The easy answer that you should have come up with by yourself is “yes.” By reaching the Elite Eight of the 2012 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, the Florida Gators are one of the eight best squads in the country. This is surely debated, but it shouldn’t be.
The NCAA has done us a favor (and it doesn’t seem that we say that very often anymore) by creating the tournament in its current form. Although some of us could do without the play-in games, the tourney as a whole is one of the great things about sports in general. It keeps us captivated for weeks on end and produces a true national champion without a shadow of a doubt. Or does it?
The 2011 season ended with an unlikely champion – the UConn Huskies. The No. 3-seeded Huskies were far from a Cinderella, but they weren’t among the favorites to win the title either. In that particular tournament, we saw a No. 1 seed lose in the third round, two more fall in the Sweet 16, and the final one not make it out of the Elite Eight. It all came down to a Final Four filled with a No. 3, a No. 4, a No. 8 and a No. 11. Hardly expected, but just another part of what makes the Big Dance great. A team can prove its worth among the nation’s elite by winning when it matters the most. The problem occurred when there were still those that didn’t believe UConn was the nation’s best team. “Sure they were the national champion, but the best?”
On their way to the title, the Huskies only faced one team seeded higher than they were – No. 2 SDSU – but that’s hardly their fault. Just as it’s not the Gators’ fault that No. 2 Missouri and No. 1 Michigan State were knocked out of the tourney before Florida had a chance to face them. Regardless of how it happened, the Gators have done what they needed to do – win three games – to become one of the last eight teams remaining (or 12 if you’re reading this before day two of the Elite Eight gets underway). There’s not much science to it and it’s not something that needs to be analyzed to death. Florida won, won again, and then won one more time.
Florida is one of the nation’s eight best teams and if they are able to defeat the Louisville Cardinals on Saturday, they will become one of the four best. It can be argued ad nauseam, but it might as well be fact. One win can be a fluke. Two can have a large luck factor to them. Once you get to three or more, you’re really talking about talent.
Some may argue that someone like Duke or Missouri would be favored if facing the Gators. That might be true; after all, Marquette was favored over Florida too. But those teams are no longer playing. They were better during the regular season, but that is no longer the case. If teams such as those were truly better, they would still be playing. You could even play this card – the Tigers lost to Norfolk State; the same Norfolk State the Gators beat by 34 in the third round – but you don’t have to. Winning three games to reach the Elite Eight is enough. The tournament decides these things for us.
If a team is truly the best, then they should be able to play at their best when it counts. Duke didn’t, Missouri didn’t, Michigan State didn’t, Georgetown didn’t, and a number of other teams seeded higher than the Gators didn’t. Yet Florida remains in the tournament with a chance on Saturday to advance even further. It’s a testament to a talented team that at one point during the 2012 season was 19-4, but it’s a bigger testament to Billy Donovan.
After losing SEC Player of the Year Chandler Parsons and big men Vernon Macklin and Alex Tyus, there were many that believed the Gators couldn’t repeat last season’s run to the Elite Eight. However, Florida is right in that same spot again and the way they’ve been playing as of late (the Gators have defeated their three tournament opponents by an average of 23.3 points) warrants their inclusion in the discussion of the nation’s best.
Louisville may beat Florida on Saturday, but the Gators could prevail as well and if they do, no one should be surprised anymore.