Questions Loom About Florida’s NCAA Chances

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 11th, 2014

Florida entered Selection Sunday last March with just two losses and was a mortal lock for a #1 seed. This season the Gators entered the second week of December with twice that many losses after letting a 15-point halftime lead slip away against Kansas. It seemed as if Florida might flip the script on its early struggles when the Gators jumped out to that lead in Allen Fieldhouse, and had they held on they may have briefly put to rest all the hand-wringing over injuries and missed players. Instead of grabbing the most impressive road victory of the young season, the Gators folded down the stretch, and that missed opportunity raises legitimate questions over whether Florida is in early trouble in terms of the NCAA Tournament.

Billy Donovan's Gators have a lot of work to do if they want to make their sixth-consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. (AP)

Billy Donovan’s Gators have a lot of work to do if they want to make their sixth-consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. (AP)

The name of the school on the front of the jersey and the coach walking the sidelines gives the Gators a benefit of the doubt that most other schools in this position would not receive. We’ve already seen this exhibited when voters in both polls put an inexperienced team with a lot of question marks in their preseason top 10. Over the last decade-plus, Florida has not only earned this respect and still, quite frankly, might be the second best team in the SEC. Their four defeats have all come at the hands of teams currently ranked in the top 22 of KenPom’s ratings, and three of these were away from the O’Connell Center. The concern, however, is whether Florida’ remaining schedule provides enough opportunities to put together a Tournament-worthy resume. The SEC doesn’t do the Gators any favors since its two games against Kentucky is their only real chance at a marquee win. It’s not ideal, but a lack of headline-grabbing wins shouldn’t be fatal for a school that doesn’t have to fight for respect.

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Two Burning Questions: Previewing Kansas vs. Florida

Posted by Brian Goodman & David Changas on December 5th, 2014

The Big 12/SEC Challenge will wrap up tonight at 9:00 ET as Kansas looks to exact revenge for a loss in Gainesville last year. Meanwhile, the Gators are in need of a signature non-conference win, and what better venue to get that win than in a raucous Allen Fieldhouse? RTC contributors Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) and David Changas (@dchangas) are here to break down a tilt between two of the millennium’s best programs.

BG: The Jayhawks may finally have their answer at point guard after Frank Mason enjoyed a very successful Orlando Classic as freshman Devonte’ Graham continued to heal from a shoulder injury. The sophomore posted averages of 11.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game last week and has been the primary reason why Kansas has regained its footing despite Graham’s troubles, Wayne Selden‘s shooting slump, and Kelly Oubre‘s failure to find his way onto the court for more than a few minutes a night. In the other backcourt, Kasey Hill has come up big for a Florida team that has otherwise struggled out of the gate. How important is this match-up to the outcome of the game and how do you see it turning out?

Another steady game from Frank Mason would lend an added sense of security for a Kansas team that has occasionally struggled to find consistency in its backcourt. (AP)

Another steady game from Frank Mason would lend an added sense of security for a Kansas team that has occasionally struggled to find consistency in its backcourt. (AP)

DC: Mason was absolutely terrific in Orlando, and Kansas looked nothing like the team that Kentucky embarrassed two and a half weeks ago. On the other hand, Florida came away from the Battle 4 Atlantis with two losses and a mediocre win over UAB to show for it. Thus far, the Gators have a long way to go to become a good offensive team, shooting a highly inefficient 44.1 percent in effective field goal rate. With Eli Carter injured and likely to miss this game, Hill, who has finally begun to look more comfortable in his role as the team’s primary ball-handler, will need to have a big night for Florida. He showed some signs of offensive life with 20 points in Sunday’s loss to North Carolina, shooting the ball well and getting to the line 12 times (making 10) against the Tar Heels. If he can do the same against Mason while simultaneously taking care of the ball, Florida will have a chance at pulling off the big upset.

