As you may have heard, Florida’s basketball team recently completed the first 18-0 regular season in SEC history. It’s quite an accomplishment to be the first to do anything in this day and age in college sports; the SEC has been in existence since 1933 (though only had an 18 game basketball schedule for part of that time), and most of the 14 members have been playing general intercollegiate sports for longer than that. So going 18-0 is certainly something to be proud of, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg for this year’s team.
I know that most of you reading me at IAKOW read other Gator websites and blogs, too (and don’t get me wrong, I wholeheartedly encourage you to do so). That means that you’ve probably read multiple tearjerking pieces from different places to date, such as Andy Hutchins’ write-up of the Florida-Kentucky game and Andy Staples’ piece detailing the journeys of the four seniors. And while this piece is admittedly along the same vein as those to some degree, there’s one thing I want to harp on that neither of the aforementioned pieces did: this group of seniors has yet to establish their legacy, because the final chapter has yet to be written.
Patric Young, Will Yeguette, Casey Prather and Scottie Wilbekin form a group of seniors that has had enough- and extreme- ups and downs to create the world’s most nauseating roller coaster. This is a group that never lost a single SEC game as seniors (18-0), but has never won an Elite 8 game (0-3). This is a group that’s beaten name brand schools like UCLA, Kentucky, Kansas, Wisconsin and Arizona, but lost to national cellar dwellers such as UCF, Jacksonville, South Carolina, Rutgers and Georgia. This is a group of seniors that’s won more SEC Championships than any senior class before it (3), but has not won a single SEC Tournament, or made a single Final Four.
In short, this is a group that has tasted some success, and some failure, but not enough of either to label the class a whole either one.
This year’s NCAA Tournament changes that.
If the Gators become the first #1 seed to lose to a #16 in the first round (which I give about a 2% chance of happening, and only that high because I’ve watched enough March Madness through the years to know that anything is possible), or lose in a more realistic situation- say, a fourth straight Elite 8- this class will be looked back on as a generally successful one with ups and downs, which is certainly not the worst way to be remembered by your fans. But it’s not the best, either, and a special run by these Gators could get them to a point where they would be remembered in the best way possible.
Neil Blackmon wrote this piece two months ago explaining how Florida’s “Oh-Tens” (and I know that’s not correct grammar, it’s just a play on words) could cement their own legacy. It’s really good, but it’s really lengthy, so if you don’t have time to read that one in addition to this one, I’ll summarize it by quoting his last line:
“A Final Four is about adding to that legacy, and cementing it, on a “stand-alone” basis, so that when years from now when the names of other Gator greats under Billy Donovan or whomever are on the tips of our tongues, the names of the “Ten’s” are ones we always remember, in sentences separate from the only recruiting class with which they compare, the immortal “04′s.”
I’m going to disagree slightly with that statement, and take it a step further: a national championship puts them in the “comparable” zone with the 04’s, as opposed to just making a Final Four, because then the 04’s would have two national titles to this team’s (would be) none, which pretty much ends any argument about which class had more success. But our sentiments are basically the same. A successful showing in this year’s NCAA Tournament puts them on par with the 04’s, and creates a fascinating debate. Consider this comparison if the Gators win the national championship (note: I’m assuming the Gators win the SEC Tournament under the total record rows).
|Senior Class||“Oh-Fours”||“Oh- Tens”|
|Final Four appearances||2||1|
|Elite 8 appearances||2||4|
|Sweet 16 appearances||2||4|
|NCAA Tournament Record||13-1 (92.9%)||15-3 (83.3%)|
|Overall Record||92-19 (82.9%)||122-29 (80.8%)|
|SEC Record (includes Tournament)||44-13 (77.2%)||63-16 (79.7%)|
|Best Season||35-5 (Nat’l Title)||38-2 (Nat’l Title)|
|Worst Season||24-8 (Round 32)||26-11 (Elite 8)|
Whether or not one is better than the other is completely irrelevant; the point is that you have a fair argument for the “Oh-Tens” as the better overall class should they win a national championship this year. You may lose that argument, but your debate opponent has to listen to what you say.
