Gators rise above SEC perception
With Florida pegged as a mortal lock to re-enter the top-5 of the national rankings this week for the first time since December, arguably college basketball’s best-kept secret has begun its ascension back into the national spotlight.
Legions of college basketball fans are beginning to familiarize themselves with Florida’s hoops squad after roughly two straight weeks of thorough conference demolition. The manner in which UF has bulldozed its opponents in its first six SEC contests hasn’t been seen in quite sometime by the Florida faithful, as even the hallowed squads of 2006 and 2007 failed to put together a league run quite this impressive in terms of margin of victory.
The Gators have beaten their first six SEC opponents by an average of 26.5 points, and the way in which Florida has gone about besting one opponent after another is no closely guarded secret.
Florida has used stingy defense, strong rebounding, stingy defense, good passing, stingy defense, efficient offense and stingy defense to frustrate its league opponents so far this season.
Entering this previous week, the Gators were third in the nation in scoring defense at 51.4 points per game, and were first in kenpom.com’s ranking for adjusted defensive efficiency — which according to the website, is “an estimate of the defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) a team would have against the average D-1 offense.”
Florida’s defensive prowess may have caught a few onlookers off-guard, but the Gators’ team identity was apparent from the dawn of the season, which coach Billy Donovan expressed way back when in October during his first press conference of the year.
“From a coaching perspective, you look at your team, and I think the one thing that is clear right from the get-go is we have incredible potential defensively,” Donovan said three months ago. “We need to really, really capitalize on our ability potentially defensively.”
Well it appears as if the Gators are beginning to capitalize on that ability. With their 82-47 win against Mississippi State on Saturday, the 35-point victory marked the 10th time this season the Gators have held an opponent to less than 50 points, and the fourth time since starting SEC play.
While some Florida fans are mulling over a name for Florida’s clamping group of defenders (Suggested Names for Florida’s Defense), the only other argument which remains is can the Gators keep up this torrid stretch for the rest of the regular season?
The overwhelming belief at this time is a resounding “yes,” as Florida is not only the beneficiary of that lock-down defense and efficient offense, but also lack threatening foes on its conference schedule.
Although the Gators will see a slight upswing in terms of competition when they take on Ole Miss, Tennessee and Kentucky in the coming weeks, the body of work may not be as impressive to some onlookers when the overall perception of the SEC — with as few as two or three teams selected to the NCAA tournament — is as down as it’s been in years.
“I’ve said this before, one of the things that’s hard is your reputation of the league gets built in November and December,” Donovan said last week. “If you look at the teams in our league, Kentucky has a brand new team, Vanderbilt has a brand new team, South Carolina with new coach and LSU with a new coach. You’ve got a lot of different things that are going on early in the season for a lot of different teams.
“What ends up happening, by what you do in November and December, you get labeled through January and February. I don’t know if you ever get out of that stigma, so to speak. I think it’s unfair … Here it is the middle to end of March for Selection Sunday; they’re talking about a game that took place back in November.”
Although the league as a whole is struggling, the Gators are off to a red-hot start with no signs of slowing down. Florida’s mid-week game with Frank Martin’s South Carolina squad could prove to be somewhat interesting, but chances are the Gators’ next test will come at the end of the week against co-conference leader Ole Miss.
The Rebels have been a pleasant surprise this season and the Gators are in dire need of a tough test.
If they keep passing them however, it’s going to be harder and harder to question just how strong these Gators really are.
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