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SEC M5: 11.19.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 19th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. A bleary-eyed Bruce Pearl was not happy with his team after Auburn was outscored 52-25 in the second half of its midnight tilt against Colorado late Monday night. “You can tell, in a game like this, who belonged out there,” Pearl told the Auburn IMG Sports Network after the loss. “KT Harrell belonged out there. Cinmeon Bowers belonged out there. K.C. Ross-Miller, offensively, belonged out there. You go beyond that, it’s really hard to look at Jordon [Granger], who didn’t score, and Tahj [Shamsid-Deen] who was 1-for-8, but God bless for playing with the shoulder that got separated.” The smart money is that Pearl isn’t really all that angry, that these comments are just his way of pushing the right buttons. To expect the Tigers, with Antoine Mason out and Shamsid-Deen playing with a separated shoulder, to compete against a good Colorado team on the road, is irrational. The second half and the 24-0 run that the home team teed off on went on certainly wasn’t pretty, but growth is the theme at Auburn this season.
  2. For the second straight year South Carolina came oh-so-close to knocking off Baylor before falling in the final minutes. Yesterday’s loss, however, felt more like a missed opportunity since it was a home game against a Bears team needing to replace Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson. Ty Johnson and Sindarius Thornwell couldn’t exploit Baylor’s zone, though, going a combined 4-of-15 from three. The encouraging news for Frank Martin? Freshman point guard and Columbia native Marcus Stroman can really play. He scored South Carolina’s biggest basket of the game to cut the lead to three with just over two minutes left, and has notched nine assists against just one turnover in his first two college games.
  3. Several outlets are reporting that Donnie Tyndall met with NCAA representatives yesterday in Knoxville, but Tennessee officials won’t confirm whether the meeting in fact took place. For his part, Tyndall has stayed quiet on the situation. The only public comment he’s reportedly made was telling the Knoxville Quarterback Club last week that everything would be “fine.” The Vols next play on Thursday against Texas Southern, and the long layoff from Friday’s game against VCU seems even more extended with all the rumors swirling about. Unfortunately it’s a story that will continue to linger around this program for the foreseeable future.
  4. Kasey Hill did not have a particularly good night in Florida’s loss on Monday night to Miami. As Alligator Army points out, the sophomore committed two critical, poor fouls on Angel Rodriguez down the stretch: one while Rodriguez was in the act of shooting a three, and the other 40 feet from the basket. The blog also points out that the Gators’ lack of point guard depth means that Hill must improve, and fast. The sophomore may be the key to the ultimate success of this Florida team since efficient point guard play from him ties individual strengths like Michael Frazier’s shooting and Chris Walker’s athleticism together .
  5. The SEC’s first weekly awards are in, and the leagued picked Cinmeon Bowers for the Player of the Week honor and Trey Lyles for the Freshman of the Week honor. Bowers had 17 rebounds in Auburn’s win against Wisconsin-Milwaukee and was almost a one-man wrecking crew considering the Tigers’ depleted front line. Lyles scored 13 points in both of the Wildcats’ first two games and has impressed playing a bit out of position on the wing in John Calipari’s “white” platoon, showing great touch for a guy his size.
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Five Impressions from Florida’s Loss To Miami

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on November 18th, 2014

There are several ways that you can frame Florida’s home loss to Miami. The popular way nationally is that yet another SEC team lost a non-conference game. That this loss included one of the league’s two flag-bearers just fuels the ubiquitous “sky is falling” narrative. There’s certainly no sugarcoating it: The SEC is off to a disastrous start. But all things considered, I don’t think this loss falls into a worrisome category. Florida’s frontcourt was decimated last night, with Dorian Finney-Smith, Alex Murphy and Chris Walker all out of the lineup for various reasons. This meant Billy Donovan had to provide 36 minutes of action to former walk-on Jacob Kurtz and 31 minutes to transfer Jon Horford, who was strictly a role player at Michigan. Horford played great (17 points, seven rebounds) and Kurtz more than held his own (six points, eight rebounds) but these are not the roles Donovan envisioned for this pair. With a full squad on the floor, Florida would have had a decided advantage on the glass against a smaller group of Hurricanes. Here are a handful of thoughts on a loss that shouldn’t leave Gators fans hanging their heads.

  • Michael Frazier. The Gators scored just one point over a four-minute stretch starting at the eight-minute mark in the second half, and this stretch coincided with Angel Rodriguez’s three-point barrage that got the Hurricanes back in the game. This was already an area of concern for Florida: When the Gators need a basket, who would go get it? Last year a combination of Scottie Wilbekin and near-flawless execution solved that problem. This year the de facto answer seems to be Frazier, the most experienced and accomplished scorer on the team. But the junior couldn’t answer the bell against Miami, missing four shots over that drought, including a few desperation jumpers late in the shot clock. One game doesn’t make a season, but Rodriguez got the better of Frazier last night.
The Gators need more from Michael Frazier, especially in crunch time (tampabay.com).

The Gators need more from Michael Frazier, especially in crunch time (tampabay.com).

