Last season, a little talked-about Florida team started 17-0 on the season before finally losing to Tennessee on Jan. 21. The Gators were the last remaining unbeaten team, surprising prognosticators nationwide.
"But they didn't play anybody," usually said the skeptics.
Florida lost two in a row, regained a little momentum, then closed out February losing four of six including three in a row.
Finally, Billy Donovan's club came back down to earth. Reality sunk in on the 22-6 Gators. Florida was just 8-6 in the ultra-competitive SEC.
Those Gators responded winning the last two regular season games and slipped through the SEC Tournament unscathed. Once again, Florida was on a roll.
A No. 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament, silly me bonehead, I picked John Pelfrey's South Alabama team to shock the Gators in the first round. "This," I thought, "was a vulnerable team."
Much to my bracket's chagrin, Florida ran South Alabama out of the gymnasium. It was a 76-50 pummeling.
Trying to make up for a failed prediction, I thought perhaps Bruce Pearl and Wisconsin-Milwaukee would upend the allegedly "vulnerable" Gators. Oops. Wrong again.
It's not that I had anything against Florida. In fact, I've still got a Teddy Dupay jersey lying around someplace. When Billy The Kid was reeling in recruit after recruit - Udonis Haslem, Matt Walsh, Donnell Harvey, Mike Miller, Brett Nelson and the like, I was colored impressed. I simply didn't think Florida had it in them.
My apologies to Joakim Noah for disrespecting you.
Florida left the NCAA Tournament field in the dust. Georgetown. Villanova. Cinderella George Mason. And finally, UCLA in the championship. Only one game (Georgetown) that was within 13 points.
Then the unthinkable: all five starters returned. It was easy to vote Florida the preseason No. 1. On paper, there was no question.
But could anyone survive target practice with that giant 'x' on their backs? An emphatic, "no," I figured.
I had one big concern beyond the general ideal that storybook endings are more like fairy tales the second time around - depth. Was Florida deep enough to make another tournament run.
Sounding like a broken record, I betcha you know my answer. After Florida beat up on a few lesser quality teams, they ran into a Kansas buzzsaw in Las Vegas. Despite trailing late, Florida rallied and forced overtime before ultimately falling. It was a loss, but hardly proof that trouble was on the way.
Then came a loss two games later to in-state rival Florida State, albeit without the ailing Corey Brewer. Perhaps Florida wasn't infallible.
Then came another 17-game win streak, much like the one that began the season in 2005-06. Included in that streak was the 86-60 pounding of Ohio State, tonight's National Championship opponent.
Afterwards, Florida lost three of the next four games including road losses against Vanderbilt, Tennessee and LSU. Mind you, the SEC Championship was already decided. Still, during that period of vulnerability, I surmised the trend of starting games slow and falling behind in near double-digits. Accordingly, in principal, I wagered a friend 20 bucks that the Gators may not reach the Final Four.
Since then, nine straight victories including a breeze of an SEC Tournament. Here we are, the National Championship game, and Florida is riding a 17-game postseason win streak. There's that previously unlucky number that Florida can't seem to crack. But just like Ohio State fans wanting a third crack at Florida, will history repeat itself or will Florida find the third time a charm?
History repeating itself is one of the few things standing in Florida's way of repeating.
But now, I breakdown the 10 reasons why Florida will conquer 17.
10 REASONS WHY FLORIDA WILL BEAT OHIO STATE (AGAIN)
10. Motivation. This group of six or seven players that are consistent contributors to the Gator rotation might be the best self-motivators college basketball has seen in many years. Florida can turn it into overdrive like the flip of a switch. If the Gators are convinced they have something to prove tonight, don't count them out.
9. My own midas touch has worked in Florida's favor so often that perhaps my disbelief is the best thing going for the Gators.
8. Chris Richard has elevated his game to another level. Earlier in the season, Richard was playing admirable defense and providing a rebounding spark off the bench. Lately, Richard has also provided a steady scoring punch in the frontcourt. His averages (6.2 points and 3.6 rebounds per game) are perfect for a complimentary role player to Noah and Al Horford - especially Richard's 69.3 percent shooting from the field.
7. Greg Oden's recent foul trouble spells doom for Ohio State. The fact remains that in the more closely called NCAA Tournament, Oden has been in foul trouble in each of the last four games. Although Matt Terwilliger and Othello Hunter have eached done exceptional jobs filling in for the 7-footer, Oden has to be on the floor for 30 minutes to counter the Noah-Horford-Richard combination.
6. Though Ohio State may have the defensive weapons to control Brewer in similar fashion to Georgetown's Jeff Green, Ohio State head coach Thad Matta has a quandary on his hands. If he plays man, he risks ongoing foul problems - especially up front. If he plays in a zone or matchup zone, he has to deal with Lee Humphrey and Taurean Green. One of the biggest deficiencies of the tournament for the Buckeyes have been their inability to shut down the three-pointer. Humphrey has become the NCAA's all-time leader in threes made for a career in the tournament - not a good sign for Buckeye fans. It's going to be pick-your-poison for Matta: stop penetration, high screens and foul problems or stop the three and the high-low and post-wing entries.
5. Florida's defense has been better and better. Even in midseason during the long string of victories for the Gators, Florida was prone to giving up easy spurts and teams would occasionally get hot from outside. However, in the last few weeks, Florida has really stepped up the defensive pressure. The Gators did a great job defending Darren Collison and, when he was on the floor, Aaron Afflalo.
4. Rebounding is a significant edge to Florida. Even if the shots aren't falling tonight, Florida has nearly an eight rebound per game advantage on the opponents this season. Ohio State did outrebound a taller, athletic Georgetown team Saturday, but Florida is very active with the frontcourt players.
3. Thad Matta is by all means being given the benefit of the doubt, and rightfully so. He's led his team to the championship game and has won at least 20 games in each of his first seven seasons - one of only two coaches ever to do that. But in this particular case, until Matta can prove otherwise, you have to give the benefit of the doubt to his counterpart Donovan. This is the third time Donovan has coached in a National Championship and he's got a win under his belt to boot. Teams often reflect the demeanor of their coaches. Will Matta come out differently or will he be loose and in form?
2. Likewise, it's "been there, done that" for the Gators. Much like the coaches involved, Florida has players that played on this stage last season. That said, No. 2 is probably lower on my list of factors because Oden and Mike Conley have proven they're no ordinary freshmen and have always risen to the occasion in these types of situations. That said, you still have to like experience.
1. Florida's the champ. In my book, it's Ohio State that has to step up and beat Florida, not the other way around. The Gators can't (and won't) rest on their laurels, but in games like these, there seems to be a few points given to the kings of the throne going into the start. Although this season's 26-point win might serve as motivation for Ohio State, if the chips are down and Ohio State loses ground, how do they respond? Florida knows they can win this type of a game. Florida knows they can beat Ohio State. Florida knows they can rally from a deficit. Psychologically, this is Florida's ace-in-the-hole -- for now.