Gators hope to thrive in weak SEC

The Florida Gators basketball team will reach the halfway point of its season this week, following a Jan. 15 matchup on the road against Texas A&M.

Up until this point in the season, the SEC has struggled to keep pace with some of the other power conferences in the country. Kentucky’s struggles have brought the conference down a notch and the Wildcats have already lost four more games this season than their entire 2011-2012 season.

Vanderbilt, champions of last year’s SEC Tournament, are 6-8 on the season. If organized by overall records, Ole Miss stands atop the SEC with a 13-2 record and the Rebels are even ranked in the top 25.

All of this points to an important second half of the season for the Gators. Looking ahead at Florida’s schedule, this week’s upcoming games against Texas A&M and Missouri seem to be the toughest week remaining for the Gators.

Over the years, the conference schedule has always been a tumultuous road for UF coach Billy Donovan and his team.

Last year, the Gators suffered losses against Tennessee (twice), Georgia, Vanderbilt and Kentucky (twice). Two years ago, the Gators fell to South Carolina and Mississippi State.

Even in the two national championship seasons, the Gators lost six conference games in 2005-06 and three games in 2006-07.

The purpose of this article is by no means to argue this 2012-13 team should be better than those two national championship teams and two Elite Eight squads, but that this Florida team has an unique opportunity.

With a weaker SEC this season and a Gators team that has been ranked in the top 15 all season, this group of players has the unique opportunity to dominate their conference and there really is no excuse for the Gators not to do that this year.

Although the offense can disappear at times, Florida’s defense is one of the best in the nation, hands down. The Gators only allow 52 points per game, which is tops in the SEC.

Despite the injury bug plaguing the team, the Gators can still run seven or eight players and maintain a high talent level on the court. The team balances a strong core of experienced upperclassmen along with a few freshmen that can make contributions when needed.

The Gators will still have tough tests in the SEC this season, specifically road games against Missouri and Kentucky, but the first two and a half months of the season have shown Florida is playing better basketball than either of those teams. A strong defense should also make it easier for the Gators to put away inferior opponents, something they have struggled to do in past seasons.

There’s obviously no guarantees in college basketball, especially in conference play, but Florida has the opportunity to improve and firmly establish itself as the best team in the SEC and one of the best teams in the nation.

If they play the way they should, the Gators have the talent, coaching staff and experience to follow through on these expectations and get them in prime position for a high tournament seed come March.

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Drew is a senior at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. When not at school, Drew resides in Lakeland, Fla. Ever since working on his high school yearbook, Drew has had an interest in pursuing a journalism career after college. In addition to being Editor-in-Chief of his school newspaper, The Samford Crimson, Drew has also been with Gator Country as an intern for one year. He enjoys the finer things in life like Tampa Bay Rays baseball and always making sure to make fun of the Atlanta Braves to Andrew Spivey’s face.