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Column: Top Gators?

Sports Editor

Published: Monday, February 24, 2014

Updated: Monday, February 24, 2014 19:02

The Florida Gators are back on top.

Billy Donovan’s team was last ranked No. 1 in the country after winning its second straight national championship in 2007. That is when Joakim Noah left, and the Gators needed two years to reload before returning to the NCAA Tournament in 2010.

Florida reasserted itself quickly and has reached the Elite Eight every year since 2011.

Now, they are No. 1 in the country again, and the way they are playing, I will find it hard to not pen them in for the national title when I get my bracket on March 16.

The Gators are deep, the most talented team in the country. They have everything a championship contender could want.

Scottie Wilbekin is one of the five best guards in the country. Casey Prather and Michael Frazier II are both excellent scorers. I had to walk past Dorian Finney-Smith and Patric Young near the locker room after the Gators’ last loss, when Shabazz Napier beat them at the buzzer on Dec. 2. I would not want to fight for a rebound against them. Kasey Hill and Will Yeguete come off the bench and provide quality minutes.

They have the tools, they have the coach and they have momentum on their side as March approaches.

I would not want to be a team in Florida’s way right now. This is a team that looks destined for a national championship.

If the Gators do win another national championship this season, Florida has a legitimate claim to the recognition as the best team of the 21st century.

A trip to the Final Four would be Florida’s fourth since 2000. That is not the most of any team this century, but a third national championship to add to the 2006 and 2007 titles would lift the Gators over UConn, Duke and North Carolina, who all have two national titles since the turn of the century.

Consistency has been the name of the game for Florida. The Gators have made 12 NCAA Tournaments. In those 12 appearances, they have made six Elite Eights.

They have only gotten over the hump into the Final Four twice, but March is a weird month. Think about this: Florida would only be playing for a second national title, and might not have even won the first, had George Mason not upset UConn in the Elite Eight in 2006.

But those Florida teams were great, with players like Noah, Al Horford, Corey Brewer and Lee Humphrey. The Gators knew how to play basketball and they were fun to watch.

It is incredible to think that they have done all of that, fallen off for two years and then resurrected under the direction of Billy Donovan. From an assistant at Kentucky, to the early 90s version of Brad Stevens at Marshall to the nationally respected, big-time coach in Gainesville, Donovan has proven that he is one of the best basketball coaches around.

He won national championships with great teams, but this year’s version of the Gators may be the best he has ever had. It is hard to imagine them losing the SEC Tournament, and from there, the national title is theirs to lose.

Arizona, Duke, Louisville, Kansas, Kentucky, Wichita State and Syracuse are all great teams with a chance at winning the national title. They are not the only ones this year; this year’s tournament is going to be deep and it is going to be fun.

Talent, depth, coaching and momentum are four essential tools to winning in the rapid-fire madness that is March. Florida has all four and has an advantage in each department over most in the field.

If they get that third title, Gainesville will become college basketball’s capital. WWith that third title, there is no one that can say that in the 21st century, there has been a more successful program than Florida.

Follow Tim on Twitter @Tim_Fontenault 

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