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Double Jeopardy
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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To hear Florida forward Joakim Noah tell the story, the notion of a repeat came up only once--in Minneapolis, one of the Twin Cities, whose very nickname implies replication. Maybe there was a hint of the Duke mystique lingering like carbon 14 in the Metrodome, the same building where, in 1992, Christian Laettner's Blue Devils became the only team since '73 to win back-to-back NCAA men's basketball titles. But as Gators coach Billy Donovan led his star sophomores to the press conference after clinching a berth in last year's Final Four, he turned giddy at the possibilities: "We're going to win it this year, and then we're going to win it again next year, and you guys will be

remembered as one of the best teams to ever play the game."

Everyone laughed. "It was like, 'Whoa, Coach, we haven't won nuthin' yet,'" says Noah, the Gators' ponytailed talisman. "Besides, we didn't even know if we were going to the NBA [after the season]."

But then a remarkable scenario unfolded: Florida beat George Mason 73--58 in the semis and dominated UCLA 73--57 in the final to win its first title. The three sophomores-- Noah, center Al Horford and forward Corey Brewer--forsook NBA riches to stay in school. And now, after a 29--5 season that has tested them in new and sometimes confounding ways, Donovan's Gators have a chance to accomplish one of the rarest feats in contemporary U.S. team sports. Consider: In the 33 years since UCLA coach John Wooden (page 84) won his seventh straight title, men's college basketball has had fewer repeat champions (one) than any other major sport (page 48).

There are several reasons, but perhaps the biggest of all is the six-game, single-elimination crapshoot that has broken repeat aspirants even more fearsome than these Gators. "The NCAA tournament is the most compelling sporting event in America," says former UNLV guard Greg Anthony, whose 34--0 defending-champion Runnin' Rebels fell to Duke 79--77 in the 1991 national semis. "And that's because it's the one sport where more often than not the best team doesn't win. My team that lost to Duke was a better team than my team that won it the year before."

Even now the odds are stacked against Florida, the No. 1 overall seed. Statistical guru Ken Pomeroy ( figures this year's favorite has only about a 1-in-5 chance of winning the title (more on that below)--and as favorites go, the Gators are hardly invincible. In late February they lost three of four games, all by double digits. And yet a funny thing happens when you ask the coaches of other contenders a simple question: Who is the team to beat in this year's tournament?

" Florida," says Ohio State's Thad Matta.

" Florida," says Texas A&M's Billy Gillispie.

" Florida," says Georgetown's John Thompson III.

"The Gators," says Kansas' Bill Self.

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