Great Hoop Seasons Without a Title - Part 3

After spending last week looking at the best football seasons that came up short in terms of winning a national title, we have moved indoors to the hardwood to remember some great Florida basketball seasons.

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 continue.

#6 -- 1998-99
#5 -- 1986-87

#4 -- 1966-67 -----
In yesterday's part two we looked at the second Gator team to win 20 games. It had been 20 years since the first Florida squad accomplished that feat in the same school year that Steve Spurrier won the Heisman Trophy.

There was reason for optimism heading into the 1966-67 campaign, because the Gators were coming off a solid 16-10 season that included nine wins in the SEC (9-7). The Gators returned most of the key players from that team, including Gary Keller (16/12), David Miller (9/5), Jeff Ramsey (9/7) and Skip Highly (7/4). Florida also returned super sub Gary McElroy (6/6), but the big addition was in the middle. Neal Walk was eligible to play as a sophomore and the 6-11 big man was extremely productive from day one.

The Gators won their first four games, including the Gators first ever win in Lexington 78-75, before dropping a 66-59 decision to Vanderbilt. Seven wins followed that setback and Florida was well on its way to breaking the school record of 17 wins. The Gators took a 7-1 SEC record into a home and home set with Tennessee with their SEC Title hopes on the line. Those hopes seemed to fade after falling to the Vols 66-53 in Florida Gym and then 56-42 up in Knoxville. Two wins later the Gators dropped a seemingly meaningless game to Auburn to fall to 13-4 overall, 8-4 in the league. The Gators regrouped and won the remaining games on the schedule to finish 21-4, 14-4 and stay in the SEC hunt. In fact, the Gators would have tied for the SEC Championship if Mississippi State could upset Tennessee in the season finale. The Bulldogs did their best, but Tennessee survived a triple-overtime thriller 78-76 to win the title.

The 1966-67 Gators would have shared the SEC Title with one more win or one more Tennessee loss, but it was not to be. The Gators had no one to blame, having fallen to the Vols twice and losing to an 8-10 Auburn team. Still this was in the era were only conference champs went to the NCAA Tournament and the SEC Tournament was on hiatus. Therefore a 21-4 team saw no post-season play in 1967, but it was still one of the greatest teams in UF history and its .840 winning percentage remained the best for a Gator team until 2006 (33-6, .846).

Again this was an obvious choice because of it being the first 20-win season and the first time the Gators went down to the wire in the SEC race. Still to come the three best non-title seasons in Florida history, each coached by a different guy.

Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Larry Vettel


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