Notebook: Bilas says Gators will make NCAA tourney
Published: Saturday, January 19, 2008 at 11:36 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 19, 2008 at 11:36 p.m.
Florida entered the 2007-08 season with a string of nine straight 20-win seasons and nine straight NCAA Tournament appearances.
While the Gators creep closer to 20 wins, another tournament appearance isn't a certainty based on its current 72 ranking in the Ratings Percentage Index.
ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas, in town for ESPN College Basketball GameDay, thinks Florida will make up enough ground to keep its tournament streak alive.
"They will make the tournament," Bilas said. "They've got a lot of games left, a lot of quality opponents. They'll be fine. I'm not concerned about that. They went on the road and played Mississippi essentially to a draw and not many teams are winning road games in the league."
At 15-3 going into Saturday night's game against Kentucky, Florida entered the week on the tournament bubble in some projections because it didn't face a ranked opponent in its non-conference schedule. ESPN NCAA Tournament bracket analyst Joe Lunardi had Florida and Florida State as two of his four teams out of the tournament this week.
Bilas has been impressed with how Florida has held up losing five starters and SEC sixth-man of the year Chris Richard from its two-time national-championship team.
"I think they've done a great job," Bilas said. "They are a together group. They are enthusiastic. They play really hard. I think they are learning. (Florida coach) Billy (Donovan) has done a really good job with them. To have freshman guards and be 15-3, it's really impressive. Especially if Marreese Speights becomes more mature and learns to fight through things and push his limits, he has a lot of potential to be a great player in the league."
Bilas said that UCLA, Memphis, Kansas and North Carolina are the best four teams he's seen so far.
"I would put Tennessee almost in the category, especially if they get Duke Crews back and he's healthy again," Bilas said. "I think those teams are a little bit of a cut above. It doesn't mean they can't get clipped. They can be beat, but they're pretty good."
Bilas said that ESPN colleague Dick Vitale is recovering well from the removal of lesions in his throat and is on schedule to return to call the ESPN Feb. 6 between Duke and North Carolina.
About 500 fans, mostly Florida students, showed up for ESPN College GameDay's second-ever broadcast from the O'Connell Center.
Among the most notable was Florida Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Tim Tebow, who saluted the student section with a Gator chomp. Students chanted back "Two More Heismans." Tebow and Florida coach Urban Meyer were at the O'Dome with a group of prospective recruits visiting this weekend.
Students sprouted some signs, including "Our Billy is better than your Billy," referring to Florida's coach being better than Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie and "7-8, Good Call, Patrick" referring to Patrick Patterson's recruiting decision to choose Kentucky over Florida in recruiting.
Former Gator and current Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford was among the sellout crowd in attendance.
Horford spoke to the Florida team in the locker room before the game. Horford's arrival was in doubt because of snow showers in the Atlanta area earlier Saturday morning.
Kentucky guards Derrick Jasper (knee) and Jodie Meeks (hip) both played off the bench in the first half. ... Former Florida pitcher Josh Fogg (Colorado Rockies) and former Florida pitcher/outfielder Brad Wilkerson (Texas Rangers) also were among fans in attendance. ... Tebow was honored at halftime with the Heisman Trophy and during a halftime address thanked Florida fans for their support.
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