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David Lee practicing shooting. The NCAA Tournament is one of the most exciting playoff systems in sports today. Nothing can match the intensity and drama if a single-elimination, 64-team tournament. The Gators have been to the Big Dance ten times in their history and have an all-time record of 16-10.

The Gators did not make their first appearance in the Tournament until the 1986-87 season under Coach Norm Sloan. That year's team was captained by Joe Lawrence and Andrew Motten. Although they had no experience in a pressure situation like this, the Gators made it all the way to the Sweet 16 before losing to Syracuse 87-81. They beat NC State 82-70 and Purdue 85-66.

Florida came back to the Tournament the next season, 1987-88, with star guard Vernon Maxwell and won another game. They beat St. John's 62-59 but were destroyed the next game by Michigan 108-85.

The next season marked the Gator's third consecutive appearance in March, but was marred by a first-round exit. The 1989-90 team was dominated by Colorado State 68-46 despite winning the SEC for the first time.

The Gators did not make it back to the Tournament until the 1993-94 season, but it was a memorable showing. Florida made a Cinderella run to the Final Four behind Andrew DeClerq and Craig Brown. Coach Lon Kruger's team survived a first round scare by James Madison 64-62, before rolling over Penn 70-58. They beat UConn 69-60 in overtime to advance to the Sweet 16 and topped Boston College 74-66. The Gator squad was beaten by a great Duke team 70-65, ending their run.

The next season was a dissapoointment for the Florida faithful, as they made another first-round exit. The Gators lost 64-60 to Iowa State.

Billy Donovan revived to Gators Tournament aspirations in the 1998-99 season with another trip to the Sweet 16. Eddy Shannon and Greg Stolt were the captains of a team that beat Penn 75-61, and Weber State 82-74 in overtime. They lost a heartbreaker to Gonzaga 73-72, just missing the Elite 8.

Florida finally made it to the National Championship Game in 2000. Mike Miller made a game-winning lay-up as time expired to beat Butler in Overtime 69-68. The Gators overpowered Illinois 93-76 and upset Duke 87-78. They beat Oklahoma State 77-65 and stomped North Carolina 71-59 in the Final Four. Florida was trounced in the Championship game by an athletic Michigan State team that just killed them on the boards, losing 89-76.

Florida has made three consecutive appearances since then, but is only 2-3 over that span. The most dissapointing trip in 2002, losing in the first round after an Orion Green turnover.

This years Florida team is on pace for another high Tournament seed and possibly another Final Four birth behind a load of talented young players.

 

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