VETTEL: Gators Face Unfriendly Road Trip

One fourth of the way through the SEC season it’s clear that road wins in the league will be few and far between. Thus far, just five road wins have been claimed in 27 SEC contests. All five road wins have been claimed by Eastern Division teams (Kentucky (2), Florida, Georgia and Vanderbilt). The SEC West is an astounding 0-and-14 away from home.

Chances are that slump will end Wednesday night when Arkansas visits woeful South Carolina. Meanwhile the Gators (17-and-2, 4-and-0) face a pair of roadies this week, taking on Mississippi State in Starkville on Wednesday before heading to Auburn for a game with the Tigers Saturday evening.

One of the biggest factors in not being able to win on the road is often tied to officiating. Road teams generally have a tougher time getting to the free throw line. For example, the Gators have averaged eleven more free throw attempts than its opponents in three home games, but the one road game saw Florida at the line two fewer times than the Gamecocks of South Carolina. That’s a switch of 13 attempts. For another example, check out Alabama. At home the Crimson Tide shoots 24 free throws, but on the road just 15. That’s a difference of nine per game in conference play.

I’m not accusing officials of being overly affected by home crowds, though that is certainly part of the equation. The larger part, in my view has to do with energy and effort. Teams that play harder and with more passion generally get the benefit of a favorable whistle. Think back to the Ole Miss game. Sure, the Rebels hacked the Gator quite a bit with their press, but their effort was rewarded as the whistles fell silent despite being the road team.

The moral of our story: when you travel in the SEC you better come out of the locker room with a commitment to compete as hard as you can.

Gators Recent History Strong

Over the past seven-plus seasons Florida has been just about as good as anyone in the SEC in terms of success away from home. Florida’s 35 road wins over that time trails only Kentucky (39) for the best mark in the league. In fact, Florida and Kentucky are the only SEC teams above the .500 mark in conference road games over that span. Third best, LSU has just 21 wins in hostile environments as opposed to 37 losses. Three teams (Auburn, Arkansas and Ole Miss) have just ten road wins in more than seven years.

Last year Florida won the NCAA Tournament, but the Gators were just an average team away from home, posting a 4-and-4 record in SEC road contests. The Gators posted wins at Georgia, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Kentucky. They came up short at Tennessee, South Carolina, Alabama and Arkansas. This team’s ability to win the SEC Title is likely to come down to whether or not they win more SEC road games than they lose. That’s what makes this week so important. A 2-and-0 week would leave the Gators a perfect 3-and-0 on the road with five conference trips to go.

Billy Donovan on Week Ahead

“We started off with our first three out of four (conference games) at home, and now we’re gonna go to two teams right now this week that are very competent teams. They are teams that have great confidence at home. They’re older, they’re experienced, and these are going to be very difficult environments to go in to.

Donovan on playing Miss. State in Starkville

“This is going to be a game where you have to play through some things. It’s going to be an emotional level for Mississippi State that we’re going to have to match or weather or handle to start the game. We’re going to have to settle in. There are certain times when teams are at an incredible emotional level. It’s hard to keep it at that levelfor 40 minutes, but they come out at that level and that place is going to be energized. We’ve got to keep our mind f ocused in on every possession and what we need to and we need to rely on each other.” Mississippi State (11-and-6, 2-and-2) is a good team. You’ve got Jamont Gordon (15.1 points, 7.7 rebounds) who basically started every game last year as a freshman and he’s a really talented player. Charles Rhodes (11.7/6.5) is another gifted player. They just have a lot of experienced guys; they have good, talented players.

Donovan on SEC Home Team Dominance

It’s just hard to win on the road in this league, it’s really, really difficult. You try to go out there and play to the best of your ability. There are things you’ve got to do; certainly making shots is something that always makes you look like you’re playing well on the road. But what it’s going to come down to is toughness, hustle plays, defense and giving yourself an opportunity, putting yourself in a position to win.”

Last year the Gators handled Mississippi State in the O’Connell Center 75-60, but that score is deceptive. Florida led by just three at the half (35-32) as they failed to match the physical play of the Bulldogs. Taurean Green hit five three-pointers while Corey Brewer knocked down ten free throws to lead the Gators to the win. State ended up out-rebounding the Gators by six in front of the home folks, but offset that advantage with 24 turnovers. This is going to be a physical game again, especially for the Gator back court and how they respond will determine whether or not this team remains the only unbeaten in SEC play.