Is the Fourth Time the Charm for the Gators?

Posted by David Changas on March 29th, 2014

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David Changas (@dchangas) is the NCAA Tournament’s South Region correspondent. He filed this report in advance of Saturday’s regional final game between #1 Florida and #11 Dayton.  RTC will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of the Elite Eight. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion. 

It may be tempting to look at the seeding of Florida‘s Elite Eight opponent (11) and the Vegas line on the game (Gators -10), and think that it is a sure thing the Gators will finally get back to the Final Four for the first time since their second of back-to-back national championship seasons in 2007. Florida is in the round of eight for the fourth consecutive year. The first three ended in disappointment, and though it appears that everything is set up well for the Gators to advance, doing so won’t be easy. And for coach Billy Donovan, he knows that what has happened the past three seasons won’t have any impact on what happens this year. “Patric Young and Scottie Wilbekin and (Casey) Prather and some of those guys were here last year, but also a lot of guys weren’t in the roles they’re in right now,” he said Friday.

Scottie Wilbekin Continues to Push Florida Forward

Scottie Wilbekin Continues to Push Florida Forward

The South Region’s second and third seeds were Kansas and Syracuse, respectively, so it comes as quite a surprise that Florida’s regional final opponent will be No. 11 seed Dayton. The Flyers arrived here by virtue of their wins over Ohio State, Syracuse, and Stanford, and have shown that they belong. They boast a small but efficient offense, as constant ball movement results in open looks. Against Stanford, the Flyers had an effective field goal percentage of 55.2%. They also turned the ball over only ten times, with several of those coming after they had the game in hand. Dayton also is a very deep and gets scoring from a variety of sources. The team’s leading scorer, Jordan Sibert, averages only 12.5 PPG, but made 43% of his 183 three-point attempts on the season. Eleven Flyers scored for coach Archie Miller against the Cardinal, and only Sibert played more than 30 minutes in the win. “It was a true team effort. That’s what they’ve been about all year, so it’s nice to see on the biggest stage, us be ourselves,” Miller said after the win over Stanford.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Florida 79, #4 UCLA 68

Posted by David Changas (@dchangas) on March 27th, 2014

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David Changas (@dchangas) is the NCAA Tournament’s South Region correspondent. He filed this report after #1 Florida’s 79-68 win over #4 UCLA. RTC will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Scottie Wilbekin came up big when it counted most against UCLA. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Scottie Wilbekin came up big when it counted most against UCLA. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Wilbekin Comes Through. Though he struggled for much of the night, when it mattered senior all-American Scottie Wilbekin came through for Florida. Wilbekin shot only 5-of-13 on the night, but finished with several huge buckets down the stretch and showed why he was the SEC Player of the Year. Wilbekin’s ability to lead his team to wins in close games is the difference between this year’s Florida team and last year’s Elite Eight squad. And if coach Billy Donovan has his way, he’ll be a main reason this team takes the next step.
  2. Michael Frazier can Shoot. For whatever reason, UCLA let the Gators’ best shooter have open looks all evening. Frazier made five of the eight threes he attempted, but the ones that didn’t go in were wide open looks. He finished with a game-high 19 points. Earlier this season, Frazier set a Florida record with 11 threes made against South Carolina, and if the sharpshooting sophomore can continue to make shots from the perimeter, it will be tough for anyone to beat the Gators the rest of the way.
  3. Gators Dominate the Glass. Despite a relatively poor first half performance that saw Florida get only three points from Wilbekin and nothing from senior center Patric Young, the Gators led by six at the break. This was largely due to keeping UCLA off the boards, particularly on the offensive end. In fact, UCLA had only one offensive rebound in the half, and it was followed immediately by a Florida block. On the night, the Gators out-rebounded UCLA, 40-30, and gave up only eight offensive boards to the Bruins for the game. It allowed Florida to move on despite getting very little offense from Young and his frontcourt mates. Read the rest of this entry »
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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: SEC Teams

Posted by David Changas on March 16th, 2014

As expected, the SEC earned only three bids to the NCAA Tournament. Top-ranked Florida and Kentucky have been locks for some time, and Tennessee secured its status with an impressive finish down the stretch. Based upon their finishes, it’s hard to argue that Missouri and Arkansas, both of which spent significant time on the bubble this year, deserved to get in. We look at how each of the three teams that did make it fared with their selections, and where they go from here.

