It’s still up in the air whether Florida will return to the NCAA Tournament after a three-year absence.
But for a night, at least, Florida coach Billy Donovan had a chance to lash out at critics of his program after the Gators beat Tennessee 72-65 on Tuesday.
With the win, Florida became just the fifth program in the country to win 20 or more games for 12 straight seasons. Donovan has been at the helm for all 12 years. The other programs include Kansas (21 straight seasons), Duke (14 straight), Gonzaga (13 straight) and Syracuse (13 straight). Creighton, at 15-14, will need to rally late to join the group as the sixth team with 20 or more wins for 12 straight years.
Granted, with increased non-conference guarantee games, 20 wins isn’t what it used to be compared to 10 or 20 years ago. But it’s still a notable feat. Donovan launched into a long diatribe when asked about the significance of the streak following Tuesday night’s game.
“Our goal here is to compete for league championships and get into the (NCAA) tournament,” Donovan said. “I’ve always said the NCAA Tournament is like the lottery. You’ve got to be in it to win it. Once you get in it, you have a chance.
“That’s really the goal, to compete for championships here, but clearly our program has lost more players to professional (basketball) the last four years than anyone in the country. And I don’t know if enough credit to our guys that we have not had the kind of dip where we’ve gone 9-20, when in essence, we probably should have when you lose (Joakim) Noah, (Al) Horford, (Corey) Brewer, Lee Humphrey, Chris Richard and Taurean Green. Brewer’s a lottery pick, Noah is a lottery pick, Horford is a lottery pick. Chris Richard goes in the second round. Taurean Green goes in the second round. And Lee Humphrey is the all-time 3-point maker in NCAA Tournament history.”
Coming off a national title last season, North Carolina is in danger of not even making the NIT this season with a 14-14 record. UCLA is rebuilding this season at 12-14 after reaching three straight Final Fours from 2006-2008.
“All those freshman came in (in 2007-08) and they won 24 games,” Donovan said. “We haven’t had that (drop) here and that’s a tribute to those kids. Those guys want to get to the NCAA Tournament. No question about it. So does every team across the country, but give those kids some credit that in two years going into this season they’ve won 49 games. You know what, when you look at other programs out there that quote-unquote have some phenomenal traditions and at great programs — our guys have been able to overcome the departures and have played pretty hard and are really, really competitive. I think it’s a tribute to our guys because I know the programs that have lost a number of players that we’ve lost. It’s really, really hard to sustain and hard to overcome some of that stuff.
“And that’s just kind of the nature of the beast of college basketball, but I’m proud of our guys and what they’ve done the last two years and the way they’ve grown and the position they are in right now. To me, it’s never been about me, it’s been about those guys and I feel like as a coach it’s a great chance for me to be a part of them growing and maturing and seeing a lot of that in front of my own eyes.”