In this hypothetical situation in which Florida wins it all this April, the 04’s do have the 10’s beaten in the lottery picks, national title and Final Four categories. But the 10’s win just about every other category: Elite 8’s, Sweet 16’s, best overall season, worst overall season, wins, SEC wins, NCAA wins, (though I will note that the percentages of those last three favor the 04’s) and SEC Championships. Thus, while the 04’s accomplished more of the most important stat- national championships- the 10’s were much more consistent in their success. The 04’s did have that ugly loss to Villanova in the Round of 32 in the 2005 NCAA Tournament, and only once in three years did they finish with the best record in the SEC. By contrast, the 10’s never did worse than a trip to the Elite 8, and won the SEC regular season championship three times in four years. I know the 04’s left school early, and thus didn’t get a chance to accomplish even more in the 2007-08 season, but the truth of the matter is that they didn’t, and that’s not the fault of the 10’s. The fact is that the 04’s accomplished at Florida what they accomplished at Florida, and the 10’s accomplished what they accomplished, regardless of how talented they were of how long they stayed in Gainesville.
Then there’s the other side of the coin; the argument for the Oh-Fours in the same hypothetical situation. The 04’s were far more individually talented than the 10’s, as proven by the fact that three of the starters went in the top nine of the 2007 NBA Draft. They did win two national championships to the 10’s one, and that is unquestionably the most important stat when judging success, and thus, they did make two Final Fours, which is typically the next stat most fans go to in such a debate. While they only won one SEC regular season championship, they also won three SEC Tournament Championships (although that’s admittedly not always the best indicator of how good a team is). And then, of course, there’s the fact that this team did go back to back, which was sort of implied by saying that they won two national titles, but there are only a handful of teams in any sport, at any level, who can say that (most recently Alabama in football).
So that all makes for quite an interesting discussion. I could easily be convinced of either should Florida win the national championship this year; in fact, I could very well alternate in terms of which class I think was more successful overall each day.
Of course, the Gators have not won the national championship yet, and without actually doing so, there’s not really a debate between the 04’s and the 10’s. Go back to that chart, and play with the numbers a little bit, altering the “Oh-Tens'” numbers downward depending on where in the NCAA Tournament you think they will lose. In any case, even if Florida makes it to championship game and then loses, it won’t be enough to put them on the same parallel plane as the 04’s. A 2-1 deficit in the national title category can potentially be overlooked if the team with the 1 leads the majority of the remaining categories (the 10’s do), but trailing in that area by a 2-0 margin is insurmountable. You just can’t make an argument for the team with the 0, regardless of how successful that team was in SEC play vs. the other team, or how many times they made the Elite 8.
Also, anything less than a national championship would resurrect the age-old opinion of this group of seniors: good, but with a major penchant for choking. Losses to Butler, Louisville and Michigan in their first three Elite 8 appearances combined with a loss at any stage of this NCAA Tournament to a team that’s going to be considered an underdog (Florida’s likely to receive the #1 overall seed, which by default makes them the favorite against any team they would potentially play) would seal that mindset of the 10’s for good.
Because a Florida loss would be considered an upset by the boys in Vegas, and thus because Florida fans realistically expect this team to win it all, not cutting down the nets in Arlington would write the following on their figurative tombstone: “Good team. Played hard. Won some big games. But they choked all the time, and saved the biggest choke of all for last”. Right or wrong, that’s how this team’s going to be remembered some ten years or so down the road, regardless of whether the Gators really did choke the game away or if they lost on a Shabazz Napier-esque lucky rebound-putback combo that they defended well. The details of the game will fade with time, and that’s going to be what this team is remembered for by anyone with a level of knowledge and memory that’s less than those of the players or coaches who actually lived through the game.
So the goal for this year’s team is clear: win a national championship. Anything less, and the legacy of the 10’s will be less than that of the 04’s. I do believe the Gators have as good a chance to cut down the nets in Jerry’s World as anybody else, mainly because the ghosts of past chokes against Butler, Louisville and Michigan (which wasn’t so much a choke as an unbelievably awful performance) are still very much alive in the minds of these seniors, and they’d like a chance to erase them. How better to do that than with a national championship? Then there’s the explosion of Casey Prather onto the production scene, the maturation, ever increasing defensive lockdown-itude and decreased free-lancing on offense of Scottie Wilbekin, Patric Young’s new abilities to finish in the paint and shoot free throws, Will Yeguette being the defensive rock and all the other x’s and o’s that go into winning games that this team does that make me believe this team can do it.
At the end of the day, though, this piece is angled more for the fans looking back at this team in the 2020’s and 30’s than the individual players, because the two articles I linked at the top did great jobs covering that. We live in a world littered with hyperbole, and I’m not above using some on my own. We do it for various reasons, one of which is to incite debate. To say “that’s the best” sounds stronger in almost any context than to say “among the best”, “one of the best” or “up there”, especially when you’re arguing which (insert team/product/time period here) is better. It just does. And with a six game winning streak beginning in Orlando next Thursday, this team has an opportunity to be realistically referred to as the best senior class in Gator history.