RTC Team of the Week: FloridaPosted by nvr1983 on November 30th, 2009
This week’s selection for RTC Team of the Week was not as easy as last week’s as you will see when you look at our honorable mentions, which we didn’t even bother to do last week when we selected Syracuse as our inaugural team of the week. We had several potential choices, but when it was time to pick a team there was one school that stood above the rest — the #1 team in the country and the defending national champions (in football), the Florida Gators.
Coming into the season, we were not that high on Billy Donovan‘s crew, who had failed to make the NCAA tournament in consecutive years after winning back-to-back titles. To further compound matters, they had lost heralded recruit Jai Lucas and their best player last year, Nick Calathes, decided to forgo his senior year to go play in Greece, which is a decision that still has us scratching our heads. After opening the season with three wins against Stetson, Georgia Southern, and Troy that could only be described as big in margin if not significance, the Gators had a significantly more difficult schedule with their annual rivalry game against Florida State and then headed to Atlantic City for the Legends Classic where they would open against #2 Michigan State.
The Gators traded baskets early with the Seminoles and were tied at 10 with 12:30 left in the 1st half before going on a 31-9 run that stretched into the 2nd half giving them a 41-19 lead. The Seminoles, who are still trying to find their identity without Toney Douglas, cut the lead to 5 at 43-38 with 12 minutes left. The Gators managed to stretch out the final margin to 16 behind a balanced scoring attack with 13 points apiece from Kenny Boynton, Erving Walker, and Alex Tyus. That win certainly boosted our respect for the Gators, but it was against a FSU team that didn’t have Douglas and it certainly wasn’t Tom Izzo‘s Spartans that they would be facing in Atlantic City.
In a rematch of the 2000 national title game, the Gators came in as underdogs of 3.5 points and somehow managed to win despite going just 5-24 from beyond the arc and getting out-rebounded by 18 as Seth Davis noted. In a game that was tight for 40 minutes (no team ever led by more than 7 points), the Gators were able to overcome a scintillating 20-point (and 1 assist) effort from Kalin Lucas thanks to their advantage at the line (22 of 25 versus 10 of 14) and the Spartans inability to not turn the ball over (22 turnovers compared to just 11 for the Gators) along with the disappearance of Raymar Morgan, who got in foul trouble and didn’t score, but contributed 5 assists and was relieved by Draymond Green, who put up a 15 and 11 that was about as much as any Spartan fan could expect from Morgan. Those advantages were enough to get the Gators to overcome awful shooting performances by Boynton and Walker who went a combined 4 for 22 from the field and 2 for 15 from 3-point range. Of course, Walker still managed to make the key play of the game with his 25-footer with 1:56 left to put the Gators up for good. When Durrell Summers missed two 3-point attempts in the last minute that could have forced overtime, Billy Donovan had his biggest win since the 2007 NCAA title game.
Their next game against Rutgers had letdown written all over it, but to their credit the young Gators managed to avoid that letdown thanks to a 15-4 run late in the 2nd half. Led by 19 from Boynton and 14 from Vernon Macklin the Gators were able grab an early lead and never trailed maintaining at single digit margin before pulling away from Mike Rosario and Rutgers with a late run. Boynton was named the tournament MVP, but the emergence of Macklin may have been the most important news for the Gators as he would give them a formidable front line. A front line of Macklin, Tyus, and Dan Werner is probably the most talented in the SEC outside of Lexington, Knoxville, and Starkville (pending the official arrival of Renardo Sidney). When combined with their guards, the Gators would probably have to be considered at legitimate threat to be a top 3 team in the SEC this year.
The real question for the Gators is whether or not they can sustain this level of play as they have started 5-0 or better in four of the last five years including the 2007-2008 (albeit against lesser competition than this year) where they failed to NCAA Tournament. I don’t think this year’s team will come close to equaling the level of success of the Joakim Noah-Al Horford-Corey Brewer teams, but they certainly have shown they have the ability to get Donovan back to his first NCAA tournament since those teams and might even be able to scare a few teams when they get there.
- West Virginia: I know that everyone is going to be raving about Portland and how they humiliated UCLA (Newsflash for Bruins fans: Get used to it and just hope that your basketball team handles it better than your football team does), but we can’t put them above the Mountaineers who actually won the tournament and beat the Pilots rather convincingly. With the return of Devin Ebanks from his mysteriously “leave of absence”, the Mountaineers may just be the team to beat in the Big East although we are sure that Wesley Johnson and Jim Boeheim may have something to say about that.
- Purdue: Winners of the Paradise Jam and “Game of the Year (so far)” against Tennessee. The Boilermakers have flown under the radar so far this season (probably due in part to the fact that nobody could find the Tennessee game on their televisions), but the nation will get a good look at them tomorrow night when they play Al-Farouq Aminu and Wake Forest. Be sure to watch the game not only for the match-up of Aminu against JaJuan Johnson, but also to see as team that could be a trendy pick to cut down the nets in nearby Indianapolis in April.
- Duke: They might be “alarmingly unathletic”, but they still manage to win games. Sure their wins over Arizona State and UConn probably made Jason Williams cringe even before Doug Gottlieb started needling his alma mater, but the key point is that they won the games. Unless Mason Plumlee is a much, much better than expected, this team won’t win the national title, but that doesn’t mean they won’t beat a lot of very good teams in the regular season before their annual March flame-out.