Two-time defending champ Florida, runner-up Ohio State fail to make NCAA field Print
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Monday, 17 March 2008 03:24
NCAAB Headline News


 GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) - If Florida and Ohio State meet again this season, it will be in the NIT title game.
The Gators and Buckeyes, finalists in last year's national championship game, missed getting back into the NCAA tournament Sunday.
It marked 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 victory over Larry Bird and Indiana State in the 1979 title game, then both stars turned pro.
``It shows you about how much things change,'' Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said.
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 when Kansas was ineligible because of 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 settled for spots in the NIT. Florida is a No. 2 seed and will host San Diego State on Wednesday. Ohio State is a No. 1 seed and will host UNC-Asheville on Tuesday. Ohio State and Florida could meet in the championship game April 3, at Madison Square Garden.
``From playing in the national championship game to not even being in the (NCAA) tournament, it's tough,'' Ohio State senior guard Jamar Butler said. ``It didn't turn out any good for us. What can we do?''
Florida and Ohio State 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.
Ohio State won the rematch in December, thumping the Gators 62-59 in Columbus.
But neither squad looked anything like it did seven months earlier, not after both were devastated by the NBA draft. 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 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.''
 

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