We’re halfway through the opening round of our summer long #GreatestGatorEver tournament. Now, we shift to the right side of the bracket, and start at the top with the 6 Regional, which gets underway tomorrow morning.
(Players are listed in order they appear on the bracket.)
(1) Joakim Noah (basketball, F/C- 2005-07). 2006 and 2007 national champion. 2006 Minneapolis All-Regional team. 2006 Final Four Most Outstanding Player. 2006 All-American; 2007 consensus All-American. 42nd all time at Florida with 1,133 career points. All time NCAA leader with 29 blocked shots in a single NCAA Tournament (2006). First round NBA Draft pick (#9 overall, Bulls). Fourteen year NBA career and counting with four teams. 2X NBA All-Star: 2013, 2014. 2014 first team all-NBA. 2014 NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
(16) Austin Maddox (baseball, INF/P- 2010-12). 2010 team leader with 88 hits and 17 home runs. 2010 consensus first team freshman All-American. 2010 SEC Freshman of the Year. 2010 and 2012 All-American.
(8) Janoris Jenkins (football, CB- 2008-10). Second true freshman to start at cornerback in Florida history. 2008 national champion. 2010 first team All-SEC. Eight year NFL career and counting. 2016 Pro Bowl.
(9) Brian Johnson (P, DH- 2010-12). 2010 consensus freshman All-American. 2012 consensus All-American (first team in two publications). 2012 John Olerud Two Way Player of the Year Award winner. First round MLB Draft pick (#31, Red Sox). Four year MLB career and counting with Red Sox.
(4) Conor Dwyer (swimming- 2010-11). 2010 NCAA 200 yard and 500 yard freestyle national champion (individual). 2X SEC and NCAA Swimmer of the Year: 2010 and 2011. 2012 (London) and 2016 (Rio de Janeiro) Olympic 4X200m freestyle gold medalist; 2016 Rio 200m freestyle bronze medalist. 4X World Championships 4X200m freestyle gold medalist: 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. 2015 World Championships 4X100m mixed freestyle gold medalist.
(13) Robby Thompson (baseball, 2B- 1983). 11 year MLB career with Giants. 2X MLB All-Star: 1988, 1993. 1993 MLB Silver Slugger Award winner. 1993 MLB Gold Glove Award winner.
(5) Ahmad Black (football, S- 2007-10). Clutch factor: intercepted Sam Bradford with ten minutes to go in 2009 BCS Championship Game by taking the ball out of Juaquin Iglesias’s hands. 2008 national champion. 2010 first team All-American. 2X All-SEC selection: 2008, 2010. Three year NFL career with Buccaneers.
(12) Ashanee Dickerson (gymnastics- 2010-13). 2013 national champion. 2X all-around All-American: 2011 and 2012. 7X event All-American: 2010 V and FX, 2011 BB and FX, 2012 V and FX and 2013 V.
(6) Mike Pouncey (football, DL/G/C- 2007-10). 2008 national champion. 2009 and 2010 first team All-American. First round NFL Draft pick (#15 overall, Dolphins). Ten year NFL career and counting with Dolphins and Chargers. 4X Pro Bowl: 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2018.
(11) David Lee (basketball, F- 2002-05). 2004 and 2005 All-SEC selection. 18th all time at Florida with 1,436 career points. First round NBA Draft pick (#30 overall, Knicks). Twelve year NBA career with five teams. 2X NBA All-Star: 2010, 2013. 2015 NBA Champion with Warriors.
(3) Matt LaPorta (baseball, 1B/C/OF- 2004-07). 2X consensus first team All-American: 2005, 2007. Florida’s all time home run leader with 74. Third all time in Florida history with .681 slugging percentage; fourth all time with 206 RBI; fifth all time with 496 total bases. First round MLB Draft pick (#7 overall, Brewers). Four year MLB career with Indians.
(14) Keanu Neal (football, S- 2013-15). First round NFL Draft pick (#17, Falcons). Four year NFL career and counting with Falcons. 2017 Pro Bowl.
(7) Dawn Buth (tennis- 1995-98). 1996 and 1998 national champion (team). 1996 and 1997 NCAA doubles individual national champion. Second all time in Florida history in total wins (260) and singles wins (151); tenth all time with 109 doubles wins. 7X All-American: 1995-98 singles, 1996-98 doubles. Played in main draw of all four Grand Slam tournaments.
(10) Richie Martin (baseball, SS- 2013-15). First round MLB Draft pick (#20, Athletics). One year MLB career and counting with Orioles.
(2) Reggie Nelson (football, S- 2005-06). 2006 consensus first team All-American. 2006 national champion. 2006 Jack Tatum Trophy winner. First round NFL Draft pick (#21, Jaguars). Twelve year NFL career with three teams. 2015 and 2016 Pro Bowl. Led the NFL with eight interceptions in 2015.
(15) Dalton Guthrie (baseball, 2B/SS- 2015-17). 2015 freshman All-American. 2017 national champion. Seventh all time at Florida with 537 career assists.
(Note: “national champion” labels are only attributed to starters or critical backups/role players on the team.)
The favorite: (1)Joakim Noah
If for no other reason that popularity, which often breaks ties in these polls when they’re fairly even, Noah has to be considered the favorite to advance to the Sweet 16. Oh yes, the credentials are there: playing a major role on a squad that won a pair of national titles for the Gators and a multi-decade NBA career that’s included two All-Star Game appearances is plenty to earn most people’s votes against all challengers in this bracket. But his energy, enthusiasm and love for his school make him the obvious leader of this pack.
The second favorite: (2)Reggie Nelson
Nelson, like Noah, brings the memories of his swag and bravado to voters’ minds when they see his name. He does have the football bias working in his favor, but that bias doesn’t work nearly as well when it’s up against a guy who motored Florida’s second biggest sport on its best and second best journeys in school history. So Nelson certainly has an uphill battle against Noah should they both advance to the Regional final. Still: Nelson may have been the greatest safety Florida has ever had, if only for just one year, and so he’s not to be discarded as a real threat to take this Regional.
The co-sleepers: (4)Conor Dwyer and (5)Ahmad Black
There’s a reason that these two were paired together: Dwyer was the lowest seeded #4 Regional seed (#64 overall) and Black was the highest seeded #5 seed (#65 overall) in my seeding process. I debated which one to give that final #4 seed to, made a snap decision to go with Dwyer because of his international accolades and to give a minor sport some more love, and said screw it; let’s have them face off and have everybody else decide who should go on. Anyway, whoever wins that matchup is going to be very dangerous for Noah to deal with; albeit still as a decided underdog.
The dark horse: (6)Mike Pouncey
Pouncey has a difficult road to navigate: assuming all the favorites win, he’d have to face David Lee, Matt LaPorta and Reggie Nelson before presumably squaring off against Noah in the Round of 32. But Pouncey does have one thing going for him: he’s perhaps the best offensive guard Florida has ever had, and played on what fans voted the greatest Gator team of all time in 2008. Don’t dismiss him as a contender to at least reach the Regional final by any means.
The Cinderella candidate: (8)Janoris Jenkins
Jenkins lost a lot of points in the seeding process for the way his Florida career ended; a fourth strong year in Gainesville, presumably with All-American or at least All-SEC honors, and he’s likely a top four Regional seed. But his freshman year alone should earn him some consideration against higher seeded opponents. Jenkins was critical late in the Gators’ national championship journey, and he’s had a pretty strong NFL career to boot. If he can get past Brian Johnson in the Round of 256 (which won’t be easy), he’ll give Noah a challenge.