  • Backcourt Potential. It was a mixed bag for the Florida guards last night. Eli Carter stole the show for the Gators, pouring in 21 points on 8-of-9 shooting and scoring from all over the floor. It was he, not Frazier, who got the Gators’ final shot (although it ended in a charge). Frazier had a pedestrian night (13 points) and Hill had a miserable shooting performance, including a crucial missed layup late in the second half, but he still handed out eight assists. Despite the so-so results, Carter’s return to the scorer he was at Rutgers gives Florida a dynamic-looking backcourt. We know Frazier will make shots and Hill will be able to break down the defense, so Donovan will have a dangerous backcourt that can score in bunches if Carter’s leg holds up and freshman Chris Chiozza proves serviceable.

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SEC Season Preview: Florida Gators

Posted by David Changas on November 14th, 2014

The SEC microsite will preview each of the league teams over the next week, concluding today with Florida.

Florida Gators

Strengths. Florida lost four starters from last season’s Final Four team that ran through the SEC with 21 consecutive wins. Still, as long as Billy Donovan is roaming the sidelines in Gainesville, his teams will compete at a high level. And even though the Gators watched as seniors Scottie Wilbekin, Patric Young, Casey Prather and Will Yeguete departed the premises, there is anything but a dearth of talent on the roster. The Gators are led by their only returning starter, guard Michael Frazier II, the team’s third-leading scorer who made 44.7 percent of his three-point attempts last season. They also return Dorian Finney-Smith and Kasey Hill, who were both solid contributors. But the biggest X-factor for Donovan’s team is forward Chris Walker, the enigmatic sophomore who missed 19 games last season with NCAA issues. Walker’s return was a boon for Florida, but he will need to make a massive leap if the Gators look to make another deep run in March.

Billy Donovan will need to be patient with his young team. (secsportsinsider.com)

Billy Donovan will need to be patient with his young team. (secsportsinsider.com)

Weaknesses. As with many college basketball teams in this era, there are a lot of unknowns with this group. The Gators’ roster is heavy on transfers, and thus there is very little returning experience. Alex Murphy is a Duke castoff, and Jon Horford, whose brother Al starred on the back-to-back national championship teams of the last decade, should start, along with former Rutgers transfer Eli Carter, who saw limited action early last season. If Walker does not develop as quickly as hoped, and the defense, which is a big preseason concern for Donovan, does not improve as the season progresses, the Gators could be in for a bit of a rough ride. And with the strong leadership of those seniors all graduated, someone else will need to step up and take charge on the floor.

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SEC M5: 11.05.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 5th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. The preview train rolls on at CBSSports.com, and this time Matt Norlander gives his list of the top 20 transfers for the upcoming season, with Auburn’s Antoine Mason, Florida’s Jon Horford and Tennessee’s Dominic Woodson all making the cut. This is an interesting group because each player finds himself in a different position on his team. Mason will be heavily-relied on to score and help Bruce Pearl set a competitive tone for the Tigers in year one. Conversely, Billy Donovan isn’t looking for superstar numbers from Horford, but he’ll need him to be a complementary piece up front. Woodson, as Norlander points out, is a wildcard for Donnie Tyndall because it’s not hard to envision him either as a load on the block or a player glued to the bench for large chunks of time (more on him below). No matter the situation, each of these transfers should have an impact in the SEC this season.
  2. College Basketball Talk released its preseason All-America teams and only two SEC players popped up among the three teams and group of honorable mentions: Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns (third team) and Aaron Harrison (honorable mention). I don’t think this particular lack of an SEC presence deserves an outcry, though. The article points out that Towns is extremely talented but may not get the minutes to rack up All-American numbers. That numbers crunch may also hurt the individual statistics of someone like Dakari Johnson, who at most any other school would probably be getting more preseason hype. The closest non-Wildcats to this list are probably Arkansas’ Bobby Portis and LSU’ Jordan Mickey, but even with my SEC bent I can’t make an argument for their inclusion.
  3. The first Bob Cousy Award watch list, on the other hand, had plenty of SEC flavor. The annual award given to the best point guard in the country included Kentucky’s Andrew Harrison and Tyler Ulis, Texas A&M’s Alex Caruso, Florida’s Kasey Hill and Ole MissJarvis Summers on its initial list. Duke also had two entrants on the 50-man list, and I’d be interested to know if two teams have ever had multiple lead guards on the list before. All the choices make sense, though, and I can’t come up with any omissions. Caruso is a deserving selection since he led the SEC in assist rate last season (36.7 percent), even if he should get more time off-the-ball now with the addition of freshman Alex Robinson. Billy Kennedy needs to put a better offense on the floor and that means having his best players out there regardless of position.
  4. If SEC commissioner Mike Slive has a doghouse for basketball coaches compiling soft non-conference schedules, there is no way Anthony Grant is in it. For the second year in a row, Alabama has one of the more challenging pre-SEC slates. Last season the Tide’s games against Oklahoma, Wichita State, Duke and UCLA fueled the 11th best strength of schedule nationally, according to KenPom. This season the Tide gets return games against Wichita State and UCLA, as well as Xavier, Iowa State and either Maryland or Arizona State. The challenge of course will be winning one of those marquee games, which would be a big stepping stone in what needs to be a bounce-back year for Grant.
  5. You always have to pump the brakes before delving too far into exhibition games, but as Will Shelton at Rocky Top Talk writes, it’s hard to not pay attention at Tennessee given all the new faces vying for playing time. The Vols beat NAIA opponent Pikeville, 80-62, in their exhibition opener, and there were stats galore. One interesting tidbit is that Tyndall started the immediately-eligible Woodson (mentioned above) at center, suggesting his level of conditioning may not be as big an impediment as some thought. Another notable statistic is that Armani Moore, who is coming into his junior year with a 3.1 PPG career scoring average, led the Vols in scoring with 17 points.
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One on One: An SEC Preview With Chris Dortch

