Florida became just the sixth state ever to field multiple Final Four teams in the same year. It’s only the fifth time a state has accomplished this feat since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. The others: 2012 Kentucky (the Wildcats and Louisville), 2021 Texas (Baylor and Houston) and North Carolina in 1991 and last year (the Tar Heels and Duke).
Though the state’s breakthrough March is an outlier, it didn’t come out of nowhere. Three different Florida teams made the Elite Eight between 2017 and 2022 (the Gators, Florida State and Miami). The Seminoles also made a pair of Sweet 16s in that span, and we’re only a decade removed from the Cinderella season of the Dunk City team at Florida Gulf Coast.
The success is enough to raise a semi-serious question as the Owls and Hurricanes prepare for Saturday night’s national semifinals in Houston.
Has Florida shifted from a football state to a basketball state?
The easy, obvious answer is resounding: No.
Football interest dwarfs any other sport at the state’s major college campuses and alumni bases. Though data is incomplete for the Final Four run, Google searches for “Miami Hurricanes” around last year’s Elite Eight game were less than half of what they were the week the football team lost at home to Middle Tennessee.
Florida also remains a hotbed for football recruiting. Of the nation’s top 100 prospects in the 247Sports composite, 10 are Floridians (including Adarius Hayes, a Gators commit from Largo High, and Wharton High’s Booker Pickett Jr.). Only four of the top 100 basketball prospects are Floridians (Tampa Catholic’s Karter Knox is the lone local).
Though Florida hoops cannot match the tradition, homegrown talent or widespread interest of football, it does have a clear advantage in recent success.
Since the end of the BCS, only one team from the state has made the four-team College Football Playoff: 2014 Florida State. But Florida has produced three different Final Four teams in basketball (the 2013-14 Gators plus this year’s Hurricanes and Owls). The 2020 Seminoles would have been a favorite to join the mix, too, had the tournament not been canceled in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
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Lower the standard slightly, and the comparison becomes tighter. In the CFP era, Florida has as many Sweet 16 participants (nine) as participants in prestigious New Year’s Six bowl games. Eleven state teams landed in the top 25 of the final Associated Press basketball poll in that timeframe; 17 Florida football teams finished ranked.
The fact that it’s reasonable to even discuss Florida as a basketball state means two things: that the state’s football teams are collectively underachieving, and its basketball teams are clicking at a high level. Both things can be true at once.
But for Florida to shift to a basketball state will take more than one fantastic March, or even a dynamic decade. Miami coach Jim Larrañaga acknowledged as much Monday.
“Everybody recognizes that the state of Florida and especially the city of Miami, Fort Lauderdale area is great — absolutely great — at fertile territory in football and in baseball,” Larrañaga said during a Zoom session with reporters. “But we’ve also produced some very good basketball players. And hopefully now some of the young kids who watched us play in the Elite Eight, watched FAU win, advance to the Final Four — hopefully some of those young kids will pick up the round ball and start bouncing it and shooting it.”
If that happens enough over time, and those kids become skilled guards instead of cornerbacks? Then we can start to discuss Florida turning into a basketball state.
2 Final Four teams, 1 state
1954: La Salle* and Penn State
1960: Ohio State* and Cincinnati
1961: Cincinnati* and Ohio State
1975: Kentucky and Louisville
1977: North Carolina and Charlotte
1991: Duke* and North Carolina
2012: Kentucky* and Louisville
2021: Baylor* and Houston
2022: North Carolina and Duke
2023: Miami and Florida Atlantic
*won national championship
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