Kentucky is a basketball state. Florida is a football state. Billy Donovan proved Florida could be both within the last decade, and can do it again. But he needs this group of Gators to come through for him.
Last year Florida was bounced out of the Elite 8 in overtime by Butler. An opportunity missed for certain. This year, he has the Gators back in the Sweet 16. The path isn’t as clear this year, but it is certainly doable.
Florida is capable of beating Marquette, and then either Michigan State or Louisville. If Donovan has hopes of winning another national title, heck another SEC title, the time to strike is now.
Back to Kentucky. The Wildcats are the overwhelming favorite to get to a second straight Final Four, and this time cut down the nets on the final Monday night. Coach John Calipari has everything you could want in a program. Money, fans, and talent that flows in year after year with no end in sight. They’ve gotten close to the summit the last two seasons, and look ready to cash in this year.
Back to Florida. The Gators got a stud recruit in Brad Beal. Unfortunately, like UK’s studs, he looks like he’ll be one-n-done. But unlike UK, Florida doesn’t have a pipeline of future NBA’ers lined up to replace him. Right now the Gators have three recruits committed, but only one that ranks in the top 100.
That brings me to my point. Donovan and the Gators will be good moving forward even if they lose tonight. He can coach, and the program is a solid one. But two more Florida wins and a Final Four appearance would go a long way to changing how good next year’s recruiting class will be.
The perceived direction and success of a program is fragile. 3 years ago, North Carolina has just polished off their 2nd title in 4 years and looked to be the dominant team in the country, the ACC, and most importantly, on tobacco road. Then Duke pulled off an unlikely title run where they faced upset winners like West Virginia (beat #1 UK) and Butler (you know that story) instead of some of the better, more powerful teams. If you don’t think that helped them land Kyrie Irving and Austin Rivers then you’re crazy.
If Kentucky goes onto win a title this year, and Florida isn’t anywhere near New Orleans and the Final Four, then they will appear further away than ever. But if Florida battles the Wildcats tough in the Final Four, or somehow even beats them, then the immediate future of Florida basketball changes dramatically.
It’s not all or nothing. I do think it could be the difference in being real good again, or being a potential title contender.