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(Information in this team report is as of Oct. 1.)
COACH AND PROGRAM
It probably took a 75-foot heave and swish to do it, but Florida made a return to the NCAA tournament last year.
That was after a two-year absence -- which included consecutive trips to the NIT -- that followed directly on the heels of the Gators' back-to-back NCAA championships. The slide might have seemed puzzling to some, but the fact Florida lost six players to professional basketball in a three-year span explains a lot.
"We got killed after 2007," coach Billy Donovan said. "Just killed [losing Corey Brewer, Al Horford, Joakim Noah and Taurean Green after their junior seasons]. When that happens, it's hard. We also lost other key guys [center Mareese Speights, point guard Nick Calathes] two straight years after that. But still, we won 20 games in the three years [after the second national title] and made deep runs in the NIT.
"That's not the goal, but in a lot of ways, our guys did a pretty good job with not a lot of leadership around. I don't care what kind of program you have, you take five key guys off your team, there's going to be a dip."
Florida's fortunes began to move northward against last season, thanks in large part to that 75-foot buzzer beater for a win at NC State, hoisted by Chandler Parsons, who also drained another buzzer-beater for a victory over South Carolina. Subtract those two wins and the Gators were more than likely bound for their third straight NIT.
Regardless of how Florida returned to the Big Dance, and despite an early ouster at the hands of BYU, nothing detracts from the accomplishment. And after an offseason in which they didn't lose anyone to professional basketball, the Gators are stocked. All five starters return, and Donovan has once again started flexing his muscles on the recruiting trail. Two freshmen who might remind Gator fans of a couple of vital cogs from the national championship team join the program and will play significant roles.
"Anytime you get to the tournament and have all five starters coming back, there's going to be a level of expectation," Donovan said. "Our guys haven't had to deal with that since they've been here.
"Can they take that next step and deal with those expectations? We'll need to increase our maturity level as a team to do it."