Florida’s Tuesday night win over Texas A&M is the story of an entire season. The Gators should have won the game in blowout fashion but had to settle for a white knuckles, 66-62, thriller thanks to 20-38 shooting from the foul line. With the win, the Gators evened their record at 15-15. With Kentucky looming Saturday in Lexington, the Gators likely have to win two games in the Southeastern Conference Tournament in Nashville to avoid their first losing record since the 1996-97 season, Billy Donovan’s second year on the job.
This topsy-turvy season in which the Gators are 6-11 in games decided by seven or fewer points has everything to do with shooting and not just from the foul line where the Gators are an abysmal 63.5% as a team. Florida is only shooting 43.6% overall from the field and a rotten 31.4% from the 3-point line, both figures highly unusual for a Donovan-coached team. During the 16 straight seasons in which the Gators won 20 or more games, Florida typically ranked among the best teams in the country in offensive efficiency. This team not only lacks knock down shooters from the outside other than Dorian Finney-Smith and Michael Frazier, who has missed the last seven games with an injury, but has problems finishing in the paint. Enigmatic Chris Walker and walk-on Jacob Kurtz are Florida’s only players who are shooting better than 50% on the season.
In evaluating Florida’s season game-by-game, one thing is perfectly clear: even without a real post presence Florida played decent enough defense to have 20 or more wins already, but the Gators have not been able to overcome their inability to shoot straight. A few made free throws and an occasional swish instead of a brick on a wide open 3-pointer and the Gators are NCAA bound rather than trying to find a way to avoid a losing year.
1. HERSCHEL WALKER, 1980: George Rogers of South Carolina won it and he was a fine running back, but George was a mere mortal. Even as a freshman Herschel was a grown man playing on a field with 21 boys. He led the Bulldogs to a perfect season and the national championship. No freshman had ever won the Heisman, though, so Herschel didn’t win.
2. HERSCHEL WALKER, 1981: Because he gained 2,300 yards a lot of folks say Marcus Allen deserved to win it. He certainly had a great season, but Marcus Allen played on a team that had weapons and options (19 players who made it to the NFL). Herschel was the weapon and the only option Georgia had and still nobody could stop him. The excuse in 1981 was that Herschel was only a sophomore and Marcus was a senior.
3. Peyton Manning, 1997: The award went to Michigan’s Charles Woodson, who played both ways and had a marvelous season, but the Heisman should have gone to Peyton even if he lost (again) to Florida. The Florida loss was Tennessee’s only regular season loss while Woodson helped Michigan go unbeaten. If Tennessee had beaten Florida, Peyton would have won in a landslide.
4. REX GROSSMAN, 2001: Eric Crouch might be the most undeserving Heisman winner of all time. If several hundred voters turned in ballots with a second or third place finisher Rex would have won the award. The excuse for not giving him the Heisman was he was a sophomore.
5. Marshall FAULK, 1992: The award went to Miami quarterback Gino Toretta, who wasn’t even the best player on his own team. That was Michael Barrow. Gino showed in the national championship game against Alabama that he was incapable of reading a zone defense. Toretta won the award because Miami ran the table in 1991 to win the national title and was 11-0 in the regular season in 1992. Faulk ran for 1,630 yards and 15 touchdowns. The sophomore excuse was used again.
1. 1968-69 UCLA: This was the senior season for Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, who changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It was also top to bottom the most talented team John Wooden ever coached. Alcindor was the most dominant player in the game but the roster also included future first rounders Sidney Wicks and Curtis Rowe and second rounder Steve Patterson, the three who would form the front line that would lead UCLA past Jacksonville in the championship game of 1970.
2. 1975-76 Indiana: This is the last Division I team to finish unbeaten (32-0). It probably would have been back-to-back unbeatens for the Hoosiers if not for the broken arm suffered by Scott May in the regular season finale against Purdue in 1975. The Hoosiers lost their only game of the season in the Mideast Regional championship game against Kentucky, 92-90. With everybody healthy, the Hoosiers ran the table in 1975-76 behind its three senior first round draft picks (May, Quinn Buckner, Bobby Wilkerson) and 1977 first rounder Kent Benson. The roster also included three second round draft piks (Steve Green, John Laskowski and Wayne Radford) and a third rounder (Tom Abernethy). The second best team in the country was Michigan, which Indiana beat three times. In a preseason exhibition game, Indiana blew out the world champion Soviet Union.
3. 1972-73 UCLA: Everybody remembers the spectacular game Bill Walton had in the national championship game against Memphis when he scored 44 points and hit 21-22 from the field, maybe the best NCAA championship game performance ever. But, this was an enormously talented team with a roster of four future first rounders (Walton, Keith Wilkes, David Meyers and Swen Nater). The Bruins ran the table for the second straight year (30-0) to cap a bell-to-bell #1-ranking. They won their NCAA Tournament games by an average of 16 points.