Florida Gators (No. 1 seed, South Region)

The Gators Held On For the SEC Tourney Title

The Gators Held On For the SEC Tourney Title

  • Opening Round Opponent: The Gators, the overall No. 1 seed in the Tournament, open with the winner of the Albany/Mt. St. Mary’s First Four game in Dayton. It’s a safe bet that Florida won’t be the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16.
  • Looking Ahead: With a win in the second round, Florida will face the winner of Colorado/Pittsburgh game in Orlando. The Gators will have a significant advantage playing in their own backyard, and should advance to the Sweet Sixteen. There, they should get VCU or UCLA, and a trip to the regional finals could involve a match-up against Kansas, Syracuse or Ohio State.
  • How Far Can They Go? A potential Elite Eight game with Kansas could be one of the NCAA Tournament’s best, though both teams have work to do before than they can think about that. The Gators have a favorable draw to the regional final, though UCLA could present a challenge if it gets to the Sweet Sixteen. Still, we think Florida plays good enough defense to emerge from this region, and the Gators should make the Final Four. We’d be foolish to the think the overall top seed in the Tournament, which has now won 26 consecutive games, can’t win it all.

Kentucky Wildcats (No. 8 seed, Midwest Region)

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The SEC Rundown: Spring Cleaning Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 24th, 2014

Conversations about which teams are on the bubble, what school needs a big win to improve its seeding, and the coaches who are on the hot seat are all signs that March is quickly approaching. But if you find yourself without one of those gadgets that allows you to play games, take phone calls, and view a calendar, another sure way to know March is coming is by the peculiar weather patterns that late February brings for most of the country. There’s six inches of snow on the ground one week and it’s 70 degrees the next — and it’s that kind of drastic turn of events that inevitably brings my wife into spring cleaning mode.

Scottie Wilbekin deserves the SEC player of the year, and other random thoughts.

Scottie Wilbekin deserves the SEC player of the year, and other random thoughts.

Needless to say, I had a lot of time to collect my thoughts this weekend as I scrubbed our patio furniture and deck within an inch of its life. I am confident we could eat on our outdoor deck right now, and I’m not talking about serving a meal, picnic style, on the patio furniture. No, I mean I could literally serve food on the deck and eat straight off the wood. It’s that clean. A broken hose nozzle, a minor slip and fall accident, and two trips to Home Depot later, I had a lot of time to collect my thoughts. And while this time wasn’t necessarily conducive to a full, well-considered post, it did lend itself well to a collection of random thoughts, questions, and SEC basketball predictions as we round the corner into tournament time.

My notes from a warm and sunny spring southeastern day:

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Florida to Get Boost from Addition of Chris Walker

Posted by David Changas on February 4th, 2014

It’s not often that a top-five team can add an elite recruit in February, but that is exactly what Florida will do tonight when highly-touted freshman Chris Walker finally makes his debut for the Gators. Walker, who was ranked seventh in the 247sports.com composite recruiting rankings last year, was declared academically eligible by the NCAA on December 14, and has been practicing but was not cleared for game action until last week. His suspension totaled 12 games, and was related to impermissible benefits from agents and AAU coaches. As a result, he will be forced to donate the $280 he received to charity and serve 80 hours of community service.

Chris Walker Will Finally Get to Bring His High-Ware Act to the Gators

Chris Walker Will Finally Get to Bring His High-Ware Act to the Gators

Florida currently sits at 19-2 overall and 8-0 in the SEC as it welcomes Missouri to the O’Connell Center for a Super Tuesday tilt. It is unlikely that head coach Billy Donovan will ask too much of Walker tonight, and with good reason. The Gators, currently ranked No. 3 in this week’s AP poll, have done quite well without him and Donovan may not want to disrupt the chemistry his front line has already developed. Florida’s senior-laden trio of Patric Young, Will Yuguete and Casey Prather, along with sophomore Dorian Finney-Smith, have led the Gators to a dominant SEC start, where their average margin of victory is north of 15 points per game. And Donovan has gone out of his way to make it clear not to expect too much from the ballyhooed freshman.

