Great Hoop Seasons Without a Title - Part 5

Our look at the greatest Gator basketball seasons not to include an NCAA Championship is down to the two best campaigns Florida has had. Narrowing this list down to six seasons was easier than last week's football series because the Gators only had five NCAA bids and five 20-win seasons prior to Billy Donovan's arrival a dozen years ago.

With that, we move on to the two finest non-NCAA Title seasons Gator basketball has ever had.

#6 -- 1998-99
#5 -- 1986-87
#4 -- 1966-67
#3 -- 1988-89


#2 -- 1999-00 -----
I thought about leaving this season off the list because it was no surprise that the Gators had a fine season and made a long run in the NCAA Tournament in 2000. Florida had won 22 games and gone to the Sweet 16 the year before and returned everyone except Eddie Shannon (6.7) and Greg Stolt (11.0). The Gators also brought in an outstanding freshman class that featured Donnell Harvey, Brett Nelson, Matt Bonner and Justin Hamilton. Still when you do something the program had never done before, it's pretty special.

Florida came out of the blocks quickly, winning eleven of their first twelve games, falling only to Purdue. Then the team hit a lull, splitting six games in the middle of January. Florida was 14-4, 3-2 in the SEC race. The Gators made a move towards the SEC Title with four straight wins before dropping an overtime game at Tennessee. The loss didn't slow the Gators down at all as Donovan's team rattled off five more wins to clinch at least a share of the SEC Championship. The Gators could have won the SEC outright, but lost the season finale' at Kentucky 70-67. That created a four way tie atop the conference with the Wildcats, Vols and LSU Tigers.

After losing in the second game of the SEC Tournament the Gators headed to Winston Salem, North Carolina for what was almost a very short NCAA Tournament run. Florida needed Butler to miss a couple of free throws and Mike Miller made a spectacular basket to win the Gators first round game. After that, The Gators reached another level, blasting Illinois 93-76, Duke 87-78 and Oklahoma State 77-65 to reach the Final Four.

The Gators' terrific play continued in Indianapolis when they used their superior depth to outplay North Carolina 71-59. Gator reserves scored 37 points led by Nelson's 13, while the Tar Heels got nothing from its bench.

Florida was now in the NCAA Title Game for the first time ever, and they gave a solid accounting of themselves in an 89-76 loss to Michigan State. The Spartans nailed 11-of-22 from 3-point range, while the usually sharp shooting Gators made just 6-of-18. Udonis Haslem's remarkable 27 point effort was not enough to give the Gators the edge on an experienced, poised Michigan State team.

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


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