan in terms of hardware.
Let’s hope people in the Sunshine State remember that the next time Florida stubs its toe.
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