4. 1981-82 North Carolina: Of the 13 scholarship players on the roster, 12 were drafted by the NBA including first rounders James Worthy, Michael Jordan and Sam Perkins. Jordan was a freshman who was talented enough to start from day one but who Dean Smith carefully brought along. In the NCAA championship game, Smith put the ball in Jordan’s hands for the game-winning shot against Georgetown. Carolina finished the year 32-2 with the only losses to Wake Forest and to Ralph Sampson and Virginia, who they beat in the ACC championship game.
5. 1995-96 KENTUCKY: On the Kentucky roster were 11 players who spent at least one year in the NBA. The Wildcats went 34-2, losing only to #5-ranked UMass in the second game of the season and #25 Mississippi State in the SEC Tournament championship game. Kentucky won its first four games in the NCAA Tournament by an average of 28 points before avenging the loss to #1-ranked UMass in the semifinals by seven and then knocking off Syracuse by nine in the championship game.
6. 1973-74 NORTH CAROLINA STATE: The only loss that season was to #1-ranked UCLA, which would stretch its winning streak to 89 games before a disastrous Duck and Beaver hunting expedition in Oregon in February. The David Thompson-led Wolfpack faced UCLA in the semifinals, rallying from 11 down to send it to overtime, then rallying from seven down in the first overtime to send it to the second where the Wolfpack prevailed. NC State beat Marquette in the championship game to finish the season 30-1. Tommy Burleson and Monte Towe were the only players other than Thompson to play in the NBA. Thompson was the best player in the country and ranks as one of the best players ever in the history of college basketball.
7. 2006-07 FLORIDA: The Gators won their second straight NCAA title, becoming only the second team since the great UCLA run (Duke was the other) to go back-to-back. Florida finished the season 35-5 and it could be argued that the only reason the Gators lost those five games is they were bored. The Florida roster included four first rounders (Al Horford, Joakin Noah, Corey Brewer and Marreese Speights) and two second rounders (Taurean Green and Chris Richard). All five starters (Horford, Noah, Brewer, Green and Humphrey) averaged in double figures with Green the high scorer at 13.3 per game.
8. 1983-84 GEORGETOWN: The Hoyas made it to the NCAA title game three of the four years that Patrick Ewing suited up, losing to North Carolina in 1982 and Villanova in 1985. The 1984 team went 34-3 while playing the most brutally physical brand of defense I’ve seen in the 40-plus years I’ve been following college basketball closely. In the NCAA Tournament, the Hoyas survived a slowdown scare against SMU in the first round then won the rest of their games en route to a national title (beat #3 Kentucky and #5 Houston at the Final Four) by an average of 12 points per game.
9. 1991-92 DUKE: This was Coach K’s best team, led by national player of the year Christian Laettner and the best point guard in the country in Bobby Hurley. Also on the team were future first rounders Grant Hill and Cherokee Parks and four future second rounders in Thomas Hill, Antonio Lang, Brian Dviss and Erik Meek. Duke went 12-1 against ranked teams and beat #6 Kentucky, 104-103 in overtime in a game that many say is one of the five best college games ever played.
10. 2011-12 KENTUCKY: With three freshmen in the starting lineup (Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd- Gilchrist and Marquis Teague) Kentucky went 12-0 against ranked teams while marching to the national championship with a 38-2 record. The only blemishes on Kentucky’s record were losses to unranked Indiana and unranked Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament championship game.
1. HOUSTON 1984: The Cougars made it to the Final Four three straight years and lost in the national championship game in 1983 (to North Carolina State) and 1984 (to Georgetown). The roster included future Hall of Famers Clyde Drexler and Hakeen Olajuwon as well as future first rounders Michael Young and Greg Anderson and second rounder Ricky Winslow.
2. MICHIGAN 1992-93: This was the sophomore season for the Fab Five and the second straight trip to the NCAA title game (lost in 1992 to Duke). The Wolverines were upended by North Carolina in the national championship game in part because of a blunder by Chris Webber, who got a technical foul for calling time out when Michigan had none to call.
3. JACKSONVILLE, 1969-70: There are some who believe that if the officiating hadn’t been so one-sided (UCLA shot 38 free throws, JU shot nine) that the Dolphins would have won the national championship behind a lineup that included 7-footers Artis Gilmore and Pembrook Burrows and future Arlington Country Day coach Rex Morgan.
What is the best college basketball team you’ve ever seen?
When they were one of the groups that defined the Memphis soul music of the 1960s and 1970s, Sam and Dave were known as “The Sultans of Sweat” because of their hard working, high energy concerts and live shows. From 1965-72, first for Stax Records and then for Atlantic, Sam and Dave were one of soul music’s most bankable acts. Today’s music is “Soul Man,” which was #1 on the R&B charts and #2 on the Billboard top 100 in 1967. Sam and Dave won the 1967 Grammy for Best R&B Group.