It’s not the worst-case scenario, but it’s close. Florida’s second round 68-46 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA tournament is not the kind of ending to the season that Billy Donovan, the Gator players or fans expected. While it’s been an up and down year and the team is young, the expectations were high for the post-season. But that’s what happens with a team that’s built on speed, the three and the press. When things are going well, it’s exciting and fun to watch. When things aren’t going well, it’s painful.
Florida doesn’t have anything to fall back on if their original game plan doesn’t work. They try to press harder, hustle more and get better shots, but if they’re not going in, they’re just not going in. They can’t walk the ball up the floor and go into some kind of half-court inside-out game, because they don’t have that in their arsenal.
Since being ranked #1 in early February, Florida has been a .500 team, losing four of their last five, the only win coming against outmatched Sam Houston State. That doesn’t mean it’s time to panic, but Billy Donovan is going to ask and be asked some tough questions. Nobody expects you to win the National Championship until you’ve gotten to the Final Four, and nobody expects you to get to the Final Four until you’ve played in the NCAA Tournament and had some success. Florida has been to the Final Four, and even to the title game, but can’t seem to build on that and sustain an elite position in college basketball. Is it because Kwame Brown didn’t go to Florida? Throw into the mix Donnell Harvey and Mike Miller’s departure early, and add Teddy Dupay’s dismissal and you have some very solid building blocks gone while they were still very effective. So blame Florida’s recent failures on that, but that excuse goes away in time. Everybody’s losing players, and the Gators have lost some more than expected. Perhaps Donovan will alter his recruiting strategy a bit, looking for players who will stay and help build the program as well as the top talent that will be effective right away.
Florida is young and it showed in some of the big games. And maybe they raised the bar a little too high with their success throughout the regular season. If this group stays together, and that’s not such a big if, they’ll be a force, especially if Donovan’s Midas touch in recruiting stays golden.