Not feeling very confident about Florida’s 3 teams in NCAA tournament

So who goes the farthest in the NCAA tournament among our state’s three entrants?

Not sure it’s going to matter since I don’t expect the Hurricanes, Gators or Seminoles to make it out of the first weekend. Each has flaws, though Miami does a better job of masking them. Each is prone to lay a major egg every now and again.

Miami head coach Jim Larranaga reacts during a game against North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C., Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

If we’re assigning personality traits, FSU is tough, Florida is soft and Miami is smart. Any of them could surprise, like the Gators did last year in advancing all the way to the Elite Eight, but you could say that about most tournament teams from major conferences.

So we’ll go by who got the best draw. That’s always a good place to start.

The Gators get the break of knowing their first opponent, a No. 11 seed, won’t be coming in fresh. St. Bonaventure and UCLA are in a play-in game Tuesday night, and the winner will have to travel to Dallas and turn everything around pretty quick. That’s a potential plus for Florida, or at least it’s as much of a break as any No. 6 could ask to have.

If Florida advances, it probably will be Texas Tech waiting in the next round. The game would be in Texas, which makes that neutral court a little nastier, plus the Red Raiders won at Kansas in January. They’re well able to establish dominance in any setting.

Put it all together and I’ll give the Gators a 40 percent chance of advancing to the Sweet 16 round, and that’s only because Florida has mixed in some big wins here and there, including two over Kentucky, one over Cincinnati, a No. 2 seed, and one over Gonzaga, last year’s national finalist.

Miami’s first opponent is Loyola of Chicago, the Cinderella pick of all the national blabbers. The Ramblers are a legitimate threat, with a 10-game winning streak right now and a road upset of Florida in December, back when the Gators were feeling their oats at No. 5 in the AP poll.

The Hurricanes certainly can handle Loyola, a No. 11 seed, on a good night. Just a few weeks ago Miami beat North Carolina, a No. 2, on the road. Even if this potential trapdoor is avoided, however, it’s likely that Tennessee comes next, and in my opinion any team at the top of the SEC is a potential powerhouse.

Nobody but the Tournament Selection Committee seems to remember that the SEC had three teams in the Elite Eight last year, or that South Carolina, a No. 7 seed, reached the Final Four. As it is, a record eight SEC teams are in the 2018 NCAA tournament. Only the regal ACC has more.

So I’ll give Miami a 33 percent chance to making the Sweet 16, because there are not one but two difficult wins between here and there.

As for FSU, there are two things to know and they’re drawn from the same game, a 59-55 loss to Virginia in February.

First, the Seminoles led what might be the best team in the nation 32-22 at halftime and hung tough to the end, outrebounding the Cavaliers and playing great defense. Second, Virginia won by showing the kind of versatility you expect of a No. 1 seed and locking down to stifle FSU in the closing minutes.

That tells me FSU is dangerous enough to watch closely and good enough to beat Missouri in an opening 8-9 game, but then comes No. 1 seed Xavier, and nobody needs to be bumping heads with them so early in the brackets.

Make it a 25 percent chance, then, on advancing to the Sweet 16, and recognize that if the Seminoles beat those arbitrary odds, it will be from the bonus any ACC team gets playing against consistently rugged competition inside the league.

Overall, Florida has two national titles, back to back in 2006 and 2007, and five trips to the Final Four. FSU’s only Final Four appearance was in 1972 and Miami has never been.

You’ve got to be in it to win it, right? Having three state schools in the tournament field is a mad dash no matter how it turns out. Would love to think it will last beyond this weekend for fans of the Hurricanes, Gators and Seminoles, but then you’ve already read my predictions about that and you’re already mad so I’ll just shut up now and watch like everybody else.

[Justin Thomas’ climb to No. 2 in world boosts Honda Classic again]

[Players Tribune, a Derek Jeter project, gives Kevin Love an important platform]

[Marlins’ inaugural spring training 25 years ago was a Space Coast blast]

 

Most got in free for college hoops’ inaugural title game, which was played in a stuffy, old campus gym

 

The NCAA men’s basketball tournament is kind of a big deal.

This year’s Final Four, for instance, will be played in the same Arizona stadium where Super Bowls and national college football titles games have been played, and no tickets will be left over.

The thing wasn’t always so enormous, however, or so special.

In 1939, the first year of the NCAA tourney, eight teams were in the field and the championship game was played in what seems like a closet by today’s standards.

Northwestern University’s original Patten Gymnasium, since demolished and replaced, was the site of Oregon’s 46-33 win over Ohio State that inaugural year. According to an old Chicago Tribune article, a crowd of 5,500 attended the game, with many of them getting in free.

James Naismith, basketball’s inventor, attended the game that night in Evanston, Ill. Everything else about the affair was extremely low key, with Northwestern’s athletic director even advertising the need for four extra-long beds to accommodate the taller players on the visiting Oregon team.

TV coverage? Not a chance, not even locally.

The other teams in the tournament field that year were Texas, Oklahoma, Villanova, Utah State, Wake Forest and Brown. Pretty cool to think that Villanova was in the first NCAA tournament and enters the 2017 version, 78 years later, as the defending champion.

For some time the National Invitation Tournament at Madison Square Garden was better known than the NCAA, and usually had better teams. There even were cases where teams played in both events.

As a result, the following oddities jump out from NCAA tournament history.

