Streak of 20-Win Seasons is a Very Big Deal

I wrote a column just like this a year ago and there's a pretty good chance I'll do it again a year from now. Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan has accomplished an incredible thing with the Gator win over Alabama Wednesday night. The Gators now have 11 straight 20-plus win seasons.

To put that accomplishment in current perspective keep in mind that North Carolina has not won 20-plus the last 11 years, nor has Connecticut, Georgetown, Maryland or Indiana. Kentucky hasn't done it. UCLA, Texas, Oklahoma, Michigan State and Tennessee all wish they could make that claim, but they can't.

To put it in an historical perspective, Adolph Rupp never did it. Neither did Dale Brown, Joe B. Hall or Wimp Sanderson. Ray Mears? Nope. How about Hugh Durham, Nolan Richardson or CN Newton? None of them did it either.

The fact is no coach in SEC history ever posted 11-straight 20-win seasons at the same school. Tubby Smith did it with two at Georgia and 10 at Kentucky but left Lexington after that 10th campaign.

The streak started innocently enough in the 1998-99 season when the freshman class of Mike Miller, Ted Dupay and Udonis Haslem helped the Gators end a run of three straight losing seasons and posted a 22-9 record and a trip to the NCAA Sweet 16. A year later the Gators played for the NCAA Title. That was followed by five straight good, but not great seasons that ended with elimination in the first weekend of the "Big Dance".

Everyone knows what happened in 2006 and 2007, but too many think that should be the rule rather than the exception. I won't go through another list of coaches and programs that never won an NCAA Title, but suffice to say it's a pretty impressive list.

Gator Nation should be celebrating another tremendous accomplishment on the hardwood, not bemoaning the drop off from incredible highs of two and three years ago. This team is a lot like that 1999 group in that it was dominated by young players with only two upperclassmen (Greg Stolt and Eddie Shannon) playing significant roles. I don't know if this team can finish strong or post a couple of NCAA wins, but the potential is there for a special finish to this season setting the stage for an even better year in 2010.

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The '99 team finished 10-6 in the SEC, winning three of their last five conference games. The '09 Gators would finish with the same SEC record if they have the same 3-2 finish.

The 11 year run of 20-plus win seasons far exceeds the Gators' five 20-plus win seasons in the 80 years prior to Donovan's arrival.

The 2006 NCAA Champs also finished 10-6 in the SEC.

Eight of the 10 previous 20-plus win seasons under Donovan also included fewer than 10 losses. The only exceptions were 2004 (20-11) and 2008 (24-12). The Gators will have to win four of the last five games to assure themselves of single-digit losses this year.

The other teams to win 20-plus for at least the past 11 seasons are Syracuse, Gonzaga, Duke and Kansas.

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