No, I will not let a "Dancing with the Stars" finale breakdown -- no matter how accurate my predictions have been or how relevant it is to sports fans -- stay up here for the afternoon.
Instead, I will attempt to wade into the new college basketball season.
Today's topic? Final Four picks.
That meant the Gators would return all five starters from a national championship team -- plus the key frontcourt and key backcourt reserve. Keeping count? That's the Top 7 back on a defending champ.
The frontcourt of Noah, Horford and Brewer -- all NBA Lottery-quality picks -- is arguably the best in college hoops in the last 25 years. I've been racking my brain for another contender, and the best I could do is the Fab Five's Webber-Howard-Rose/Jackson. But those guys never won a title. (Got any other nominees? Augmon-LJ-Ackles? Remember: To win the argument, your pick really should have NBA-level talent across the line AND a championship.)
Many top college teams have a quality inside player. Hansbrough at UNC, Wright at
But how many have TWO? (In hindsight, that was one reason LSU emerged last season: The tandem of Davis and Tyrus Thomas was unstoppable.) Two that are as athletic or multi-skilled as Noah and Horford.
I go through the other contenders, and I can't find a team that can match up – player for player – with the Gators, across the starting five and first subs off the bench. (And that's BEFORE I layer in the championship experience, where the Gators have a vast advantage over every other contender.)
Here's the other reason to like Florida, even if you would otherwise be inclined to hate them: In this era where you can't go a season without complaining about players -- yours or simply the national "stars" -- leaving for the NBA early, isn't it unprecedentedly refreshing to see three players forego the NBA (Lottery, mind you) for a chance to repeat as college champs? How can you begrudge that? (Especially if you consider yourself a college hoops "traditionalist.") How can you not root for that?
(What: Instead you'll stand behind UNC, whose title team stars from 2005 chose to leave en masse for the NBA? These Gators have shamed that UNC team and set a new example for future college stars that ultimately can do more for college hoops than any artificial NBA draft age-limit or high school "developmental" program. Again: They have made it easy to root for them, even if you reflexively hate Florida or reflexively hate defending champions. I'll settle for intensely begrudging respect.)
So, anyway, I think it's the Gators to win the title, and everyone else is playing for the chance to round out the Final Four.
(If I had a hesitation, it's that the Gators started last season unranked, showing you how much the "experts" know. And even heading into the Tournament, they weren't given much of a shot. If that isn't a cautionary tale about making predictions, I don't know what is.)
Who is this year's
UNC? Balancing too many sick freshmen with sophs who are probably more mentally ready to contribute in March. Of course, these sophs were the same losers who lost to a vastly less talented George Mason team. Motivation or foreshadowing?
Pitt? Please. Aaron Gray? There's a reason he pulled out of the NBA Draft. UCLA? Final Four experience, but not without steady PG Jordan Farmar. LSU? Smacks of a "dream run" one-year wonder a year ago.
But as we continue down the Top 10, I see two teams that I like to do damage in March:
Georgetown, the only team to give Florida a game in last season's NCAA Tournament (and knowing precisely what it takes to beat them), and Wisconsin, another team that plays deliberately enough to keep them in most games, particularly in March. (Plus, they have one of the Top 10 players in the country in Alando Tucker, who makes my first-team All-America list. That's coming later this week.)
My fourth Final Four team? I want to say
My pick: Georgia Tech, which combines a sick freshman class ("Fab Three?" Eh. Needs work.) with enough upper-class experience to reverse last season's 11-17 record into a dramatic March run. (Now, please don't blitz me for being internally consistent in touting GA Tech's youth but discounting the same factors for UNC.)
Rest of Final Four:
Comments Question: Who's your pick to win the college hoops national title? Who else is in your Final Four? Which team aren't we talking about that we SHOULD be? Which darkhorse team could be this year's