Posted by Walker Carey on November 4th, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview with the SEC, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with an SEC expert in Blue Ribbon College Yearbook editor Chris Dortch (@cdortch).

Rush the Court: How good is Kentucky and what makes it that good? The Wildcats begin the season as the overwhelming favorite to win the SEC title. Do you expect them to win both the conference title and the national title?

Chris Dortch: It would not surprise me at all if Kentucky wins both the SEC title and the national title. I think the team is so good that you can rank both its first five and its second five in the Top 25. The team has nine McDonald’s All-Americans and more talent than I can remember any team in the SEC possibly ever having. Having said that, the Wildcats do have a weakness or two. They have to prove that, other than Aaron Harrison, they have someone who can make outside shots. If they cannot do that, teams are going to try to pack it in the lane and negate their size and dribble-drive. I have said this a few times on some radio shows: If Kentucky shoots 35 percent or better from the three-point line for the season, I think the Wildcats will be undefeated going into the Final Four.

It's Gators and Wildcats at the Top of the SEC, Again

It’s Gators and Wildcats at the Top of the SEC, Again

RTC: Florida’s personnel losses are notable with Scottie Wilbekin, Patric Young, Casey Prather and Will Yeguete all moving on from Gainesville. However, Billy Donovan’s squad seems primed to have another impressive season. What is it about this year’s Gators that will make them a force to be reckoned with in the conference?

Dortch: I think Florida has some experienced personnel and some young guys who I believe are ready to step. Someone like Kasey Hill, who understudied Wilbekin last season, seems poised to take over the point guard position. I think Michael Frazier is one of the best shooters in the country and he is ready to take the next step in his development. Dorian Finney-Smith, who was eligible last season after transferring from Virginia Tech, is so versatile that he was used at the point a few times. He is going to be a guy who is going to be asked to do a lot more than he was last year. There are also a couple transfers who will help. Jon Horford comes over as a fifth-year eligible from Michigan and Alex Murphy comes over from Duke. I think those two will help fortify the team’s front line.

RTC: Arkansas is still waiting on its breakthrough campaign in the Mike Anderson era. With a talented team featuring star big man Bobby Portis, will this finally be the season that the Razorbacks find a way back to the NCAA Tournament?

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Florida’s Dream Season Ends With Final Four Loss to Connecticut

Posted by Walker Carey on April 6th, 2014

One-seed Florida entered the NCAA Tournament as one of several favorites to cut down the nets in North Texas. The Gators had not lost a game since December 2 and had completed a perfect run through the SEC regular season and conference tournament. After a South Region series of games where Billy Donovan’s squad fairly easily dispatched Albany, Pittsburgh, UCLA and Dayton, the Gators’ winning streak stood at 30. Unfortunately for Billy Donovan’s club, their winning ways ended in a 63-53 national semifinal loss to seven-seed Connecticut. The following are three thoughts on a tremendous Florida season that ended a game sooner than expected.