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Arkansas Has Golden Opportunity to Advance NCAA Tournament Cause, Starting Today

Posted by David Changas on January 11th, 2014

Despite multiple bracketologists having Arkansas either in the NCAA Tournament or just on the outside looking in, the Razorbacks’ resume lacks the quality wins that bubble teams always need in March. They have two top-50 RPI wins – at home against SMU, and against Minnesota in the Maui Invitational – and sport an 11-3 overall record. Other than their trip to Maui, which included respectable losses to California (RPI No. 54) and Gonzaga (RPI No. 14), their pre-conference slate was relatively weak. Their first damaging loss of the season came on Wednesday against Texas A&M (RPI No. 142) in College Station, and it pushed Arkansas’ RPI ranking to No. 91. As one of the few teams projected to be able to compete for an NCAA Tournament bid out of the SEC, it’s the kind of loss the Razorbacks could ill afford. Luckily for them, the opportunity to make up for the loss is immediate, and while the phrase “must-win” is entirely overused — especially one game into the conference season — it may be applicable to Arkansas’ next two games, which come at home against what are clearly the best two teams in the SEC.

Mike Anderson's Team (http://grfx.cstv.com).

Mike Anderson’s Team Will Have Its Chances In the Next Week of Action

Later today, Florida comes calling to Bud Walton Arena after opening its conference schedule with a 74-58 thumping of South Carolina in Gainesville. And despite the fact that the Gators have the league’s most impressive non-conference resume and have won six contests in a row, Arkansas may be drawing them at an opportune time. According to various reportsCasey Prather and Scottie Wilbekin could both miss the game due to injury, which would leave Florida with only seven scholarship players. Still, the Gators will present a serious challenge for the Razorbacks. After Florida comes to town, Arkansas hosts the league’s preseason favorite and other juggernaut, Kentucky, in an ESPN Super Tuesday match-up. If the Razorbacks can pull off wins against the league’s two best teams, they’ll place themselves squarely in the conversation for the NCAA Tournament.

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Who Won The Week? Shabazz Napier, Memphis and Villanova…

Posted by Kenny Ocker on December 6th, 2013

Who Won the Week? is a regular column that will outline and discuss three winners and losers from the previous week. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game. But he’s not biking anywhere with a sub-zero wind chill. 

WINNER: Shabazz Napier

UConn guard Shabazz Napier can claim two things after a buzzer-beating winning shot against Florida: Being America's top player, and being Who Won The Week's top winner.

UConn guard Shabazz Napier can claim two things after a buzzer-beating winning shot against Florida: Being America’s top player, and being Who Won The Week’s top winner.

The stellar UConn guard and his team only played one game last week, matching up against a ranked Florida squad. And Napier stole the show. Including the buzzer-beating free-throw-line fadeaway for the 65-64 win, the junior guard finished Monday night’s game in Storrs with 26 points on 9-of-15 shooting and a game-high three steals. It’s impressive to think that Kemba Walker’s backup backcourt mate during the Huskies’ 2011 title run has a solid case in being judged the best player in college basketball this season. If he keeps playing at his current level – the senior guard averages 16.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 1.9 steals per game – he could solidify that claim by the end of the year. Of course, some more luck coming his team’s way couldn’t hurt; including Monday’s game, three of the Huskies’ eight wins have come by a single point.

LOSER: Florida

Already down the services of Eli Carter for the year and freshman five-star recruit Kasey Hill for a couple more weeks due to injuries, Billy Donovan’s Gators could ill afford to lose another point guard. Bad news in Gainesville: Starting point guard Scottie Wilbekin is expected to be out indefinitely after sustaining a similar injury with three minutes left in Florida’s aforementioned loss to UConn. Wilbekin, who already missed five regular-season games due to an offseason suspension, was tough enough to replace as the starting point guard when Florida’s second and third options at the position were healthy. Instead, the Gators face an onslaught of Kansas and Memphis back-to-back on the next two Tuesdays.

To give credit where it’s due, the 67-66 home win over rival Florida State last week is nothing to sneeze at, though Wilbekin did have seven points, eight assists and five steals in that match-up.

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Evaluating AAC Non-Conference Schedules: The Good…

Posted by CD Bradley on October 29th, 2013

While major rivalries and national television match-ups get the most attention, the games against much lower profile opponents can make just as big a difference come Selection Sunday. Scheduling is with question an art, but it’s at least equally a science. Sports Illustrated‘s Luke Winn and Andy Glockner have both examined the equation for maximizing a schedule’s impact on RPI, and in turn the strength of an NCAA Tournament resume. Glockner succinctly summarized it thusly: “Don’t schedule terrible teams. Ever.” and “Don’t lose at home. Ever.” Simple enough. Expanding on that, he offered four guidelines for assembling a schedule designed to boost RPI: don’t schedule SWAC teams; play the best teams in small leagues; play neutral site games that really aren’t neutral; and remember that the consolation games in holiday tournaments can become much more important than they seem at the time.

