Friday, October 13, 2006

Florida Gators preseason Preview

According to this USA Today article, the Florida Gators are eager to defend their 2005-06 national basketball championship.

The starting five all returned from last season, despite speculation that star forward/center Joakim Noah and Corey Brewer would turn pro after stellar sophomore seasons. Taurean Green, Lee Humphrey, and Al Horford join Brewer and Noah as the nation's #1 starting five.

Coach Billy Donovan, who begins his 11th season as head coach, will likely be a finalist for coach of the year if the Gators just reach the Final Four again.

The quest for the repeat begins in earnest on November 10, when the Gators suit up at home against Samford. As is the usual in college hoops, the Gators won't face serious opponents until they host Kansas on November 25. Conference play (SEC) begins January 6, 2007, when the Georgia Bulldogs travel one state south.

While the Gators won the NCAA Tournament last season, they did not even win their division in the SEC. That honor went to Tennessee, with a 12-4 conference record. The Gators were 10-6 and won the SEC tournament and the automatic bid to the Big Dance.

The Vols will again provide competition in the SEC East, along with Kentucky, as coach Tubby Smith seeks to find answers after a 9-7 record in the conference. The real power may be in the SEC West, where Alabama, Arkansas and LSU also have a good number of returnees ready to go.

But all eyes will be on the Gators, who seek to win back-to-back championships for the first time since Duke did it in 1991-92. If the Gators do make it to the Final Four, they will be in familiar territory; the championships will be held at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

With all five starters coming back, Florida will be the pre-season #1 in all of the polls, including ours here at Downtown Magazine. Having played together for a full season, they are a well-organized unit. Add to that Joakim Noah's substantial upside and you have the recipe for a serious run at championship #2.

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