Florida vs. North Carolina is a great basketball matchup. It's two of the four teams with multiple national titles in the 21st century squaring off for the first time since the 2000 Final Four, two of the best blues in sports, and two future Hall of Famers coaching their first game against each other in more than a decade.
And there's history between Billy Donovan and Roy Williams.
In 1998, Donovan landed Mike Miller, a McDonald's All-American from South Dakota, in his first great Florida recruiting class. This was a shock to the college basketball system — Florida? A five-star? — and it prompted no small amount of whining from Williams, then the coach at Kansas, whose complaining, detailed in an infamous Sports Illustrated feature on Donovan from the time, prompted a 10-month NCAA investigation that ultimately found no wrongdoing.
Donovan kept on winning, and kept on taking flak for his (relentless) recruiting, to the point that Donovan vs. Williams was the headline when Florida and Kansas met in the 2002 Preseason NIT. (Florida won, 83-73.)
More than a decade later, the shoe's on the other foot.
No one impugns Donovan's character much anymore, and he's got two national titles to ward off criticism, anyway. Williams, meanwhile, has been North Carolina's coach since 2003, or basically since the early years of what appears to be sweeping academic malfeasance that affected multiple athletic programs. Williams isn't accused of doing anything wrong, per se, and he's unlikely to face any consequences for his players being steered to "paper classes" and unchallenging majors apparently designed to keep them academically eligible without a chance of enlightenment. But it strains credulity to suggest that he had no knowledge of them.
That role reversal aside, this shapes up as a really good game that could have been better. North Carolina was toppled by scrappy Butler team — there's no other kind — in its Battle 4 Atlantis opener, then ran past UCLA in its second game; Florida, on the other hand, has struggled, bogging down against both Georgetown and UAB.
Dorian Finney-Smith returned to the Gators' starting lineup last night, and Eli Carter will apparently try to play tonight, but the Gators haven't topped 40 percent shooting from the field yet in Nassau, and the Tar Heels lack perimeter shooters. Given that Florida's defense has been good despite its offensive woes, this could be another grind-it-out affair like the nigh unwatchable games the Gators have played the last two nights.
Or the up-tempo North Carolina offense led by Marcus Paige, which is 10th nationally in tempo, could run Florida off the court. Either outcome is possible, perhaps equally so.
Blessedly, though, this is the last time you will need these AXS TV channel listings:
- Advanced Cable Communications: Channel 679
- AT&T U-verse: Channel 1106
- Atlantic Broadband: Channel 501
- CenturyLink Prism: Channel 1105
- Cox Communications (in the Gainesville/Ocala area): Channel 199
- DirecTV: Channel 340
- DISH: Channel 167
- Home Town Cable Plus: Channel 372
- Verizon FiOS: Channel 569
- WOW!: Channel 918