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Vitale: On Florida in the Sweet 16

SPECIAL TO ESPN.COM

March 18, 2006

Before the season started, there weren't major expectations of big things from Florida. After all, Billy Donovan lost Matt Walsh and Anthony Roberson to early entry into the NBA draft, plus David Lee completed his eligibility.

Few teams could expect big things after losing three players of that caliber. They accounted for so much offense, so people wondered how the Gators would respond.

Donovan has done his best coaching job yet, and four sophomores have stepped up big time. Now Florida is in the Sweet 16 after falling short of that accomplishment four straight years.

Corey Brewer scored 23 points as the Gators beat a tough Wisconsin-Milwaukee team by 22 points. Rob Jeter's team beat Oklahoma in the first round, so this was an impressive performance by Donovan's squad.

Florida really came together and showed this could be a special season when it won the Coaches vs. Cancer event in Madison Square Garden. The Gators won their first 17 games and showed confidence.

There were bumps in the road down the stretch, including three straight losses (to Arkansas, Tennessee and Alabama). Florida rebounded and won the SEC tournament and now has notched two impressive victories in the Big Dance.

Taurean Green has developed into the leader in the backcourt. I've been impressed with Joakim Noah; he was super, scintillating and sensational when I called the Florida game against Kentucky in early February. The son of former tennis star Yannick Noah has been Mr. Versatility -- he had 16 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and five blocked shots against South Alabama. He followed up with 17 points, seven rebounds, six assists and four blocks against Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

The Rowdy Reptiles have to be smiling now as the Gators advance. Lee Humphrey can flat out shoot the 3-pointer. Al Horford and Chris Richard provide big bodies inside. Florida shot almost 54 percent against Wisconsin-Milwaukee while holding them to 36 percent.

Down in Gainesville, something special is brewing as Donovan and his young team will be tough to stop. Imagine if this group comes back intact; Florida will likely be up with the likes of North Carolina, LSU, Memphis, Ohio State and Kansas in the elite group of next season's rankings.

Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979. Send a question for Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.

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