VETTEL: Mid-Season SEC Musings

The Gators have begun the second half of the SEC schedule with a win at Georgia, remaining undefeated in the conference with nine straight wins. In what many believe is the most balanced SEC in history, Florida is two games ahead of the pack and in search of their fourth SEC Championship and just their second outright title.

Meanwhile only Alabama in the SEC West is above the .500 mark (and just barely at 5-and-4). SEC teams continue to dominate at home and the Eastern Division maintains a lopsided advantage in head-to-head competition with the squads from out west. Now on to this week’s musings:

Balance sets Gators apart —– There are 30 players in the SEC averaging twelve-plus points per game in conference play. While no school has more than three players in this group, the entire Gator starting five is part of the party. Noah (14.6), Humphrey (14.1), Green (13.6), Brewer (12.4) and Horford (12.4) make Florida the hardest team in the league to prepare for.

Gators dominate the numbers —– As you would suspect, Florida tops the SEC with a 15 points per game margin of victory in SEC games. The Gators are also the league’s top rebounding team, grabbing 6.1 more than their opponents each night. Florida leads the SEC in scoring, field goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage. The Gators trail only Kentucky in scoring defense and field goal percentage defense.

Bye-you Bengals —– LSU came into the season as a top ten team coming off a Final Four appearance and with the reigning SEC Player of the Year in Glenn Davis. After losing to Tennessee Tuesday, the Tigers find themselves 2-and-7, tied for last place and in serious danger of missing the Big Dance. The problem is on offense where they are next to last in scoring and assist/turnover ratio. Everyone knew they would miss Tyrus Thomas on the inside, but the big problem is the absence of under-appreciated guard Darrel Mitchell.

Home is still where the wins are —– The total dominance of home teams has lapsed a little bit, but the dominance is still pretty impressive. Through last weekend, SEC home teams are 36-and-14 for a .720 winning percentage. The Gators will be attempting to buck the trend in the second half of the season with five games away from the O’Connell Center. And Florida is off to a good start with the win in Athens. However, none of the remaining road trips (Lexington, Nashville, Baton Rouge and Knoxville) can be considered a gimme. When you keep in mind the Gators end the season at home against Kentucky, Florida will play four of the next six in front of hostile crowds. And in most of those games they’ll be facing a team that desperately needs a significant win.

West remains worst —– The good news for the Western Division was that they split with the East last week thanks to South Carolina losing to Auburn and Alabama. The bad news is the West is now eleven games behind the East, having won just six of 23 games. Those records won’t change any time soon. There are no East/West games this weekend. There are 13 such games remaining and the West would have to win ALL of them to finish the season with a winning inter-divisional record.

Midway All-SEC —– I would put three Gators on the first team All-SEC based on conference play to this point. Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Taurean Green have all been among the best in the league and their teammates Corey Brewer and Lee Humphrey would be second-team picks. I would take Kentucky’s Joe Crawford and Derrick Byars of Vandy for the other two spots. Byars (19.1) and Crawford (18.8) are the top two scorers in conference play and have been crucial to their teams staying within hailing distance of the front-running Gators. As far as I’m concerned Green is making a heckuva case for Player of the Year honors, but if Horford plays the last seven games the way he has played the last seven, he’d get my vote.