OMAHA, NE - MARCH 18: Head coach Billy Donovan of the Florida Gators reacts as he coaches in the first half against the Norfolk State Spartans during the third round of the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at CenturyLink Center on March 18, 2012 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Last year, when Florida got its No. 2 seed and earned a trip to Tampa and a date with UC Santa Barbara, I decided to make the trip down by myself and see a day of the NCAA Tournament. Florida was in the third game of the day, but that was okay: I'd still get to see a really good team play in front of a bunch of its home fans, and Kentucky was going to play Princeton before it, and UCLA and Michigan State were going to play afterward. It was a good decision, but I didn't see a competitive game: Florida thumped UCSB, 79-51, and I was cheering for Chandler Parsons to record a triple-double mere moments into the second half.
Florida's 84-50 win over Norfolk State today was even less competitive. And these Gators look a lot better than those Gators did.
I can recap the stats, but they hardly seemed to matter — Kenny Boynton had 20 points, eight rebounds, and four assists; Bradley Beal had 14 points, nine boards, three assists, and two steals; Mike Rosario had 12 points off the bench; Casey Prather had two blocks in nine minutes. This is a team that's not looking for stats, or individual glory, and it's not one that has gotten even a bit rattled by good starts from both Virginia on Friday and the Spartans today.
This isn't a team defined by its highlights, either, though Prather and Cody Larson (!!!) had highlight-reel blocks today:
This Florida team, right now, is a squad that is looking to win games and crush opponents, one that races out on offense and swarms or stands its ground on defense, depending on what Billy Donovan wants. It's roaring in March when injuries and setbacks could have left it looking like a lamb.
It's the team that has a chance to live up to the dizzying promise we all thought Florida's roster had in the offseason, the team that could steam past Marquette to meet either Tom Izzo or Rick Pitino in the Elite Eight, the team that could earn the Final Four berth last year's team didn't quite pull down, the team that could vanquish Kentucky, the team that could snip the final net.
These Gators, in their last 180 minutes or so, are playing as well as any ever have — the Oh-Fours included. If they keep it up, this season could go from one of Florida's most disappointing to one of Florida's most satisfying over the course of one magical month.
I think they can keep it up.