This list was more than a little bit easier to come up with since the Gators only had five NCAA bids and five 20-win seasons prior to Billy Donovan's arrival a dozen years ago.
Once again as a reminder, I'm looking for seasons that were not only excellent ones, but those which may have been historic, unexpected and/or trail blazing. With that, let the countdown begin.
#6 -- 1998-99 ----- The season began with some people wondering if Billy Donovan was really the right guy to build a consistent winner at Florida. Sure, he had recruited well and shocked the world with the addition of Mike Miller from all the way out in South Dakota, but it was time for results. Donovan took a 27-32 record into the season, but got off to a quick start with five straight wins including a 16-point decision over Florida State. After a rout at the hands of Duke, the Gators won four more and people started buzzing.
The buzz calmed a bit after the Gators were blasted by Kentucky 93-58 in their SEC opener, but Donovan's charges responded with three straight SEC wins. A loss to Auburn was followed by three more wins and the Gators hit the midpoint of the SEC schedule 15-3, 9-1 in the SEC and on target for just the sixth NCAA bid in school history.
The Gators began the second half of the SEC slate losing three of four and doubts began to creep in about whether or not this team could finish the deal. Keep in mind the Gators lost their last five SEC games the previous season. Florida faced a crucial game at Georgia and beat the Bulldogs 75-64 to start their third three-game winning streak in league play.
Florida entered the SEC Tournament a lock for an NCAA bid with a 19-7 record including ten wins in 16 SEC games. A split in the tournament sent the Gators to Seattle for the NCAA Tournament.
Florida staggered out of the gates against Pennsylvania, trailing by 11 at halftime before dominating the second half (43-18) and posting a 75-61 win. Brent Wright's double-double (15/12) led five Gators in double figured. Next up was surprising Weber State and Harold "The Show" Arceneaux. It took overtime for the Gators to survive 82-74 and advance to the Sweet-16 for the third time. Greg Stolt scored 26 and Ted Dupay added 14 off the bench to lead the way.
Next up the Gators faced a Sweet-16 matchup with Gonzaga, back before everyone knew how good the Zags really were. Florida was in a great position to win the game before surrendering a crucial offensive rebound basket off a missed free throw. Miller had a double-double (11/15) in a losing effort while Stolt (16) and Wright (15) led Gator scorers. The season was over at 22-9, but this young team had given all a glimpse of the future of Florida basketball.
I chose this season because it was so instrumental in Florida becoming a power in college basketball. Donovan certainly wasn't on the hot seat entering this campaign, but it was crucial that the Gators demonstrated they were making progress. They did that and more, coming within a defensive rebound of reaching the elite eight. Of course the following season would be even better.
Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Larry Vettel
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