Ridaught: Is Florida a basketball state?

NCAA Tournament March Madness basketball

For as long as I’ve been around, the state of Florida has never really been considered a basketball state.

Football, yes, and there are lots of examples why.

Not to say that there haven’t been pockets of success for hoops in the Sunshine State.

Even after the University of Florida won back-to-back national titles in 2006 and 2007, the Gators were never considered a ‘basketball school.’

But after what transpired on the hardwood floors of Florida in 2022-23, how can you not say that Florida is a basketball state?

Florida Atlantic University and the University of Miami came close to playing for a Division-I national title. Instead, we get UConn and San Diego State tonight.

FAU (35-4) was even closer to playing for a title, but they blew a 14-point lead in the second half and lost on a buzzer-beater, 72-71, to the Aztecs (32-6).

Miami (29-8), which made the Elite Eight last year, never really challenged the Huskies (30-8), who defeated the Hurricanes, 72-59, and have beaten all tournament foes by double digits.

South Florida had never had a team in the Final Four. This year, it had two.

Did Miami, FAU runs to the Final Four signal the start of a golden era for college basketball in South Florida?

The two losses denied the state of Florida a chance at its third national champion this year alone.

That’s right.

Two Florida colleges had already won it all.

The Nova Southeastern University men’s team won the Division 2 national title and the Northwest Florida State College women’s basketball team won the junior college championship.

Let’s start with the ladies.

I had the pleasure of broadcasting Eastern Florida State College, the No. 2 team in the country in the NJCAA rankings, and NW Florida, ranked sixth nationally, in the FCSAA state championship game on March 11.

The Titans improved to 31-1 that day with a 48-43 win. However, the Lady Raiders, who dropped to 25-4 at the time, received an at-large berth.

In the national semifinals, the No. 2 seed Titans lost on a last-second shot by Trinity Valley Community College’s Makiyah McCollister, 71-70, to finish the season a program-best 33-2.

The Lady Raiders, who also won the 2021 national title, won the 2023 NJCAA DI Women’s Basketball Championship in Lubbock, TX, last Monday with a 66-63 win in overtime against Trinity Valley.

Rutgers University transfer Sakima Walker, the daughter of Samaki Walker who played 10 seasons in the NBA, scored 23 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in the title game.

In the men’s state championship game on March 11, NW Florida State College edged Tallahassee Community College, 89-85, in a matchup of two of the top 16 teams in the country.

The Raiders rode the momentum all the way to the national championship game in Hutchinson (KS) before coming up short, 73-70, to John A. Logan College (Carterville, Illinois), which won its first national title in program history.

John A. Logan also eliminated Tallahassee CC in the JUCO final four.

Meanwhile, the Nova Southeastern men’s team broke two NCAA Division II records for points in the national championship game with a 111-101 victory against West Liberty (WV). The Sharks had a record 55 points at the half.

They became just the sixth team in NCAA Division II history to go wire-to-wire without a loss, finishing 36-0 to win their first national title in program history.

If that’s not enough to sway your belief that the state of Florida had the best basketball overall, consider this.

The University of Miami women advanced to the Elite Eight, the University of Tampa women were in the Division 2 Elite Eight, Gulf Coast State women and the Chipola College men both advanced to the JUCO Sweet 16, the St. Thomas men advanced to the Sweet 16 of the Naismith Quadrant of NAIA Tournament (64 teams).

It was the first Elite Eight in program history for the Lady Hurricanes, who had also reached the Sweet 16 for the first time in over 30 years.

The St. Thomas men also had a season to remember. The Bobcats (26-8) had their best home record in school history (16-1), 26 wins (tied for the most in STU history), and their first Sweet 16 appearance in school history.

Plus, the Florida Memorial women advanced to the first round of the Naismith Quadrant of the NAIA Tournament (64 teams), the Florida College men – Round of 32 of the Naismith Quadrant of the NAIA Tournament (eliminated by St Thomas) (64 teams), and the Southeastern men were in the Round of 32 in the Cramer Quadrant of the NAIA Tournament (64 teams).

Drop the mic, Florida. You earned it!

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