Florida universities typically excel at baseball and football, not basketball. However, for a brief period in the mid-2000’s, the University of Florida’s March Madness success changed that.
Under the tutelage of Billy Donovan, the Gators won back-to-back NCAA national championships in 2006 and 2007. The two titles are the only two Division I men’s basketball national championships ever won by a Florida-based school.
In 2022, things have trended back towards the norm. The Gators look like they will either be one of the last teams in the March Madness field or one of the first teams out. They have won three out of their last four games, however, to push their record to 19-11.
As of this writing, there isn’t a single Florida school ranked in the top 25. The Miami Hurricanes appear to have the best chance to get an at-large bid. They’re 20-9 overall and sit fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
A deep March Madness run by a Florida school this year seems highly unlikely. However, that makes it the perfect chance to reflect on the era of Gator dominance.
2005 University of Florida March Madness disappointment
To truly appreciate the 2006 national title, it’s important to see just what the team lost from the prior year.
During the 2004-2005 season, the Gators fielded a roster that consisted of seven freshmen, two sophomores, three juniors and a senior. The team went 24-8 en route to a No. 16 national ranking and a Southeastern Conference tournament title.
However, the months of regular season and conference tournament success didn’t translate to March.
The squad was the first team in University of Florida history to earn an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. They received a No. 4 seed in the Syracuse regional and were bounced in the second round by No. 5 Villanova.
The team’s lone senior, David Lee, was drafted in the first round by the New York Knicks. Additionally, two of the three juniors on the ’04-’05 roster, Matt Walsh and Anthony Roberson, declared for the draft as well.
As a result, the outlook for the ’05-’06 season was bleak. The three departures accounted for roughly 60% of Florida’s offense.
An unforeseen hot start to the following campaign
With so much young, unproven talent on the team to start the season, the ’05-’06 Gators began the year unranked.
But it turned out that the talent was simply unproven. Because while they were still young, there was plenty of skill.
The seven freshmen from the prior season turned into five sophomores. Cornelius Ingram left the basketball team to focus on his football career, and John Hamilton went elsewhere.
But of the five remaining sophomores, four went on to play professionally and three had successful careers in the NBA. Al Horford, Corey Brewer and Joakim Noah all were drafted within the first nine picks of the 2007 NBA draft. Taurean Green went in the second round, but played most of his career in Europe.
With the young stars taking over, the Gators started their season on a 17-game winning streak. Their 17-0 start catapulted the once-unranked team from Gainesville to a No. 2 national ranking.
It was a precursor to one of the most dominant March Madness runs in history.
Tournament dominance in 2006
After the historic start, the Gators cooled off and went 7-6 over their final 13 games. They finished the regular season ranked No. 16 nationally and checked in second in the East division of the SEC.
They didn’t lose a game for the rest of the season.
They won their second straight SEC Tournament title after defeating Arkansas, LSU and South Carolina to get a No. 3 seed for March Madness.
Once the NCAA Tournament started, the Gators returned to their early-season form. Florida won five of their six tournament games by double digits. Outside of a 57-53 victory over No. 23 Georgetown in the Sweet Sixteen, nobody even came close to stopping the Gators.
They defeated UCLA in the tournament final, 73-57. It was the first men’s basketball championship in school history.
Higher expectations, same result in 2007
After an unranked start to the 2005-06 campaign, the Gators returned all five starters from their championship team. As a result, they were the top-ranked team in the nation heading into the 2006-07 season. It was yet another first for the program.
At this point, Horford, Brewer and Noah were looked at as a trio of the nation’s top players. They lived up to those expectations and stayed near the top of the national rankings all season. They slipped as low as No. 7 after a 70-66 loss to in-state rival Florida State, but quickly recovered and spent the rest of the year in the top five.
Florida finished the regular season with a 26-5 mark, which was good enough for a No. 4 national ranking and first place in the East Division of the SEC.
The Gators defeated Georgia, Ole Miss and Arkansas to win their third consecutive conference tournament title. The selection committee rewarded their dominance with a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Tougher March Madness matchups in ‘07
Ironically, they ended up with a much tougher road to a championship than in the previous year.
During the 2006 tournament, the Gators matched up with just three teams ranked in the top 25. George Mason’s Cinderella run to the Final Four skewed this slightly, but Florida got to play three double-digit tournament seeds en route to their first title.
The following year, the only double-digit seed the Gators faced was No. 16 seed Jackson State. They bested No. 9 seed Purdue in the second round before battling four top-25 teams in the final four rounds of the tournament.
They ultimately squared off against the No. 1 overall seed, Ohio State, in the title game. A dominant first half sent the Gators into the locker room with a 40-29 lead, which was key to their success. They ultimately squeaked out an 84-75 win over the Greg Oden-led Buckeyes for their second straight national title.
Since 2007, the Gators have had some close calls. They made three straight Elite Eight appearances between 2011-2013 and advanced to the 2014 Final Four. However, the program is still in search of its third national championship.
University of Florida March Madness chances are slim this year
As the 2022 regular season nears an end, the Gators are facing long odds to win the 2022 March Madness tournament. If sports bettors are looking to wager on the 2022 Gators basketball team, they will get quite a price at online sportsbook sites.
Currently, DraftKings is listing the University of Florida as a +25,000 underdog.
Granted, every national championship futures market is full of long odds. For example, UCLA is ranked 17th in the nation, and the PointsBet betting site lists them as a +2,000 dog to win the title.