Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Bandwagon to Gainsville

All aboard: the bandwagon back to Gainsville is leaving the station and SI's boys are jumping on. Most notably, Luke Winn, who thinks Florida is better than the 1991-92 Duke team that repeated. Two words: no chance. (And do NOT get The Monk started on Cory McCartney's claim that "Right now, there isn't a better coach in the game" than Donovan -- did Krzyzewski quit? As for McCartney, how could Taurean Green have been "sensational" running the Gator offense with SIX turnovers and how could Cory Brewer have been "sensational" during the whole game while hitting 4 of 11 [The Monk's giving a mulligan here, Brewer was 4/12 but one was a just-before-halftime halfcourt fling]? Talk about defining praise down).

Unlike certain bald Italian blowhards who live in Florida, The Monk (just a semi-balding, fat blowhard in Texas) does not carry the water for Coach K's crew. But the simple fact is that The Monk watched that Duke team for four years (and eight wins in 10 tries against UVa, which was an improvement for the Cavs, who didn't beat Duke from 1983-1989), heard Brian Davis say "f--k you" to a Cav fan in the midst of the 81-64 UVa win that became the watershed moment for the Duke dynasty, and will unequivocally state that Florida cannot match that team.

Say all you want about how Florida cruised through most of this Tournament, how it didn't need a Laettner Moment, how it throttled its last three opponents in last year's Tourney, and how it dominated the SEC Tourney. The fact remains that the Duke champs of '91-92 are better.

First, consider the players. Lee Humphrey, Taurean Green, Cory Brewer, Joakim Noah and Al Horford are all good collegiate players. But Duke had three great collegians: Laettner, Hurley and Grant Hill. Do not underestimate their ability based on their NBA tenures -- Laettner's was mediocre, Hurley's was destroyed by injury, Hill was a perennial all-star whose injuries killed a top-flight career. Laettner is STILL the best collegiate player of the past two decades, Shaq and Durant included.

Second, consider the expectations. Duke went through its 1990-91 season as a previous Final Four team three years running that had been humiliated in the 1990 final in one of the most embarrassing games in NCAA history. Even with that stigma, some early season struggles and a complete beating from UNC in the ACC Tourney final (Duke whipped UNC twice during the season), Duke regrouped time and again. First, it won the ACC regular season crown. Then it annihilated its first four NCAA opponents to cruise into its rematch with UNLV, which itself sought to repeat for the first time since 1973 UCLA, had one of the best teams in NCAA history, was undefeated, and returned four starters from the team that had disintegrated Duke by 33 in the 1990 title game. Duke won. Then Duke outplayed Kansas in a mere formality game. Florida had no expectations or adversity last year that even comes close to that. Instead of being a top national program that had suffered unprecedented humiliation, Florida had fallen far off the radar after five seasons of NCAA failure. The Gators snuck up on teams last year like the '03 Orange(men) or the '97 Arizona team. The Gators faced a weakened Villanova (no Sumpter) and an out-of-its-depth Cinderella before the final game. By the time Donovan won his first title, he was enjoying the ride; by the time Coach K won his first, he'd watched his teams flame out four times in the Final Four (three times as favorites) and led a progam then known as the Cubs of college hoops -- in 1991, Duke had the dubious distinction of most Final Four appearances without a title.

The '92 Duke team was a pioneer. It was the first team to repeat in the 64+ team NCAA Tourney era, the first team to repeat in the modern TV era (few games were televised during the UCLA dynasty, in contrast Jefferson-Pilot broadcast an ACC game nearly every weeknight during the season except Fridays), and bore the burden of season-long scrutiny. Laettner rejected a fortune to go for the repeat. The question throughout the season: can they do it? And there's little question the Dookies felt the pressure -- that's why they lost a double-digit lead to Kentucky in the East Regional Final and had to overcome one in the Final Four against Indiana and that's why the team played an enervated first 33 minutes against the Fab Five in the final before blowing up Michigan with a 23-6 run to close the game.

Florida had fewer such burdens. It won an SEC with ease despite the conference's down year (Duke won a semi-down ACC in '92, although UNC rose up in '93 and won the title) and the two teams best equipped to beat Florida in a one-off Tourney game lost in the regional finals (Kansas and UNC). Outside the ACC, safely ensconced in a football-school in a football conference, UF had much less scrutiny than Duke.

So stop the comparisons. Duke had a better team, with two all-time great NCAA players (Laettner and Hurley) and a fantastic forward in G. Hill who was a complementary player on these teams but, on his own, ended up leading Duke laden with mid-level players to a Final Four as a senior. Florida is excellent. Duke is elite.

No comments: