As the resident college basketball nut, I suppose I should comment on Florida’s national championship victory. This was only the second time ever that a team had gone from unranked to start the season to a national championship (Villanova in 1985 was the other). No one expected this team to be this good. They only got one vote in the preseason rankings, from Jim Boeheim of Syracuse, and came in 38th in that poll. They lost four of their five starters from last year, including David Lee (drafted by the Knicks) and the two idiots who left school early thinking they would get drafted and didn’t (Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh).
Because of those losses, no one expected Florida to do anything. Joakim Noah and Al Horford barely got off the bench last year as freshmen, but they were huge this year and are both clearly lottery picks now. That kills me to say because both were heavily recruited by my favorite teams. Duke recruited Noah hard and wanted him badly, while Horford went to high school 20 minutes from the Michigan State campus and spurned them to go to Florida.
And as impressive as Noah was as MVP of the tournament, Horford may turn out to be the better pro. He is the absolute prototype power forward – 6’10, built like a mack truck, quick off his feet as a shotblocker, great ball handler in the open floor, beast on the boards going after rebounds. Whenever he declares for the draft, he will step in immediately for the team that drafts him and make them better. He’s gonna be a great, great pro player.
And if Noah ever learns how to shoot a jumpshot, he’s gonna be great as well. His length and agility at his height is astonishing. He has one of the ugliest shots I’ve ever seen, but he can make the little jump hook and most of his points come on dunks and putbacks anyway. Give him two years to put on 25 pounds of muscle and work on his jumpshot and he’s a 7-foot Andrei Kirilenko.
I’ve never been a Billy Donovan fan. I’ve thought he was a great recruiter and a mediocre bench coach (Tom Izzo outcoached him so badly in the 2000 national championship game that it was almost embarrassing to watch). Over the years, he’s taken teams loaded with talent and underacheived with them. But maybe he’s learned something from all that. Anthony Roberson was amazingly talented, but he was a terrible leader and a ball hog, a guy who cared more about getting on Sportscenter highlights than about running a team.
With Taurean Green at the point, this team had much better chemistry than any Donovan team I’ve ever seen. Without Roberson and Matt Walsh gunning away from the outside and dreaming about the NBA, this team played together on both ends of the floor. It’s not just about putting the most talented players on the court, it’s about building a team that plays like one.
The scary thing is that they could all come back next year, though I don’t expect them to. But their starting lineup is 4 sophomores and a junior (UCLA also had no seniors in the lineup; so much for that “you need senior leadership to win in the tournament” notion). If any two of the three big players – Noah, Horford and Brewer – come back, they will join North Carolina as the preseason favorites (UCLA and LSU could also be right there if their underclassmen come back).
All in all, this Florida team was fun to watch. You could really see how much they loved playing together, especially the two big men. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a team with two big men who could pass like Noah and Horford. Maybe Brand and Battier come close, but Battier played more on the perimeter for Duke. Noah and Horford both play on the interior and their passing makes it impossible to double team either one of them.