Gators Crush Virginia, NSU to advance to Sweet 16

Casey Prather was the story against Virginia.

Reality setting in was the story against Norfolk State.

That was the only difference as Florida crushed both schools in relatively easy fashion, after struggling for the first few minutes against both.

Against UVA, the Gators had some problems early adjusting to the Cavs’ pack line (collapsing on the ball handler) defense. Then Prather started to heat up, and Florida pulled away early in the second half.

Against Norfolk State, both teams started out slowly, until Kenny Boynton scored. That triggered a 25 point scoring streak, a swirling torrent of misery and frustration for NSU and the game was over halfway through the run.

The only concern I have was that the level of competition will be much higher when the Gators face Marquette, a consistent top 15 team throughout the year. Neither Virginia nor NSU have the offensive firepower that the Golden Eagles do, which all sets up nicely as a mano-a-mano battle between Marquette’s Darius Johnson Odom and Florida’s Kenny Boynton.

Aside from maybe Eli Carter of Rutgers, Florida hasn’t faced any player this explosive and underrated all year. Obviously, Marquette is better than Rutgers, but they still don’t get the ink in the paper that traditional powers Kentucky, Kansas, or North Carolina get. Anthony Davis, Brandon Triche, Thomas Robinson and Jared Sullinger are all more dominating individual players than Johnson Odom, but the Gators- and the college hoops world- all knew about him because of all the publicity they get.

It’s that medium, that hybrid, that makes him so dangerous. He’s better than Eli Carter but he’s more known than him, yet he’s not at the level of Robinson, Davis, Triche or Sullinger and he’s less hyped.

Luckily, that works both ways. I’m not sure how many people outside the SEC know about Kenny Boynton or even all SEC pick Bradley Beal. Florida’s whole team is underrated, as their last month of the year dulled everybody’s view of them. Certainly the selection commitee.

In any case, Florida should be happy to be here (but not too happy to just sit back, relax, and let Marquette win, obviously). I’m not sure how many other people realize it, but Florida has slowly risen in the prestige rankings of college hoops under Billy Donovan. Now, Florida is only a rung down from the top class of college basketball, which features Kentucky, North Carolina, Duke, and UCLA. Today, Florida is in the same class as Kansas, Syracuse, Michigan State and Ohio State. This is the Gators’ 4th trip to the Sweet 16 in the past 7 years, something not many other schools can claim. A win on Thursday would make it 4 Elite 8 appearances in 7 years, and even fewer schools can say they’ve done that. Even for the most talented teams, Final 4’s are extremely difficult to get to, and Florida has made 4 of them since 1994.

So, no, Florida is not at the top yet. There are a few schools that have topped the achievements of Billy Donovan (and Norman Sloan, the only other UF coach to get us to the Final 4). A win Thursday, and again on Saturday, could launch the Gators into that conversation of one of the most prestigious schools in the nation.