VETTEL: Grading the 2004-5 Hoops Season is Tricky

Like all complicated questions, the answer to the question Florida fans are debating today is not a simple one. Was this a successful basketball season for the Florida Gators?

GRADING 2004-05 SEASON TRICKY

First, you must define "successful" in your own terms. Is it 20-wins? An NCAA bid? Does it take a championship? Or does it mandate a Sweet 16 appearance in the NCAA Tournament?

Or perhaps you are into the nuance of analysis regarding improvement of the team over the course of the season and development of individual players.

There is no right or wrong answer. For some Ron Zook was a successful coach and for others he was a disaster. For some this basketball season is a rousing success, and for others another disappointment.

Evaluation Begins From "State-Of-the-Program"

As I try and put this season into context, I start with where Florida was at the beginning of the campaign. The Gators had enjoyed six straight NCAA bids and six straight winning seasons. Florida returned all key elements from the previous season and a very nice looking freshman class, so improvement on 2004 was to be expected. And improvement was achieved.

The '04 Gators ended up 20-and-11 with a 9-and-7 SEC record. They also reached the finals of the SEC Tournament and suffered a first-round exit in the NCAA. They allowed over 69 points a game and were out-rebounded in SEC play by almost three a night.

The 2004 Gators were plagued by problems on the boards and were out-muscled in every meaningful game. The 2004 Gators lost the regular season finale' with Kentucky by 20 and the SEC Tournament final to those same ‘Cats by 16. They didn't even show up at the NCAA Tournament and were embarrassed by a #12 seed, Manhattan by 15 points.

The 2005 Gators improved in every way imaginable. Florida was a better team on the boards and a better defensive team. The Gators picked up three more wins in conference play. The Gators won the regular season finale' with Kentucky and then BEAT those same ‘Cats by 17 in the SEC Tournament Final. And the 2005 Gators did win one game in the NCAA Tournament, albeit fumbling away a 20-point lead along the way.

Even in the loss to Villanova, Florida at least showed some fight. Trailing by 14 early they got it down to one point on two occasions in the second half before a dreadful seven-minute scoring drought ended any hope of advancing to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2000.

So What's The Grade?

By every objective measure the Florida Basketball season was a tremendous success. Not only did the Gators win four more games; they won the first SEC Tournament in school history. They were a tougher team physically and a more committed team defensively. Three freshman provided significant help and improved the hopes for the future. David Lee became a force in the middle and a true leader by example once SEC play began.

Yes, a second round exit from the NCAA is disappointing, but it is still an improvement over last year. Villanova is also the highest-seeded team to eliminate UF in the past five years and was actually favored in the game.

Florida is in elite company as one of eleven programs to reach each of the past seven NCAA Tournaments. Six of those schools are among the 16 teams still active in the tournament: Duke, Michigan State, Kentucky, Arizona, Oklahoma State and Wisconsin.

Gonzaga and Cincinnati join Florida as second-round losers, while Kansas and Texas didn't make it out of round one. Still, that's not bad company.

Roberson's Decision First Item On Agenda

As planning begins for next year, the first item to be dealt with will be the future of Anthony Roberson. The Junior from Saginaw, Michigan suffered through a miserable trip to Nashville, scoring only 16 points in the two games while shooting a disastrous 1-for-12 from beyond the arc. Roberson had a sensational season averaging over 20 points a game in SEC play and scoring in double figures in 30 of Florida's 32 games. He passed the 15-hundred mark in career scoring and is on the verge of becoming Florida's all-time leader in three-pointers made.

But "Peep" is eager to make money at the game he loves so much it's tattooed on his arm. The NBA projections show him as a mid-second rounder, which means no guaranteed money. However there will certainly be opportunities overseas. He has a month to decide what he is going to do but most believe his Gator career ended with the Villanova game. If that's the case, his last five NCAA games will show a 10.8 point scoring average – about six lower than his career average. If you take away a strong first tournament game against Sam Houston State, Roberson's last four games saw him make just 3-of-24 three pointers while averaging just 9.5 points.

Roster Could Still Be Expanded

Even if Roberson stays the Gators have one scholarship available. There are two intriguing possibilities out there. Walter Hodge is a very talented guard from Florida Air Academy in Melbourne and will likely choose between the Gators and Kansas. Hodge is a lefty who can score but is an excellent passer as well. He'd be an ideal addition, especially if Roberson moves on leaving Hodge to share point guard duties with Taurean Green.

Another possibility is Keith Brumbaugh, a very talented 6'8-ish forward from Deland. For two years he has been fixated on turning pro out of high school and only this year has he begun to get his house in order for a college opportunity. If his attitude is right and he gets the job done in the classroom, he'd be an incredible late addition. Like Hodge, Brumbaugh is a lefty and his offensive skills would be an ideal compliment to Florida's current roster.

I often use the line from the movie "Wall Street" that "greed is good". That certainly applies to Gator Basketball Fans who only recently have been hanging with the bluebloods of the hardwood. Five NCAA Tournaments in 60 years have been forgotten in the euphoria of seven straight bids. All too often, those humble beginning are also forgotten in the frustration of early exits from the very tournament UF faithful would just dream about.

For me, this season is like the movie, "The Natural". A great film with a lousy ending. (Not the homer, the idiotic shower of sparks)


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