Gators Find New, Equally Frustrating Way To Blow Final 4 Bid

I’m counting on the return of all but two players from this team, and one of those two is senior Erving Walker.

The other is freshman Bradley Beal, who is 50/50 on returning. One factor that he said would not weigh his decision, but must to some degree, to return was the most heartbreaking loss I have ever watched the Gator basketball team suffer- aside from maybe last year’s season ending loss.

To end a college career that he has said on numerous occasions that he really enjoys on such a bitter note…

And boy, was it bitter. It felt like being forced to take the cinnamon challenge four or five times over, and washing your mouth out with soap after. Only then can you have water- as long as it’s saltier than the Dead Sea.

If you’re not a Gator fan, that pretty much sums it up, up to and including projectile vomiting all over inanimate objects foolish enough to get in your way.

Even without Beal (projected #4 in the NBA Draft), the Gators should have a pretty good team again next year. I assume Kenny Boynton and Patric Young (both mid to late second round projections) will stay. Incoming freshman Braxton Ogbueze and Michael Frazier should immediately see playing time, and guys like Erik Murphy, Michael Rosario and Scotty Wilbekin should all see their roles increase. If in fact Beal does return, the Gators will be loaded, a surefire preseason Final Four pick.

It still doesn’t excuse the horrifying way in which the Gators lost.

Against Butler last year, the Gators controlled the game for 30 minutes- and then fell asleep and gave Butler all the loose balls, turned the ball over, got outrebounded, ran stupid plays for the wrong guy and allowed Butler to crawl back in it- and then win it. In any game, against any team, this is not good. In the NCAA Tournament against a legitimate team, this is really bad. In the later rounds, against good teams, this is horrendous. And in the Elite 8- 10 minutes away from a Final Four with seniors that have never been there, against a Butler team that makes its living by scrapping and fighting for all they’re worth- despite clearly inferior talent- it’s completely inexcusable.

At least against Louisville the Gators couldn’t be accused of not trying, they just couldn’t buy a bucket from a drunken, jobless salesman, and watched as Louisville got hot and beat the Gators at their own game- big shooting. Does this ring a bell?

“The team that frightens me the most is the 4 seed, Louisville, but the Gators wouldn’t face them until the Elite 8. Like Marquette, they are a Big East team, but unlike Marquette, they are on a hot streak, coming off a conference tournament title. They clearly are not feeling the effects of fatigue that the rest of the league is. They also play like the Gators- relying heavily on the three- which means whoever does what they’re comfortable with better will win. That could be a problem.”

Yeah, pretty big problem that turned out to be.

But I cannot say I’m shocked, because that will happen from time to time with teams that rely on the three ball. I am a little surprised that it happened so suddenly and at such a critical stage in the game, but not shocked.

In any case, the Gators’ magical run is over, and it’s even more frustrating when you look at the Final Four field and realize it’s a group the Gators definitely could play with- Kentucky (and before you say the Gators lost three straight times to them, remember the last one, a game in which Florida led the whole way), Ohio State (a team that had trouble with the Gators on their home court) and Kansas (a team that split with Missouri, who lost to Norfolk State, who the Gators routed). It’s sad when you think about it, how close they’ve come now in two straight years.

But let’s take a moment to reflect on the accomplishments of our head coach.

Billy Donovan has done something very few people are aware of- he’s taken 4 teams to the Elite 8 in 7 years. That unofficially marks the Gators a powerhouse of college basketball, as if the back to back titles didn’t (but to be fair, that was 5 years ago, and college sports is a what have you done for me lately world). The best part- there appears to be more on the way, assuming most of our team this year remains.

Since basketball season is over, let’s turn our attention to baseball. If you haven’t followed recently, I suggest you do. Here’s a quick update: the Gator baseball team is currently #1 in the nation, and just partially erased the frustration the Gamecocks handed Florida in last year’s national championship series sweep by taking the series 2-1 in Columbia. They’ve also swept Miami and Vanderbilt, and they knocked off FSU in Gainesville. Part 2 of that series is tomorrow on a neutral field in Jacksonville, a game the Gators need to win to maintain the #1 ranking (and of course, we’ll take dominance over the Seminoles in any sport we can get, as we will with Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and Miami).

Oh, and before I sign off, remember the troll? Remember how he wanted to fire Jeremy Foley? Yeah, about that… the Gators have a chance to claim a national championship in each of the big 3 sports in 6 years.

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