Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Tonight’s Lede. Even The Mighty Fall On The Road. Every so often, we make logical assumptions about a team’s upcoming schedule. We assume – based on opponent strength, home/road splits and a handful of other variables – that team A will win or lose, and usually, we feel pretty good about it after the fact. There are times when those assumptions make us look pretty silly. Tuesday night, when AP Poll No. 2 and SEC punisher Florida was drilled at Arkansas, was one of those times. It is never wise to jump ahead two or even a single game in the midst of conference play – no matter how lopsided the match-up, and Florida-Arkansas is the best recent example why.
Your Watercooler Moment. Florida just got Florida’d.
Even teams as dominant as Florida have to take heed of tricky road games (Photo credit: AP Photo).
What Florida was doing in SEC play before Tuesday night’s blowout loss at Arkansas wasn’t just impressive in the context of this season. The Gators were setting all-time marks for victory margin, broaching new levels of per-possession dominance and generating serious discussion, rightly or wrongly, whether they could in fact beat one of the most dreadful teams in the NBA. If Florida can’t beat a mediocre team in a downtrodden league, it certainly can’t beat an NBA team. But the larger point here is not about untenable cross-sport comparisons. It’s about tweaking the prevailing belief about Florida’s presumed invincibility in league play. Billy Donovan’s team was embarking on one of the most impressive conference seasons in recent memory, steamrolling through any team it encountered with minimal fuss and showing major improvements throughout. From Patric Young’s improved rebounding and offensive contributions to Scottie Wilbekin’s lockdown defense, this team had the looks of a real national championship challenger. And if we’re being completely honest, the Gators are still all of that – it’s just stunning, really, to not only see them stumble, but stumble in such decisive fashion. The Razorbacks jumped all over the Gators early, at one point opening up a 23-point lead, and never losing a firm grip from then on. You would have expected a team so seasoned on both ends of the court to take that initial punch, absorb the damage and settle down for a big second half. The Gators closed the gap to 11 but never matched Arkansas’ intensity on both ends. I’m not inclined to peg Florida for some massive decline in SEC play, or even expect the Gators to lose many games from here on out. Most teams lose in conference play; we just thought Florida – and rightly so, because the evidence was compelling – was formidable enough to make it through unscathed.
Also Worth Chatting About.Wolverines Begin Four-Game Gauntlet.
After losing at Indiana, Michigan bounced back at home with a huge win (photo credit: AP Photo).
I haven’t seen a four-game stretch as brutal as the one the Wolverines are currently rolling through – the one that had them battling to the final possession in overtime against Ohio State just three days after losing at No. 1 Indiana. Michigan snagged the two-point win it needed, but it didn’t come as easy as some might have expected. Aaron Craft hounded Trey Burke for 40 minutes, LaQuinton Ross gave the Buckeyes a real lift off the bench with 16 points, and Michigan needed every last ounce of effort to scrape out a two-point victory despite shooting 58 percent from beyond the arc. The Buckeyes play the best defense in the Big Ten (0.90 points per possession), and as we saw Tuesday night, the offense is coming along. If Ross, Lenzelle Smith Jr. or Sam Thompson can develop into a reliable second scorer – or at least produce like a reliable No. 2 guy in the aggregate – alongside DeShaun Thomas, the Buckeyes are something like a threat to make a dark horse run at the Big Ten title. They delivered one of the better performances all season against one of the best teams in the country; losing is no knock on the Buckeyes’ progress to date. For Michigan, beating OSU was just as much a singular triumph as it was a tune-up fixture: Within the next week, John Beilein’s group faces a brutal Wisconsin-Michigan State road double.
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