Want to go dancing? Non-conference scheduling is crucial to punching your ticket.

Want to go dancing? Non-conference scheduling is crucial to punching your ticket.

Non-conference games account for roughly 40 percent of AAC teams’ regular season games, and closer to 35 percent of the games considered by the NCAA selection committee after the conference tournament. But these games play an oversized role because they largely determine the availability of quality wins within the league once conference play begins. Good performances against a solid non-conference schedule provides a strong RPI from the beginning, while a weak non-conference slate coupled with losses against bad teams can be very tough to overcome. If a schedule is bad enough, it can drag down the RPI of other teams in the conference, particularly in a league like the AAC with a true round robin schedule. If the league can avoid bad losses against decent competition, it can buoy the whole league, as the Mountain West showed last year with its top overall conference rating. As we will see, it’s unlikely that type of quality is present for the AAC this year.

With the elements identified by Winn and Glockner in mind, let’s take a look at the non-conference schedules facing AAC teams this season. First, the good. We’ll visit the bad and the ugly in a corollary post on Wednesday.

The Good

  • Temple: The Owls face what is clearly the best non-conference schedule of any AAC team. It lacks elite competition – unless a match-up against New Mexico materializes in the final or consolation game of the Charleston Classic, there’s probably not an RPI top 25 team here – but more than makes up for it by not including any terrible teams. Almost every team here is projected to finish near the top of its own league, and the ones that aren’t – Clemson and Texas – won’t hurt by virtue of their major conference affiliations. If everything breaks right, no team on this schedule should end up with an RPI above #200. There are winnable road/neutral games, too. It’s hard to envision a schedule more optimized to boost RPI, but can the inexperienced Owls take advantage this season?
  • Memphis: The Tigers take a different tack. Their schedule includes two Division II games, which won’t count toward their RPI; but they might have been better off scheduling a third rather than Jackson State, a second division SWAC team. They overcome some of the dregs with multiple elite opponents: at Oklahoma State, Florida in Madison Square Garden, Gonzaga at home, and a possible second match-up with the Cowboys in the Old Spice Classic final. All four seem likely to be RPI top 25 teams. At least two wins out of those four contests are key, because the Tigers will have so few additional opportunities; aside from those four games, the Old Spice semis against either LSU or St. Joseph’s might well be their only other top 100 foe.
  • UConn: More Temple than Memphis, the Huskies’ schedule features home tilts with probable top 50 RPI teams Florida, Stanford and Harvard. There are neutral court games against Maryland and Boston College (and possibly Indiana or Washington), as well as a home game with Patriot League favorite Boston University and a road game at Washington; all appear likely to end up in the RPI top 100. There a couple of 200+ types, but nothing so likely as to drag the whole ranking down. This is a solid non-conference schedule for Kevin Ollie’s first-NCAA Tournament eligible year.

That’s pretty much it for good non-conference slates in the AAC. More to come…

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A Quick Examination of the AAC Non-Conference Slate

Posted by CD Bradley on October 28th, 2013

Highlighted by the annual renewal of college basketball’s best rivalry, the American has plenty of compelling games to offer before its first in-conference games tip off on New Year’s Eve. The conference’s teams also play a number of games, that while they might not be showcased on national TV, could prove just as crucial if not more so when the NCAA Tournament field is selected and seeded in March. Let’s take a look at four intriguing match-ups as well as four under-the-radar games that AAC teams will be involved in during the non-conference part of the season.

ESPN.com John Calipari (left) and Rick Pitino might not be all smiles when their teams square off Dec. 28 in Rupp Arena.

John Calipari (left) and Rick Pitino might not be all smiles when their teams square off December 28 in Rupp Arena.

