In your tournament brackets you will come across this game in the South, Northwestern St vs Florida. It would be easy to pencil in Florida on the next line. After all, this team has beaten Wisconsin, Marquette, Middle Tennessee State, Ole Miss, Missouri, all NCAA Tournament teams, all by wide margins. This team has been near the top ten or in the top ten all season long. At their high water mark, they were number two. They have been talked about all season as a potential Final Four team, some even have said a probable Final Four team.
But, before you pencil this team in on your next round, ask yourself this question…what if the game is close?
For Gators fans, this team has been a most infuriating team. They look so good at times and so bad at others, often in the same game. Everyone who has ever watched basketball knows that teams go on runs. There is always a momentum swing or two in a basketball game. But these Gators have made it an art form.
In the past two seasons, the Gators have blown two double digit leads in the Elite Eight with the Final Four in reach. In fact, two years in a row it was so close this team could almost touch it. They failed to close out the games. But this year’s team does this every other game. Many of these players played in those two Elite Eight games.
When faced with adversity, you can either learn from it, and make sure to do better, or let it fester and become who you are. This team has apparently chosen the latter.
Talent-wise, this team is every bit as good as any team Florida has ever assembled. Wait, what? Did I just say that? This team is as talented as the one that won two national championships? They’re as talented as the team that not only won two straight national titles but three straight SEC Tournaments? The one with three NBA Lottery picks that have all developed into very good, not just good, but VERY good NBA players?
Yes, this team has that kind of talent. Remember, when Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer and Al Horford signed with Florida, nobody cared. Those guys were not scrubs, but they made themselves into lottery picks. In fact, the consensus number one recruiting class in 2004 belonged to the Kentucky Wildcats. Florida was an afterthought.
This current Florida team? These guys are making themselves into one of the biggest bunch of underachievers in school history. Wait, what? Didn’t they just win the SEC championship? For many of these players it was the second one in three years. How are they underachieving?
Try this stat. Florida has played 33 games. Only six of the 33 have been decided by fewer than 10 points. In those six games, the Gators are…OH and SIX! That’s right. The 26-7 number three seed is ZERO FOR SIX?? That is baffling. They have 26 double digit wins and NO single digit wins? How can this be explained? Billy Donovan would like to know.
#1 overall Louisville. 29 wins. Seven are by single digits. So that’s 22 double digit wins. Four fewer than Florida. #1 seed Gonzaga, a team from a conference well under the SEC, 31 wins. Eight by single digits. So that is 23 double digit wins. Three fewer than the Gators. Indiana, a #1 seed, 27 wins, eight by single digits. That’s 19 double digit wins, seven fewer than Florida.
Yet here they are, a three seed. No single digit wins. Not one.
So let’s look at these six losses. First was Arizona. Florida had a six point lead with two minutes to go. Lost by one because hey could not get an inbounds pass in to save their lives. They also choked at the free throw line. The second was a week later against Kansas State in a game they also folded down the stretch. Both of those teams are NCAA teams. K-State is a number four. So those are not too embarrassing, even though both games could have been won.
But, here is where it gets disturbing. They lost to the Arkansas Razorbacks, a team that is not even in the NIT. Okay, that night Arkansas was red hot. That can happen.
But, then they lost to the Missouri Tigers in a game they led in the second half by double figures. They were still in the lead in the last two minutes. They lose it. Mizzou is a nine seed. Then they lose to Tennessee in a tight game. Tennessee is in the NIT. Then they lose to Kentucky in a game they led by seven with 7:30 to go. They never scored another point. 14 possessions, no points. Not even a free throw. They lose by four. Kentucky is a NIT team.
But the mist egregious of all, on a neutral floor, with their first SEC Tournament championship in six years only 20 minutes away, they lose to a 12 seed. Ole Miss probably only got into the tournament because they got an automatic bid.
So can we trust this team to beat a #14 Northwestern State? I don’t know. One thing we know, if they do win it will be a blowout. If they get by that game, do we trust them to beat the UCLA Bruins? Or do we even trust them to beat the Minnesota Golden Gophers? I do not.