National Columnist

Good Florida wrecks Virginia, but bad Gators? A loss waiting to happen


OMAHA, Neb. -- I'm going to come out and say it: This Florida team had no business losing 10 games this season. Not in the weak SEC. Not with all those wonderful guards and those two very good big men. Not 10 times. Not this bunch.

Does that mean Florida wasn't well-coached? Maybe. It definitely means they didn't play like they were well-coached at times -- they couldn't have, not with 10 losses -- but that's a fact that doesn't indict the Gators; it illuminates them.

Because they're a dangerous NCAA tournament team. Dangerous to whoever they play. Dangerous to themselves. Dangerous, because Florida has the ability to beat almost anyone in the country, a list of teams that starts with the University of Florida.

The Gators didn't go into self-destruction mode Friday. No, what they did Friday was demonstrate just how destructive they can be to anyone in their path, be it Virginia in the Round of 64, upstart Norfolk State after that, then either Marquette or Murray State in the Sweet 16. And beyond. This Florida team could keep playing, keep winning, until it finds itself in New Orleans for the Final Four, because it's that talented.

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Or this Florida team could get blown out Sunday.

First things first, though. This Florida team -- good Florida, as opposed to bad Florida, which is the same thing as saying clueless Florida -- broke a mostly unbreakable Virginia team Friday in the West Regional, obliterating the Cavaliers 71-45. Virginia lost nine times this season but most were losses by paper cut, with seven defeats by three points or fewer.

This game Friday was no paper cut. This was a compound fracture of Virginia's skull.

Virginia, which has carved out a nice season for itself with intelligent play that borders on methodical, was taken out of its element by Florida coach Billy Donovan when he went to full-court pressure during the 12-minute media timeout of the first half. Florida trailed 14-8 but forced five fast turnovers with its press to take the lead -- and Donovan never called it off. The Gators pressed the rest of the game and Virginia dissolved. In the last 32 minutes, Florida outscored the Cavaliers 63-31.

Like that.

Virginia found out what I've been trying to tell you, that Florida's 23-10 record (now 24-10) wasn't indicative of the talent on this roster. Freshman shooting guard Bradley Beal has been compared by NBA scouts to Ray Allen and Mitch Richmond, and sophomore power forward Patric Young has classic NBA size and explosion, if a still-developing skill set. Guards Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker will make money somewhere, probably overseas, as will smooth-shooting 6-foot-10 center Erik Murphy.

Talent, I'm telling you. Talent. But it's infuriating talent, difficult to watch at times, times like the first eight minutes Friday when Virginia ran its offense while Florida jacked up 3-pointers, and the result was that 14-8 Cavaliers lead. While Virginia was running sets, Florida was watching Kenny Boynton shoot stupid 3-pointers and then try to will them into the basket with exaggerated body language. Donovan called timeout, Boynton stopped shooting so stupidly, and the Gators started pressing.

After missing their first 13 3-pointers of the game and stubbornly going 1 of 15 in the first half, the Gators wised up in the second half. They tried just eight 3-pointers, they forced the ball into Young -- 13 points on six shots from the floor, all of them good -- and guard Casey Prather came off the bench to score 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting.

Florida was showing surprising patience on offense thanks to a diabolical drill imparted by Donovan earlier in the week. According to, Donovan punished his team for ill-advised passes and shots earlier in the week by stopping practice and making the whole team assume the defensive position -- knees bent, arms stretched outward -- for 35 seconds. Why?

"That's what you're going to be doing for 35 seconds," Donovan said, meaning a bad offensive possession against Virginia would lead to 35 seconds of defensive grunt work.

That strategy paid off in the second half, when the Gators were as close to perfect as they can play offensively -- 16-of-23 shooting (69.6 percent) and only five turnovers.

Result? The Gators destroyed a team that simply didn't get destroyed this season, handing Virginia its worst loss -- by far -- to move onto the Round of 32. Now, Norfolk State -- after scoring the event's biggest upset -- is the next opponent unlucky enough to run into the good Gators.

Or lucky enough to draw clueless Florida.

Florida will show up Sunday, that's a fact. Which Florida? That's a question.

Gregg Doyel is a columnist for He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.

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