Four most intriguing AAC non-conference games

  • Memphis at Oklahoma State, 8 PM, November 19, ESPN. This match-up of two of the nation’s best backcourts, with Marcus Smart and company squaring off against the Tigers’ fleet of guards, has to be considered among the highlights of the season’s first two weeks. It will also provide, fair or not, an early barometer of how these teams and leagues stack up.
  • Louisville at Kentucky, 4 PM, December 28, CBS.  It’s the two best teams in the country. The last two national champions. It’s the most important annual sporting event – yes, even bigger than the Kentucky Derby — in a state where college basketball is the most important sport. It’s Russ Smith vs. the Harrison twins, Montezl Harrell vs. Julius Randle, and, of course, Rick Pitino vs. John Calipari.
  • Florida at UConn, 7 PM, December 2, ESPN2. Connecticut has one of the best guard tandems in the country in Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. Florida has talent all over the floor, led by senior center Patric Young. Can the Huskies overcome the Gators’ interior advantages to get the kind of marquee win their non-conference schedule offers few opportunities for? The answer could be key to their March chances.
  •  Gonzaga at Memphis, 9 PM, February 8, ESPN. This rare February inter-conference matchup is one of two visits to AAC homecourts by ESPN’s College Gameday this year (Louisville at UConn on January 18 is the other). The Zags entered last year’s NCAA Tournament as the nation’s #1 team, but reached only the round of 32 before bowing out to Wichita State. This game should provide crucial insight into whether Gonzaga can begin to approach last year’s success.

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Florida’s Not Having The Best Offseason: Why Gators Fans Should Pump The Brakes and Just Chill

Posted by Chris Johnson on June 14th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.

One top-10 recruit’s eligibility issues on one national championship-capable roster typically wouldn’t feel like anything to work up a sweat over five months away from the start of the season. Chris Walker is one of the top players in the class of 2013. His addition arguably makes the Gators the most wholly-talented group Billy Donovan has coached since the 2006-07 national championship starting five. Florida would be better with him than without him. These things are all true, and they are all real. But academic eligibility issues like Walker’s – he still needs to complete three core courses and improve his ACT score before becoming eligible – usually (re: usually) tend to untangle themselves before the start of the season. It’s not like Walker attended high school classes that didn’t actually exist. And besides, what’s the worst that could happen? Walker is ruled ineligible for the non-conference season, only to enter Florida’s lineup around New Year’s for a repeat mashing of SEC competition? When you really bore down into what the Gators bring back, and who they welcome for the very first time, Walker’s possible ineligibility is less than crippling specter. More like a minor buzzkill in an otherwise tantalizingly positive summer season lead-up.

Unless Walker's academics keep him out for a large number of games, Florida fans best be relaxing, instead counting all the positives the Gators have going for them right now (Getty).

Unless Walker’s academics keep him out for a large number of games, Florida fans best be relaxing, instead counting all the positives the Gators have going for them right now (Getty).

Viewed on its own merits, Walker’s situation is an annoyance. A tic slowly sucking the preseason optimism out of Florida fans. Nothing more and nothing less. This particular situation is different, because Walker’s ineligibility isn’t the only thing the Gators are anxiously tracking this offseason. There are other concerns, and when you add everything up and lop Walker’s prospective ineligibility on top, what once looked like one of the four or five best teams in the country in the rushed postseason Top 25 deluge has a fistful of questions to get past before season opening in November. Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin has been suspended indefinitely by coach Billy Donovan for an unspecified violation of team rules one year after a similar punishment forced him to miss the first three games last season. We can only presume another brief multi-game absence, or some form of serious punishment, is in the offing. There’s also senior forward Patric Young, who underwent a procedure in April on his ankle, and whose game – frustratingly unrefined and only incrementally improved offensively – hinges heavily on his sheer athletic capability. Forward Will Yeguete likewise had his right knee scoped out one month later, the second such arthroscopic procedure in a four-month span.

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Rushed Reactions: Florida 61, Alabama 51

Posted by David Changas on March 16th, 2013

rushedreactions

David Changas is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the SEC Tournament semifinal game between Florida and Alabama in Nashville.

