Sunshine State Shooting Bricks

For another year, Florida will be the last team in the Sunshine State playing basketball as they take on UMass tonight. UF's fall from two time national champion to NIT Final Four participant provided an opportunity for another of the state's many basketball programs to grab some of the hoops spotlight.

Only one proved even close to up to the challenge. Miami qualified as a seventh seed and justified it by advancing to the second round. Without making a bigger splash than that, though, the Hurricane program's historically meager support indicates most aren't likely to take notice.

While the Hurricanes should be proud of their achievement in reaching the tournament after being expected to be a bottom feeder in the ACC, most Floridians are still slumbering through basketball season. Compared to a state like Tennessee which had five teams in the bracket including three of the top 16 seeds, that's not too impressive. Here's a status check of the state's other basketball programs right now.

FSU - Bitter Seminoles hoops fans are throwing out lines like "Can't spell Hamilton without NIT", and for good reason. This year's FSU team was positioned to be an NCAA tournament squad. Even after the loss of a lottery pick to the NBA with Al Thornton's eligibility wrapping up in 2007, they had a veteran group of players in a league that was pretty young. Instead of capitalizing, FSU puzzled by losing early to Cleveland State and then enduring a 2-8 stretch in ACC play. Now Leonard Hamilton's team faces an ACC where most teams will have gotten more experienced and they lose seniors like Jason Rich and Isaiah Swann. Of their top four scorers, only Toney Douglas is slated to return and the possibility of him going pro exists. Things are not trending up in Tallahassee.

USF - Year one of Stan Heath's tenure featured a small accomplishment, as he kept the Bulls out of the Big East cellar - they were 15th thanks to the tiebreaker of winning twice against fellow three conference win squad Rutgers. The Bulls lose a senior who averaged a double-double in Kentrell Gransberry, and there's no one on their roster with the size and skill to even dream of filling those shoes. The program still has a long way to go to even reach their conference tournament, much less the NCAA field. Former Georgia star Mike Mercer transferred in this year after getting kicked off the Bulldogs squad and will be available at midseason for USF, which should help. Heath will gradually get better talent playing in the Sun Dome, but it will take a while.

UCF - Kirk Speraw's crew returns star Jermaine Taylor for one more season, but his 21 points per game won't be enough to win without support. No one else on next year's team averaged better than 6.4 points a game. The Knights compete in a conference that failed to get even one team besides Memphis into the NCAA field, and the chances of C-USA's status changing enough to benefit UCF anytime soon are extremely small.

FAU/FIU - Both of Florida's Sun Belt squads were bad this season. FAU, which has at least made the NCAA tournament this decade, finished eighth in the conference while FIU was tenth. Neither loses much experience from this season, but it's hard to see why they would improve notably within the next year.

Jacksonville - Cliff Warren did a fantastic job in turning the woeful JU program around in his third season with the school. He loses almost no one from a squad that finished second in the Atlantic Sun. Should onetime top high school prospect and current Tallahassee CC player Jason Bennett actually show up and play like a 7-3 center with athleticism can next season, the Dolphins will have a great shot to go to the NCAAs.

Stetson/Florida Gulf Coast/North Florida - Three losing Atlantic Sun programs, all of which are likely to continue that pattern.

Florida A&M/Bethune Cookman - Anything can happen in the MEAC, but neither team wrapped up the season with a winning record nor is there reason to suspect that will change soon.

Based on the current state of the Florida programs, UF, Jacksonville and Miami fans have reason to be counting the minutes to the start of the 2008-09 basketball season. Everyone else can look forward to another March spent on spring football.

The Heath Cline Show airs daily from 11-1 on Gainesville's Star 99.5 FM

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