No. 1 Florida drawing comparisons to ’07 champions
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) The comparisons have started and surely will continue the further Florida advances in the postseason. They’re inevitable, really, since the football-first school is a little short on basketball tradition.
Throw in everything the top-ranked Gators have accomplished this season, and it makes sense to measure them against coach Billy Donovan’s best.
Florida has won a school-record 23 consecutive games, clinched the Southeastern Conference regular-season title for the third time in four years and became the first team from a major conference to go 18-0 in league play since Indiana in 1976. The team is a virtual lock to be a No. 1 seed, maybe even the overall top seed, in the upcoming NCAA tournament.
No doubt, the Gators are good.
But how well do they stack up against the 2007 team? Those Gators, who were the overall No. 1 seed, handled season-long hype and all-or-nothing expectations to become the first since Duke in 1993 to win back-to-back national titles. Most would say it’s not really close.
”The talent level is totally different,” Donovan said Monday. ”If you’re looking at the talent level in terms of guys going on and playing in the NBA, you know, we had three guys get drafted in the top 10.”
The current group doesn’t have nearly as many projected NBA players, with forward Casey Prather and center Patric Young considered second-round picks at best. But the senior-laden Gators are far from overmatched when sized up against their popular and prolific predecessors who went 18-0 in postseason play in 2006 and 2007.
Here’s a look at how they compare:
POINT GUARD: Taurean Green led the Gators in scoring in 2007, averaging 13.3 points a game, shot 40 percent from 3-point range and rarely missed from the free-throw line. Scottie Wilbekin, the SEC Player of the Year, has posted similar numbers this season, has a better assist-to-turnover ratio and is arguably the best perimeter defender in the country. EDGE: 2014
SHOOTING GUARD: Lee Humphrey holds the record for 3-pointers made in NCAA tournament history (47), including four in the semifinal game and four more in the 2007 title game. He shot 46 percent from behind the arc as a senior. Michael Frazier II is hitting 44 percent from 3-point range this season, set a school record with 11 treys against South Carolina last week and has more versatility on the offensive end. EDGE: 2014
SMALL FORWARD: Corey Brewer (2007) and Casey Prather (2014) have similar skill sets, with both being long, athletic and dynamic in the open floor. Brewer was a considerably better 3-point shooter, ball-handler and defensive stopper than Prather, who leads the Gators in scoring (14.6) and pulls down 5.2 rebounds a game. Brewer’s 69 steals in 2007 rank second in school history and are two fewer than Prather has in four seasons. EDGE: 2007
POWER FORWARD: The only things Al Horford (2007) and Will Yeguete (2014) have in common is they are both relatively quiet and born overseas. Horford was an offensive and defensive force as a junior, with the ability to take over the game in the paint. Yeguete is a solid post defender, but limited everywhere else. EDGE: 2007
CENTER: Aside from Tim Tebow, Joakim Noah was the most popular guy on campus in 2007. Patric Young has that distinction now. The league’s Defensive Player of the Year, Young has been the team’s centerpiece the last three years and has been outspoken about the heartbreak of losing in three straight regional finals. Like Noah, Young bring passion and energy to the court. But Noah was a better passer, rebounder and shot-blocker. EDGE: 2007
BENCH: The 2007 team had the SEC’s Sixth Man of the Year in forward Chris Richard as well as center Marreese Speights, forward Dan Werner and guard Walter Hodge coming off the bench. Dorian Finney-Smith also won the league’s Sixth Man award this season, and guards Kasey Hill and DeVon Walker and highly touted big man Chris Walker give the Gators the depth to press regularly. EDGE: 2014
FINAL WORD: ”I’m always a little bit guarded starting to compare one team to the next because it’s different,” Donovan said. ”The personalities are different, the players are different, everything’s different. What these guys have done in the regular season has been really, really remarkable and special. I would hate to have that accomplishment all of the sudden be compared to something else because what they did has been, in my opinion, totally unique and special.”