IT'S LATE JANUARY in Gainesville, Fla., and Billy Donovan is boiling. "You are killing our defense," says the Florida coach as senior guard Mike Rosario takes a seat on the bench with 8:32 left in the first half against South Carolina. Moments earlier Rosario -- who poured in 10 points in the first 10 minutes -- suffered a momentary defensive lapse that resulted in A) his man draining a wide-open 17-footer and B) Donovan yanking him. Just like that, Florida's lead was trimmed to ... wait for it ... 21-6.
If defense wins championships, we might as well just skip the whole March Madness exercise and give Florida the trophy right now. Sure, the AP pollsters have been busy crushing on Indiana and Duke, which had combined to hold the No. 1 spot in 15 of 17 weeks as of Feb. 25. But the cold hardwood truth is that one of the scariest squads in the land is this Gators group that had made only four top-five appearances: a shoe-squeaking, double-teaming, jersey-drenching swarm that asphyxiates opposing offenses and measures its success not just by the scoreboard but by something called DER.