Florida Faltered Tonight But Should Look Back on this Season WIth Heads Held High

Florida Faltered Tonight But Should Look Back on this Season WIth Heads Held High

  1. While the loss to Connecticut will overshadow it, Florida still had an outstanding season. The 30-game winning streak turned in by the Gators before last night’s loss to Connecticut was rightfully one of the top stories of the year in college basketball. Billy Donovan’s senior-laden squad that was led so brilliantly by point guard Scottie Wilbekin flawlessly ran through the SEC with little resistance. A most impressive part of Florida winning all 21 of its games against SEC opponents is that in doing so, the Gators bested preseason number one and fellow Final Four qualifier, Kentucky, three times. This loss to Connecticut will likely be how many choose to define Florida’s season, but that is an unfair notion, because what the Gators were able to accomplish leading up to Saturday was nothing short of magnificent. Read the rest of this entry »
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Final Four Previews In-Depth: Florida Gators

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 4th, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

As part of our ongoing NCAA Tournament coverage, RTC is unveiling a detailed look at each of the Final Four teams throughout the week. Kentucky, Wisconsin and UConn have already released. Today: Florida.

Back on December 2, college basketball pollsters would have told you that Florida was the worst of the four teams still standing in this NCAA Tournament. #12 UConn beat the 15th-ranked Gators that night, and both Kentucky (#3) and Wisconsin (#8) rested comfortably among the top 10 teams in the nation. Things have changed quite significantly in the months since. As a result of 30 consecutive victories since that loss in Storrs, Florida now enters the Final Four as the prohibitive favorite to cut down the nets, while their three Final Four mates have lost a combined 24 times since the Gators have. It’s been a relentless and astounding string of success for Billy Donovan’s team, but the Gators know that their winning streak will mean far less if it fails to reach 32 games. The ultimate validation is available in North Texas, and Florida appears poised and ready to snatch it.

Before The Winning Began In Earnest, Billy Donovan Had To Navigate His Team Through A Slew Of Early Season Personnel Losses

Before The Winning Began In Earnest, Billy Donovan Had To Navigate His Team Through A Slew Of Early Season Personnel Losses

Pre-NCAA Tournament Capsule. Florida, picked to finished second in the SEC in the league preseason poll, began the season with a rather discombobulated roster. Scottie Wilbekin started the year suspended, Chris Walker was ineligible, and newcomers Dorian Finney-Smith, Kasey Hill, and DeVon Walker all missed time due to injuries. There were even times when Billy Donovan didn’t have enough healthy bodies to scrimmage five-on-five in practice, which made the Gators’ 11-2 non-conference record (which included victories over Kansas, Memphis, and Florida State) a good, if not great, beginning to the season. But Florida was just getting started. With Casey Prather emerging out of nowhere as an All-American candidate and Wilbekin shedding character issues to become one of the best two-way floor generals in the country, Florida ripped off 21 straight victories to seize the SEC regular season and Tournament crowns, leaving a path of destruction in their wake. Not everything was easy – five of those SEC wins came by five points or fewer – but the Gators posted the most impressive regular season in college basketball this season. They were rightfully awarded the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, and entered the Big Dance on a 26-game winning streak.

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Bracket Prep: Florida, Virginia, Michigan State

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 17th, 2014

Championship Week has found its close, but here are a few final short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket this week. None of these titans really needed the “automatic bid” portion of their Tournament title gift package, of course, but with each figuring to play a key role in the weeks ahead, here’s what you need to know about a trio of Championship Week’s final victors.

Florida

Billy Donovan And The Gators Are SEC Champions Twice Over, But Florida Has Their Sights Set On A Greater Prize

Billy Donovan And The Gators Are SEC Champions Twice Over, But Florida Has Their Sights Set On A Greater Prize

  • SEC Champion (32-2, 21-0)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #2/#3/#3
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +16.1
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #1