Three Key Takeaways:

fla alabama sec tourney 13

The Gators Survived Alabama’s Upset Bid on Saturday

  1. Florida Run.  The Gators trailed by 10 early in the second half before going on a 13-0 run to completely change the momentum of the game. Florida looked lethargic at that point, and it appeared they may be heading home a day earlier than most expected. However, led by senior point guard Kenny Boynton, the Gators made their run in less than three minutes, and Alabama never got closer than three the rest of the way. Florida outscored the Crimson Tide 34-14 after trailing by 10. “Boynton stepped up to the plate.  He gave them that spark and they kept building on that,” Alabama guard Trevor Releford said after the game. The run the Gators made was similar to the one they made two weeks ago in Gainesville, where they also trailed by 10 to the Tide in the second half. And that was certainly on Alabama players’ minds. Guard Trevor Lacey admitted that he discussed it with his teammates. “We knew we needed to keep attacking them,” he said.  The Gators clearly were not deterred when they fell behind, and showed again why they won the league’s regular season title.
  2. Good Kenny Boynton.  There is no shortage of enigmatic point guards in the SEC, and Boynton may be the leader of that club. The senior often takes shots out of the offensive flow, and has hit only 32.5% of his three-point attempts on the year. As the Gators practiced this week, coach Billy Donovan advised Boynton and fellow senior Mike Rosario to let the game come to them and to take shots only within the flow of the offense. While Donovan has expressed concern with the way Rosario has responded to that admonition, Boynton appears to have taken his coach’s advice. Even though he struggled shooting the ball in Friday’s blowout win over LSU, Donovan was pleased that Boynton dished out seven assists, and didn’t force anything on the offensive end. In this game, Boynton’s play sparked the Gators’ run, as Boynton scored seven of their 15 points. On the day, he led Florida with 16 points, and Donovan has made it clear that he has no problem with Boynton continuing to shoot the ball when he gets good looks, and if he continues to do that, the Gators chances to make a deep March run in a wide-open field are pretty good.
  3. Did Alabama’s Bubble Burst?  With Kentucky falling outside the RPI top 50 after last night’s loss to Vanderbilt, Alabama owns no wins over top-50 teams.  When compared to other bubble teams, that may do in the Crimson Tide. In most years, their resume wouldn’t even merit contention for a spot. But this year, given that the committee is considering so many unimpressive resumes, there’s always a chance. Alabama coach Anthony Grant was quick to point out when asked about the Tide’s chances after the game that whether his team has done enough to make the Big Dance is not his concern. “I don’t deal in that.  [The committee has] a tough enough job,” he said. Instead, he’ll sit back and wait to see what happens, but it’s much more likely that his team will be hosting a first-round NIT game than playing in the Big Dance.

Star of the Game.  Kenny Boynton.   Gators center Patric Young was too much for Alabama to handle, but Boynton keyed their turnaround, and sent Donovan’s team to the championship game for only the second time in six years.

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Florida Clearly Ready for this SEC Tournament

Posted by David Changas on March 15th, 2013

David Changas is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Friday afternoon’s game between Florida and LSU at the SEC Tournament in Nashville.

In the past, the Florida Gators have been accused of not emphasizing the importance of the SEC Tournament.  The Gators have largely sleep-walked through it since a run of three straight championships from 2005 to 2007 – the last two of those teams, of course, went on two win the national championship as well.  Since that time, they have advanced past the quarterfinals only twice, even when they’ve been a superior team versus their early-round opponents.  If Friday’s dismantling of LSU is any indication, this year will be different.  Coach Billy Donovan’s team, which appeared to be a contender for a #1- or #2-seed just a few weeks ago, limped down the stretch in losing four of its last five on the road, including a meltdown in the final eight minutes in the regular season finale at Kentucky.  It is clear Donovan wants this team to right the ship heading into the NCAA Tournament, and the team’s focus in the win over LSU was evident.  The Gators were on from the perimeter – usually a sign that things are going well for them – hitting 11-of-20 from three-point range.  Senior forward Erik Murphy was particularly hot, making 5-of-7 from three point range on his way to a game-high 27 points and 12 rebounds.

The Gators Had Their Explosive Game Going Friday Afternoon (AP)

The Gators Had Their Explosive Game Going Friday Afternoon (AP)

Part of the reason Florida struggled down the stretch of the regular season was the absence of junior forward Will Yeguete, who missed six games because of a knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery.  He returned in a limited role in the Gators’ third-to-last game against Alabama, but continues to work himself into game shape.  Friday’s 21 minutes were the most he has played since January, and the energy he brings to his team is evident.  At 6’7″, he is the Gators’ most efficient rebounder and best defender. Yeguete is able to guard in the post and the perimeter, and there is no question that he is a key to Florida’s success from here.

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