Florida Chases Consecutive Crown

"A little more than an hour ago," said the reporter to Florida's Joakim Noah during Sunday's news conference at the Georgia Dome, "Ron Lewis was up there and described you guys as a 'good' team. A follow-up question was asked, [he] described Ohio State as great and referred to you again with the word 'good.' How do you feel about that assessment?"

Oh boy. Noah reacted as if someone had ordered him to report to a barbershop and ask for the Billy Donovan/Eddie Munster special.

"Oh my God!" the Gators forward said. "He said that? No! [Long pause] What a bad person."

"Anything else?" the NCAA moderator asked.

"I don't even know what else to say," a clearly astounded Noah said. "I really don't know."

"At least he said we were good," said Florida teammate Corey Brewer, trying to be helpful. "He could have said we were bad. Next question, please."

Duke in 1991 and 1992 is the last team to win back-to-back NCAA championships. Whooee! At last, an actual Final Four controversy. Ohio State guard insults defending national champions. Florida star invokes God's name.

Except that Lewis didn't actually say the Buckeyes were great, although he did agree with the description. And while several of his teammates showered the Gators with compliments, Lewis stopped short of genuflecting.

"They're a good team to me," he said. "That's all I can say about it." Lewis later qualified his grading system, saying "good" was at the top of his personal scale, unless you were talking about Michael Jordan's 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, who were great. Whatever.

Anyway, you have to give Lewis credit for having the stones to express polite, public indifference about Florida mania or, as Noah described the phenomenon, "Every single time the Gator Boys come to play, it's the circus." Even more impressive about Lewis' comments is that he was at Florida's O'Connell Center this past December when the Gators all but sent the Buckeyes back to Columbus in a brown paper bag. Florida won by 26, and Lewis couldn't hit the side of the O-Dome (3-for-10).

Meanwhile, Noah had it right about the circus. He said the Gators can't leave their downtown Atlanta hotel because of the constant attention. So Noah, unable to sleep much during tournament time, sits in his room and channel surfs.

A few nights ago, he came across an HBO documentary on UCLA, the same Bruins program that won seven consecutive national championships (1967-73) and 10 in 12 years. Florida is going for what seems like a much more modest two-peat.

"They were just an unbelievable team," Noah said.

But it was also a different era, and a much different tournament. Now, the field is a bloated 65 teams, and there is talk of expanding it to 68. When UCLA's John Wooden won his last national title in 1975, there were only 32 teams. And you needed to win just five games, not six, for your shining moment.

So Florida's tournament gold standard shouldn't be Wooden's legacy but instead a program regarded by some people (translation: anybody in Carolina blue or Maryland red) as college basketball's Evil Empire: Duke.

Duke is the last program to win consecutive national championship (1991-92). Duke is the last program to overpower college basketball with its sheer excellence. Duke is the last program to appear under Noah's circus tent.

Forget about the Gator Boys. When Christian Laettner, Grant Hill, Bobby Hurley and the rest of the Blue Devils arrived at their NCAA-assigned hotel, it was Beatles-esque.

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