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
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?
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,
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.
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
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]."