|Two-time defending champ Florida, runner-up Ohio State fail to make NCAA field|
|Written by Admin|
|Sunday, 16 March 2008 13:57|
The Gators and Buckeyes, finalists in last year's national championship game, missed getting back into the tournament Sunday.
This is the first time the two finalists from the previous year have not made the tournament since 1980 when Michigan State and Indiana State did not qualify. Magic Johnson led Michigan State to 75-64 championship game win over Larry Bird and Indiana State in 1979.
Two-time defending national champion Florida (21-11) lost eight of its final 11 games, including the last four, and was clearly out of the NCAA tournament picture before the brackets were announced.
The Gators had their streak of consecutive NCAA tournament berths snapped at nine, and became the first defending champ to miss the tournament since 1989 was Kansas was ineligible because it was placed on probation.
Ohio State (19-13) had a much better shot, having snapped a four-game losing streak with wins against Purdue and Michigan State to close out the regular season. But the Buckeyes lost their first game in the Big Ten tournament, falling 67-60 to the Spartans.
The Gators and Buckeyes were expected to be high seeds in the NIT, which was to release its pairings at 9 p.m. Sunday.
The two teams were No. 1 seeds in last year's NCAA tournament, and lived up to the lofty expectations by making the title game.
Florida won that meeting 84-75 in Atlanta, becoming the first school since 1992 to win consecutive national championships.
But both squads were devastated by the NBA draft two months later. Florida coach Billy Donovan had three players - Al Horford, Corey Brewer and Joakim Noah - selected in the top nine picks.
Taurean Green and Chris Richard were second-round picks, and sharp-shooting guard Lee Humphrey graduated.
Ohio State's Greg Oden was taken with the top pick, and Mike Conley Jr. and Daequan Cook also went in the first round.
Those personnel losses were so drastic that Donovan, who briefly took a job with the NBA's Orlando Magic before changing his mind and returning to Gainesville, and OSU coach Thad Matta shared a laugh before the season about how little experience they had coming back.
``The reality is we're in a tremendous rebuilding process, and this is why I came back to take on this type of challenge,'' Donovan said Thursday after Florida lost to Alabama in the Southeastern Conference tournament. ``That's a challenge I wanted to take on. But it's not getting resolved next year. This is going to be a process.
``You can't lose five NBA players and the all-time 3-point field-goal maker in NCAA tournament history and expect not to miss a beat. It's just not going to happen. And that's not an excuse. That's the reality part of it.''
At times this season, Florida and Ohio State looked like they might be better than many expected.
The Gators started 18-3, taking advantage of a weak non-conference schedule, and upset then-No. 14 Vanderbilt by 22 points. They faded down the stretch, however, getting exposed by big, physical and more athletic teams.
Now, with an RPI around 70 and a strength of schedule around 90, they're headed to the NIT for the first time since 1998.
``We didn't expect this,'' forward Jonathan Mitchell said. ``It's like a bad dream.''
Added Donovan: ``These guys may have to be totally humbled in a way.''
The Buckeyes had an RPI around 50, a strength of schedule around 20 and a winning record in conference play - they also played North Carolina and Tennessee close - but lost six of their last nine games.
Both teams could turn things around in the NIT - if they can find motivation after falling so far since the title game.
``Nobody wants to go to the NIT,'' Florida forward Adam Allen said recently. ``It's like the champion of the losers if you win that. Everybody wants to play in the NCAA tournament.''