Florida’s Dream Season Ends With Final Four Loss to ConnecticutPosted by Walker Carey on April 6th, 2014
One-seed Florida entered the NCAA Tournament as one of several favorites to cut down the nets in North Texas. The Gators had not lost a game since December 2 and had completed a perfect run through the SEC regular season and conference tournament. After a South Region series of games where Billy Donovan’s squad fairly easily dispatched Albany, Pittsburgh, UCLA and Dayton, the Gators’ winning streak stood at 30. Unfortunately for Billy Donovan’s club, their winning ways ended in a 63-53 national semifinal loss to seven-seed Connecticut. The following are three thoughts on a tremendous Florida season that ended a game sooner than expected.
- While the loss to Connecticut will overshadow it, Florida still had an outstanding season. The 30-game winning streak turned in by the Gators before last night’s loss to Connecticut was rightfully one of the top stories of the year in college basketball. Billy Donovan’s senior-laden squad that was led so brilliantly by point guard Scottie Wilbekin flawlessly ran through the SEC with little resistance. A most impressive part of Florida winning all 21 of its games against SEC opponents is that in doing so, the Gators bested preseason number one and fellow Final Four qualifier, Kentucky, three times. This loss to Connecticut will likely be how many choose to define Florida’s season, but that is an unfair notion, because what the Gators were able to accomplish leading up to Saturday was nothing short of magnificent.
- Florida is desperately going to miss this senior class. In the era of one-and-dones having such a significant impact on the college game, Florida was able to become the top overall seed due to its tremendous senior leadership. Seniors Wilbekin, swingman Casey Prather, and forwards Will Yeguete and Patric Young made up four-fifths of the Gators’ line-up and each of them brought a unique skill set to the fold. Wilbekin, who shook off multiple suspensions during his career, emerged as the team’s heady floor leader that developed a knack for timely shooting. Prather was one of the country’s most improved players as a senior, ascending from a career role player to the team’s leading scorer. Yeguete was a consistent defender who provided the team with many things that do not show up in the box score throughout his career. Young’s physical presence helped Florida dominate the paint and ensured that the opposition would never be more powerful down low than the Gators. These four seniors meant everything to Florida, as they advanced to the Elite Eight in each of their four seasons and finally broke through to the Final Four this year. They were gamers and their place in Florida basketball lore is guaranteed.
- Florida needs its youth to step up going forward. With those seniors now leaving Gainesville, Florida is going to need its underclassmen to mature in a hurry. Rising juniors Michael Frazier II, Dorian Finney-Smith and DeVon Walker, and rising sophomores Kasey Hill and Chris Walker, all contributed this season, but Billy Donovan is going to need each returnee to take a pronounced step forward if he wants to see the Elite Eight for the fifth consecutive year. To go along with those parts, Florida will add Duke transfer Alex Murphy and incoming heralded freshmen Chris Chiozza, Brandone Francis and Devin Robinson to the mix. The Gators will be relatively young next season, but with Billy Donovan at the controls, it would be unwise not to expect them to remain a factor at both the SEC and the national levels.