Gators, 'Canes could meet in Florida-filled Final Four

Florida is basketball capital of the country

It's got to be driving the basketball bluebloods crazy in all of those coffee shops and sports bars along Tobacco Road where they get together and debate the intricacies of man-to-man vs. matchup zone.

For the second consecutive year, the arrogant Dookies and the uppity Tar Heels have watched the football helmet-heads from the state of Florida take their coveted ACC basketball championship and tote it back home to put on the shelf beside all of those Heismans and national-championship trophies.

This time, it was the Miami Hurricanes winning the ACC Championship for the first time in school history — a year after Florida State took home the ACC Championship for the first time in school history. Who would have ever thought that basketball — both college and pro — would be more successful in the state of Florida than football?

The Hurricanes are the ACC champions (regular-season and tournament), the Florida Gators are the SEC champions (regular-season) and the Miami Heat are the reigning NBA champions and in the midst of the second-longest winning streak (22 games) in league history. And let's not forget the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles, a No. 15 seed and a potential bracket-buster in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

Perhaps historians need to go back and research how Dr. James Naismith invented the game of basketball. Are we sure he had his students in Springfield, Mass. shooting a ball through peach baskets — or was it Florida-made orange crates?

And what makes the oranges taste even sweeter here in Orlando is that the Hurricanes' shocking ascent to the top of the ACC was led by Dr. Phillips High School graduate Shane Larkin. The hometown Magic aren't giving Orlando basketball fans anything to cheer about this year, but Larkin certainly has. The kid none of the big-time schools wanted has proved once again that the recruiting gurus and college scouts are about as reliable as WKMG sports anchor David "Ping" Pingalore's multiple sources.

Larkin, a sophomore point guard, scored eight of his career-high 28 points in the final couple of minutes to lead the Hurricanes to an 87-77 victory over North Carolina in Sunday's ACC Tournament final. Larkin was voted the tournament MVP and was the runner-up for ACC Player of the Year.

"I don't know about the other guys on the team, but I do a lot of research online, seeing what people are saying about us individual players on our team, and I just kept seeing that everywhere: 'They peaked too early; they're not going to do anything; they're finished,' " Larkin said. "And that just motivated me to go out there and play as hard as I could."

Still, you can't help but think that the basketball bluebloods are secretly rooting against the Hurricanes, who are No. 2 seed in the East Region despite the fact that they won both the ACC regular-season and tournament titles. Can you imagine the outcry if Duke or Carolina had swept the ACC championships and were not rewarded with a No. 1 seed? It was almost as if members of the NCAA Selection Committee came to the conclusion that, "Hey, it's only Miami. Their fans are too apathetic to care where they're seeded."

Accuse me of prideful provincialism if you want, but I believe there's a strong possibility that "One Shining Moment" will be played after two Florida teams have made the Final Four. Iconic coach Billy Donovan's Gators are a No. 3 seed and are coming off back-to-back Elite 8 performances. They have the talent, experience, coaching and bracket to advance to Atlanta. Likewise, Jim Larranaga's Hurricanes are a veteran team with a veteran coach who knows what it takes to get to the Final Four.

"It's been a dream season," Larranaga says.

Unless, of course, you live among the basketball bluebloods along Tobacco Road, where this is turning into their worst nightmare.

In Florida, we have the ACC champions, the SEC champions and the NBA champions.

Meanwhile, they have the Charlotte Bobcats.

mbianchi@tribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @BianchiWrites. Listen to his radio show every weekday from 6 to 9 a.m. on 740 AM.

 

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