San Francisco has won more NCAA championships (two) than Ohio State or Michigan or UNLV or Syracuse (one each).

Loyola-Chicago and CCNY and La Salle and Holy Cross have as many (one each) as Georgetown and Marquette and Arkansas (one each).

Oklahoma A&M has as many (two) as Florida and Michigan State and North Carolina State.

[Expecting it to be the Zagnuttiest NCAA tournament of them all]

[Let Lane Kiffin be your guide to a healthier, happier life]

[NCAA berths weren’t automatic for UM in Rick Barry’s golden era]

And Oregon? They took that first NCAA title and haven’t scored one since. They’re a No. 3 seed in the Midwest Region this week, however, with Iona and Creighton between the Ducks and the Sweet 16.

Anything can happen. Looking at the history of this quirky tournament, from its days on the back pages of the newpaper to billion-dollar TV contracts of today, just about everything already has.

Expecting it to be the Zagnuttiest NCAA tournament of them all

I like Gonzaga, Villanova, Louisville and Kentucky in the Final Four. Why?

Because I like the idea of the Zagnuts finally breaking through after making serious noise in the NCAA tournament for close to 20 years but never getting past the Elite Eight.

Because I also like Villanova having a shot at back-to-back national titles. Nobody has done that since Florida in 2006-07 and having the Wildcats in the Final Four would have all the analysts referencing the Gators, at least briefly, as an elite basketball program again. It’s about the only thing that could.

LAS VEGAS, NV – Przemek Karnowski of the Gonzaga Bulldogs carries the trophy off the court following the team’s 74-56 victory over the Saint Mary’s Gaels to win the championship game of the West Coast Conference Basketball Tournament on March 7. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Also because I like the idea of Louisville (potential Midwest champion) against Kentucky (potential South champion) in the national semifinals at Glendale, Ariz. The Wildcats have won their recent NCAA tournament matchups, including a national semifinal in 2012, but the Cardinals already have a 73-70 win over Kentucky this season.

But enough about me.

[Check out Matt Porter’s ‘go with my gut’ Final Four picks

Looking at this thing logically, which is what all the real experts try to do, North Carolina should make the Final Four. Duke and West Virginia are strong choices to fight their way in, too, and Kansas didn’t get a No. 1 seed for nothing.

There are long-time trends in this tournament to pile on top of that.

John Calipari, for instance, starts each season whining about the inexperience of his four or five new freshman All-Americas and by March has them on a run, like the 11-game win streak Kentucky is on right now. Included in that are a couple of get-it-right games, beating Florida and Tennessee easily after losing to both teams earlier.

[Let Lane Kiffin be your guide to healthier, happier living]

[No reason the Heat should be doing what they’re doing]

[UM didn’t get NCAA berths during Rick Barry’s golden era]

As for Villanova, the Wildcats and other Big East teams rarely are featured on the ESPN networks, which is where most of us watch college basketball. Consequently, Jay Wright’s teams tend to fly under the radar just a bit, which is amazing for so consistently strong a program. Villanova’s only lost three games this season and two of those were to Butler, a No. 4 seed in this tournament.

Hey, you can drive yourself crazy with all of this stuff but in the end it comes down to an educated guess and mine is Gonzaga over Kentucky for the national title, if only because nobody else has a 7-foot-1, 300-pound athlete named Przemek Karnowski, which in English translates to Get Out of the Way.

A funny Ronald Reagan tidbit from my upcoming story on Pembrook Burrows III

Just finished writing a long feature on West Palm Beach’s Pembrook Burrows III, who way back in 1970 played with Hall of Famer Artis Gilmore on the unlikeliest Final Four team you could ever hope to see.

The story, which is peppered with great photos, can be found at mypalmbeachpost.com beginning Thursday. It’s full of fun nuggets about the heyday of Roosevelt High School basketball and the overnight emergence of tiny Jacksonville University as a national power. Here’s one funny scene, however, that got left on the cutting-room floor.

ronnie raygunWhen Jacksonville advanced to the NCAA championship game to play mighty UCLA, Florida Gov. Claude Kirk, a real colorful guy, sent a telegram to his counterpart in California, Ronald Reagan.

Kirk had a lot of fun with it and made sure the contents of the telegram was released to the media. He referred to the Bruins as “the champagne team from Smoggy Hollow,” and announced “I am supremely comfortable in the knowledge that Jacksonville will ‘win one for the Gov’ while UCLA is ‘losing one for the old Gipper.’ “

Best of all, Kirk promised “If I lose, I will watch 50 reruns of ‘Death Valley Days.’ If I win, all I want is your public acknowledgement of this additional area of Florida’s superiority. I will await your wire of acceptance and your subsequent telephone call of congratulations.”

Reagan, the former actor and future U.S. president, served in 1964 and 1965 as narrator on television’s “Death Valley Days” anthology of western stories from the pioneer days. Some of those shows must have been a little dry based on Kirk’s wager.

[Why shouldn’t Hurricanes be formidable in both major sports?]

[Bullish on the Warriors finishing the job and besting 72-10]

[Simplest measure to tell if Dolphins hired the right coach]

There is no record of what happened when UCLA beat Jacksonville 80-69 but it figures that Reagan was gracious, not wishing to speak ill of a fellow Republican. Besides, the Bruins were beating everybody back then.

In 1972, after Kirk had left office, UCLA scored another victory over a Florida team in the NCAA championship game, beating FSU 81-76.