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Double Jeopardy
GRANT WAHL
March 19, 2007
Winning back-to-back titles in college hoops is one of the rarest feats in team sports. Is reigning champ Florida up to the challenge?
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March 19, 2007

Double Jeopardy

Winning back-to-back titles in college hoops is one of the rarest feats in team sports. Is reigning champ Florida up to the challenge?

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Or to put it in present-day terms: In a bracket with eight genuine national-title contenders, can Florida beat the odds?

it may seem obvious, but it's worth pointing out: Over the next three weeks 64 of the NCAA tournament's 65 teams will lose. Seven teams have the best chance of preventing Florida's coveted repeat, but their fates will depend on how each one addresses a potentially fatal flaw. To wit:

UCLA In nearly every way the Bruins are a better team than the one that made a surprise run to last year's final. But they may be soft in the middle: Center Ryan Hollins has graduated, and it's hard to forget the way Florida's big guys ran roughshod over 6'9" Lorenzo Mata. " Hollins was a force for us down the stretch last year," says Howland, "but our inside game has been coming on of late, especially Mata." Perhaps, but UCLA would still be better off avoiding teams with imposing frontcourts like Florida, Georgetown or North Carolina.

Kansas The Jayhawks have a terrific balance of skillful scorers and airtight defenders. But as the adage goes, if you have to ask who a team's go-to guy is, that team probably doesn't have one. "We know who's going to get the ball, we just don't know who will take the shot," says Self. It could be any of four players: guards Mario Chalmers, Sherron Collins and Brandon Rush or forward Julian Wright. If Kansas finds itself in a tight finish, will that uncertainty unhinge a team that has been upset in the first round the last two years?

North Carolina When the most dangerous attacking team in the land lost three of its last six regular-season games, swingman Marcus Ginyard questioned the Tar Heels' heart. "The toughness question comes from the way [we haven't] gone after loose balls and rebounds," says coach Roy Williams. "We've said, 'Hey, if you want to rebound the ball, you have to be tough enough to stick your nose in there.'" Will the broken schnoz suffered by Tyler Hansbrough doing just that in a March 4 win over Duke become a bloody shirt for the Heels? Or might UNC wilt against tougher teams like Pittsburgh, Texas A&M or Wisconsin?

Ohio State The Buckeyes were the country's hottest team down the stretch, winning their last 17 games of the season as 7-foot freshman center Greg Oden altered games with his defense and regained nearly full use of his right (shooting) hand following wrist surgery. Can Oden start taking over on the offensive end too? "In essence, we've been coaching two different teams this year," says Matta. If Ohio State can play as one unit instead of two camps of freshmen and veterans, look out.

Wisconsin Any team that was ranked No. 1 in late February has to be formidable, Badgers coach Bo Ryan argues, and he's right, although Wisconsin promptly dropped two straight and--even worse--lost starting center Brian Butch at least until the Final Four with a dislocated right elbow. "If you take the top rebounder off any team, that's hard to replace," says Ryan. "How we pick up for Brian is going to tell the tale." Butch was also the Badgers' best-shooting big man, which will put even more pressure on forward Alando Tucker and guard Kammron Taylor, who are the only creators in Ryan's swing offense.

Texas A&M Point guard Acie Law IV wants the ball in crunch time even though everyone in the arena knows he'll get it. "That's a concern, but we'll go to him anyway," says Gillispie. "He's just a phenomenal player who gives your team great confidence." In that case the Aggies' potential Achilles' heel may be the foul-prone ways of center Joseph Jones, who set up his own DQ franchise this season by fouling out six times (and in three of Texas A&M's six losses).

Georgetown Before the season Thompson cautioned that his team might struggle early with a young perimeter cast surrounding big men Roy Hibbert and Jeff Green, but he added that the parts were in place to contend by March. That's exactly what happened. "We've gotten better, which has allowed Jeff and Roy just to play as everyone else has gained experience," says Thompson. The Hoyas' 36.6% three-point shooting is still a sore spot, as is the fact that their best outside shooter, Jonathan Wallace, is also their point guard.

as they pursue a historic double, the Gators have their own concerns, of course--but most of theirs are away from the court. " Florida is the most gifted team," says Tar Heels coach Williams, "but they also have a lot more distractions." It would be so much easier if the challenge of winning a second title were no more difficult than winning the first. But it's not. "It's totally different--and a lot harder," says Noah. "When we're playing in sync, we're the best team. When we're focused, we're better than we were last year, and if we achieve our goals, people will remember us as one of the best teams to ever play college basketball. But to get to that level we realize there's a real thin line between winning and losing. I mean, we lost to the worst team in the SEC [LSU] without its best player [ Glen Davis]."

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