As a young beat reporter 10 years ago, I stumbled on a goldmine. A talented and colorful collection of players recruited by Billy Donovan that morphed into a dominant team.
Along the way, there were so many stories. Joakim Noah was as comfortable talking about global issues as he was about his latest stick-back dunk. I went to Corey Brewer’s one-stoplight hometown in Portland, Tenn., and Lee Humphrey’s hometown in Maryville, Tenn. Al Horford, more strong and silent, still could give thoughtful responses. And who could forget Taurean Green’s shimmy as the final seconds ticked off UF’s first national title win 10 years ago against UCLA.
All of the players had personalities. None of them shrunk from the biggest moments.
Yet on a national scale, Florida’s back-to-back national title wins have been swept under the rug, viewed as an aberration. There has been scant mention of the 10-year anniversary of Florida’s national title during NCAA Tournament broadcasts this month. Then I came across this email, a recent article by Paul Bessire and John Ewing of PredictionMachine.com that ranked the 77 national champions in order, based on a computer model of playing teams head to head. Florida’s 2006 national title team was ranked 56th, while its 2007 national title team was ranked 42nd.
Recent national champions ranked ahead of Florida included Michigan State (4oth, 2000), Louisville (31st, 2013), North Carolina (21st, 2009), North Carolina (15th, 2005), Kansas (12th, 2008) and, of course, Kentucky (6th, 2012).
I fired an email back, accusing Bessire and Ewing for ranking teams based on click-bait and favoring blue blood basketball programs with bigger fanbases. I mean, does anyone honestly believe that a Florida 2007 team with three lottery picks across the frontline that are still playing in the NBA wouldn’t run 2013 Louisville off the court and beat them by 20 points? And yet, 2013 Louisville is ranked ahead of both Florida programs. And is 2012 Kentucky really 36 spots better than Florida? Former ‘Cats center Anthony Davis may be among the most dominant players that I’ve covered in 13 seasons in the SEC, but could be neutralized inside by Noah and Horford (and Chris Richard and Marreese Speights coming off the bench).
Humphrey remains the NCAA Tournament’s all-time leader in 3-pointers made with 47, while Green was a better than 40 percent 3-point shooter in his college career. Florida could win in a multitude of ways, with perimeter shooting, inside scoring, defense and by scoring in transition. Noah may remain the best big man college basketball has seen run the floor in the past 15 years.
So forgive the orange-and-blue, pom-pom approach to this blog, but I still contend that Florida’s 2006-07 national teams are the best this century (2000-2016). No other team has won back-to-back titles since. No one did it when there were no expectations (2006) and under the weight of great expectations (2007). I won’t go as far to say those Florida teams were better than Kentucky’s 1996 squad, or Duke’s 1991-92 repeat champion teams or UCLAs dominant teams in the 1960s and 1970s under John Wooden. That was a different era, when players stayed longer and teams were more cohesive. But Florida’s 06-07 teams deserve more respect when it comes to their place in college basketball history.