VETTEL: Loss To Kansas Doesn’t Hurt

It has been thirty years since the Indiana Hoosiers ran the table, finishing the season with a perfect 27-and-0 record and NCAA Tournament Champs. In the three decades since a number of teams have threatened to match that feat and several even entered the tournament undefeated. But there has not been an undefeated national champ since that Indiana team.

That might have been a goal for this Gator Basketball team. If it was, it’s one goal that won’t be reached.

Saturday night’s 82-80 overtime loss to Kansas out in Las Vegas was a very interesting game against one of the nation’s best teams. And it was played in the most hostile “neutral” site I’ve ever been in. It was a game that showed Florida’s vulnerabilities and serves as a reminder for the defending champs of what can happen when they get away from what makes them special.

Guys Played Well, “Team” Didn’t

Taurean Green scored a season high 25 points. Joakim Noah scored 17 and was 7-for-9 from the field. Corey Brewer scored 11 and added six rebounds, while Lee Humphrey popped in 16. Al Horford scored nine points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked three shots despite foul trouble. Yes, all five Gators posted pretty good numbers; but the Gator basketball team did not play well at all.

Florida had won 17 straight games and defense had been the primary reason. Well Saturday night, the defense rested. Florida gave up a ton of easy baskets and in so doing allowed Kansas to shoot 54 percent from the field. Only one Florida opponent has topped that shooting percentage in more than two years. That lack of defensive intensity let Kansas score several key baskets with relatively little resistance. One good pass and it seemed someone had a lay-up or dunk.

While the Gators shot the ball reasonably well (45 %) the “team” did not play well with the ball. Florida entered the game averaging 21 assists a game, but had just nine against the Jayhawks. Taurean Green, he of the aforementioned 25 points had just one assist from his point guard position. Thus the Gators took eight more “threes” than they usually do. It’s never a good thing for the Gator offense when Al Horford and Joakim Noah combine for fewer field goal attempts (17) than Green has (19).

Another aspect of playing as a “team” is getting significant contributions from the bench. That didn’t happen against Kansas as Florida reserves combined to score two points in 51 minutes of action. Chris Richard had those points, along with five rebounds and three assists, but Walter Hodge looked more like the confused freshman he was a year ago today rather than the much-improved sophomore he’s been the first six games.

Giving Kansas Credit

Despite Florida’s shortcomings you have to give credit to Kansas for its performance in knocking off the nation’s top-ranked squad. As I wrote here about six weeks ago, the Jayhawks were my pick for number two at the start of the season. Nothing I saw in Vegas changes that view. Florida may well have faced the best team it will see this year. Forwards Julian Wright and Darrell Arthur were able to match Florida’s athleticism in the front court and combined for 40 points and 19 rebounds. Small Forward Brandon Rush is the best all around player in the nation at his position and the backcourt of Russell Robinson and Mario Chalmers is excellent.

Kansas seems to be a better team when they go “small” and leave 6’10” center Sasha Kaun on the bench. They also seem to have shaken off the disciplinary dismissal of C.J. Giles and rallied as a unit. They are well coached and tough to match up with and will certainly be one of the top teams come tournament time.

Loss Does No Harm

College basketball is a bizarre sport in that it has an end of the year tournament to decide its champion. Isn’t that weird? Anyway, that fact means that games like Florida/Kansas are win/win affairs that do no real damage to the loser of the contest. Florida got a much needed reminder about what can happen when you play like five guys instead of playing like one team. They got to experience a tough opponent in a tough setting and took that opponent to overtime.

The pre-conference schedule still has some potential pot holes with games against Florida State, Providence, Ohio State and UAB all capable of challenging Florida to raise its level of play. Look for the Gators to meet those challenges.