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. In the final minutes of basketball before the 2014 NCAA Tournament bracket was unveiled, Florida survived Kentucky to claim the SEC crown, complete their 21-game conference sweep, and keep alive a 26-game win streak. Quite a tidy going away package for the Gators, who will enter the Tournament as a #1 seed and among the two or three favorites to cut down the nets in Dallas. The one-point victory Sunday was only the fifth time this season that the Gators have won by three points or less – a testament to the workmanlike attitude that has extended this win streak time and time again.
  2. The Gators led the SEC in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Defensive weaknesses are hard to spot with the Gators, but despite the high overall level of offensive efficiency, there is a weak spot or two that opponents will seek to exploit. Florida’s free throw shooting is shaky (66.2% as a team, 295th nationally), and even primary ballhandlers Scotty Wilbekin (72%), Casey Prather (68%) and Kasey Hill (63%) are anything but sure things at the charity stripe. Three-point shooting isn’t a concern for Florida at first glance – they shoot 37% as a team, 73rd best in the country – but Wilbekin (58 3PM, 40%) and Michael Frazier (107 3PM, 46%) have combined to make over 70% of the team’s three-point field goals. The rest of the team shot just 27% from distance, so if an opponent can find a way to take away looks from either Wilbekin or Frazier – especially the latter, who is strictly a perimeter shooter – things could get pretty one-dimensional for the Gator offense.
  3. Florida is the perfect example of a team that used the entire season to grow into an elite squad. For much of November and December, Billy Donovan was just trying to keep proverbial head above water with his team, as pieces shifted in and out of the Gator lineup. Wilbekin, Prather, Dorian Finney-Smith, Kasey Hill, and Chris Walker all missed time for various reasons, but save for road losses at Wisconsin and Connecticut (and no shame in those, either), the Gators kept on winning. Prather grew into an unlikely All-American candidate, Wilbekin has staked his claim as the best point guard in America, and Frazier is now second to none when it comes to perimeter shooters. None of these things happen without one of the best coaches in the game pressing all the right buttons from the sideline, but Donovan has spent the last four months constructing a team poised for even greater things in the NCAA Tournament. And after winning 26 games in a row en route to a sweep of the SEC titles, that, my friends, is saying something.

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On the Brink of Perfection, Florida Might be More Than “Good”

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 5th, 2014

Brian Joyce filed this report following Tuesday’s Florida vs. South Carolina game from Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, South Carolina.

Following Florida’s first win this season, Billy Donovan quipped that his team wasn’t very good. “We are light-years away from even being a remotely good defensive team right now, light-years away from even being a ranked team.” Fast forward light years ahead to early March, and Florida is good. Maybe more than good.

Billy Donovan wasn't so sure about his Gators at the beginning of the year, but Florida certainly appears to be good now.

Billy Donovan wasn’t so sure about his Gators at the beginning of the year, but Florida certainly appears to be good now.

RTC was in attendance on press row Tuesday night as the #1 team in the nation visited South Carolina, fresh off a home victory over a storied Kentucky program. But there would be no court rushing in Colonial Life Arena on this night. With the Gamecocks down 39-35 and the crowd sensing the possibility that their team could make a run at a second straight win over a ranked team and its second victory ever over college basketball’s top-ranked team, Florida exercised its dominance with a 15-0 run and a 33-11 surge to end the game. It wasn’t always pretty, but Florida did what it needed to get to 17-0 in conference play. And now the Gators sense the opportunity that lies ahead. Senior center Patric Young kept things in perspective by crediting the coaching staff. “We’ve just been trying to take it one game at a time. We have the opportunity to do something that hasn’t been done before, to go 18-0 in conference play.  And just keeping our eyes on the prize, the opportunity to do something great. To be a part of history has motivated us internally. The coaches have pushed us from day one. Laid down the foundation for us to achieve what we are doing today.”

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How Alabama and Florida Can Win Difficult Tuesday Tests

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on December 17th, 2013

The SEC has two important games tipping off at 8:00 PM CST tonight, as Florida takes on Memphis in the Jimmy V Classic in New York and Alabama hosts unbeaten Wichita State in Tuscaloosa. Momentum is building for the Gators after a November full of injuries and suspensions. Highly-touted freshman Chris Walker enrolled in class last weekend, only a few days after Florida knocked off Kansas in Gainesville. Alabama, on the other hand, stands at the precipice. The Tide are only a game over .500, and hard-fought losses to Oklahoma, Duke and Drexel will only be seen as losses come March. A win over a Shockers team that looks primed for another deep run in the NCAA Tournament would be a giant boost heading into conference place. Here’s what each team faces this evening, and what they will need to do to come away with a win.

Memphis vs. Florida, New York, NY

Patric Young should be able to feast on the glass against a small Memphis team.

Patric Young should be able to feast on the glass against a small Memphis team.

What Memphis does best: Active hands. Memphis has created havoc with its perimeter-oriented lineups. The Tigers have four high-quality guards, and they’ve done a good job creating turnovers this season. Joe JacksonMichael DixonGeron Johnson and Chris Crawford each average over 1.4 steals per game, and the team itself is 14th in the nation at forcing miscues (23.3% of possessions). But their most effective configuration has been when big men Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols are paired with three of the guards, allowing Memphis to be more aggressive on the perimeter with the knowledge that the rim is protected underneath.

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