Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Florida’s Championship

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.

Comments

  1. #1 Jeff Hebert
    April 4, 2006

    Not only can their big men pass, but they can dribble in traffic too — the stat that stuck out for me was that all five starters have a positive assist-turnover ratio. It’s hard to find one guy who can handle the ball, much less 5 of them.

    What REALLY shocked me about Noah is that he can be that athletic with the announcers hanging all over his jock. I kept expecting Billy Packer to say something like “Jim look at the way Noah runs to the bench as he’s taken out, that’s really an impressive move.”

    It was sure a fun tournament, full of surprises and last-second heroics. It’s strange that all three games at the end were blowouts after such a crazy run-up, but I guess that’s just how it breaks sometimes.

    And naturally I’d add Texas to your mix of pre-season favorites for next year, assuming Aldridge comes back. Their only senior starter was Buckman. I’d put Aldridge, Gibson, PJ Tucker, AJ Abrams and whoever the fifth man coming in is against pretty much anyone on your list.

  2. #2 Ed Brayton
    April 4, 2006

    I hadn’t even thought about Texas for next year. Aldridge is a top 3 pick, so I just assume he’s gone. But yeah, if he returns to school, Texas is definitely in the hunt for the championship next year. The guy who would step into Buckman’s shoes is the freshman, Kevin Durant, who was a beast in the McDonald’s game. He’ll start immediately. Even without Aldridge, Texas is still a top 15 team with Gibson, Tucker, Abrams, Durant and Paulino (doesn’t he come back as well?).

    Kansas should also be right there in the mix, assuming none of their freshmen enter the draft.

  3. #3 Jeff Hebert
    April 4, 2006

    Paulino is a senior, I believe, so he’s gone. Which is too bad because he’s an assassin.

    Kansas too should be good. It’s been an interesting year, the lack of upperclassmen has opened the door to a lot more parity. My theory is that the longer someone spends in, say, a Duke type of program the better they get. When fewer athletes stick around in excellent programs with upper-tier coaches, raw ability and athleticism become much more important. So you end up with lots of lower-classmen teams achieving greater and greater levels of success.

    Or, it’s all luck and I don’t know what the Hell I am talking about, which is much more likely :-)

  4. #4 sdanielmorgan
    April 5, 2006

    Ed,

    Do you know why Noah and Halford came here to UF? Because…

    it’s great, to be, a Flo-ri-da GATOR, oh yes it’s great, to be, a Flo-ri-da GATOR!

    Sorry, we’re all still celebrating down here in Gainesville.

    I just can’t find it in me to be mad about your Spartan reference, since they took us down 6 years ago, the first and only other appearance we had in the national championship. Still riding too high, I suppose. Rumor mills had been grinding for some time down here that Donovan is looking elsewhere, but it’s unsubstantiated as yet. Rumors are that he wants to step into the hole left by someone like Coach K. We’ll have to see about that. I’m sure UF will offer Billy a raise, and then some, but I know some of his assistants are already putting in for head jobs elsewhere.

    In retrospect, you can’t still think that Horford made the wrong decision…right?

  5. #5 Ed Brayton
    April 5, 2006

    Daniel-

    Well, not for Horford, though if he had played for MSU they might well have won the championship this year as well. Imagine a frontline of him and Paul Davis along with the guards they had. It just kills me to see such a great player get away when he lived so close. But I’m sure he’s thrilled with his choice. As for Donovan leaving, there are no openings that would tempt him at this point. He’s at a school where recruiting is easy, where they’ve built it to national prominence, and where they now have a championship. The only way he considers leaving that is for one of the historically great jobs – Duke, Carolina, Kentucky, UCLA, Kansas, Indiana. Those are really the only jobs that would be considered bigger than the one he has now. Or possibly going pro.

The site is undergoing maintenance presently. Commenting has been disabled. Please check back later!