CHRIS DUFRESNE | THE BOTTOM LINE
Florida’s hopes of repeating as national champion were crushed when CBS reported a potentially devastating ankle injury to power forward Al Horford during Sunday’s Southeastern Conference title game against Arkansas. The news was tempered only by the fact Horford returned to play in the second half, which devastated Arkansas and every NCAA tournament opponent Florida will face until Kansas, which we’re predicting will halt the Gator parade in Atlanta, in the national semifinals.
This conclusion was drawn after an intense, 15-minute, laser-beam study of the situation after CBS’ touchy-feely selection show in which analyst Billy Packer failed to rip the chairman of the NCAA tournament’s selection committee. Maybe it was because the chairman’s name was Walters and not Littlepage, and maybe it was because the bracket bosses allowed only six “mid-majors” into this year’s field as opposed to last year’s open-door festival in which 11th-seeded George Mason, over Packer’s power-conference protestations, was allowed to dance all the way to the Final Four. The nerve of these upstarts!
You could almost bracket-out the Midwest blindfolded. Mark down four wins for Florida, which should roll the way the football team did over Ohio State.
You want early-round buzz fodder?
Watch out for No. 11 Winthrop, darlings of the Big South, featuring a coach, Gregg Marshall, who has somehow confused a steppingstone program for a career destination. Look for Winthrop to knock off No. 6 Notre Dame in Spokane, Wash., before shocking the Oregon Ducks (know as the “Tall Firs” when they won the first NCAA tournament in 1939) before being swept out in the Sweet 16.
Admittedly, there is a nostalgia pang in play here.
We’ll never forget Winthrop’s first trip to the NCAA tournament, in 1999, when the wide-eyed Eagles walked head first into a 39-point loss to Auburn. The NCAA wondered if, for cost purposes, it could ship Winthrop home that night.
Oh, the looks on those faces. One Winthrop player wondered if he was going to get a free watch.
Who knew then that, eight years later, Winthrop would become a team to watch.