OK, bear with me.
First off, in no way am I comparing this Florida team to that of 2007.
I repeat, in no way am I comparing this Florida team to that of 2007.
The 2007 team was more talented, seemingly more focused and undoubtedly more experienced than this current crop of Gators.
However, it’s hard for me to ignore the similarities between a certain stretch between Florida’s current crop and the national champions of five years ago.
As if anyone needs reminding, the 2012 Gators are 1-2 in their last three games. A heartbreaking 65-64 loss to a top-10 ranked and resurgent Arizona program on Dec. 15, a shaky-from-beginning-to-end five-point defeat to unranked Kansas State on Dec. 22 and a blowout pick-me up victory against Southeastern Louisiana conveniently sandwiched in-between.
Two losses by a total of six points.
A loss on the road, a big win at home, and a loss at a neutral site. When I have I seen this before?
It may have slipped the minds of some, but in 2007, college basketball’s eventual national champions went through an almost identical pre-Christmas rough patch.
In late November of 2006, the Gators dropped a two-point heartbreaker away from the O’Connell Center in Las Vegas against a young Kansas team eager to make its mark nationally. A few days later, Florida took its collective frustrations out on an outmatched Southern University — ironically, also located in the state of Louisiana — at home in a mid-week lopsided victory. The following weekend, the Gators would go on the road against an unranked and motivated Florida State squad who would upset the Gators by four points.
Two losses by a total of six points.
There will be no sort of predictions made here about how this year’s team will add another glimmering crystal basketball to Florida’s trophy case in Gainesville, but the point to be made is that to display any true sense of worry at this stage in the season is premature.
Yes, the Gators allowed a litany of late-game errors to eventually doom them against Arizona, and yes, they played an uninspired contest against Kansas State to force head coach Billy Donovan to question his team’s effort.
However, to drop a few early season games — and even to look bad in doing so — does not necessarily mean this team isn’t as good as some thought it was just two weeks ago.
Florida is still in a very advantageous position to make a deep run in the spring.
Aside from a conference slate which will include only a few true challenges, the Gators have already shown an ability to put pressure on teams defensively, while simultaneously boasting a number of players who can make an impact on the offensive end of the floor.
For Donovan, the hard part is taken care of, as his squad has talent up and down the roster. Florida certainly has had their issues offensively as of late, with poor shooting and a lack of aggression costing them points. But when the Gators play to their potential, they can be very dangerous on both ends of the floor.
The toughest task for Donovan will be getting his team to play up to that potential every week while avoiding critical errors which have cost Florida late in many of its closely-contested games over the past few years.
On the spectrum of season-plaguing issues though, Donovan and his team are certainly at the shallow end, as the Gators’ biggest problems appear to be of the mental variety — a fix that may not necessarily be able to be classified as easy, but is certainly correctable.
The good news for the Gators however, is that the sun has only begun its ascent on their young season.
It doesn’t matter that the team has dropped two winnable games in the early going of the year, and it doesn’t matter how Florida lost them.
Because as history has shown us, it’s not how you start — it’s how you finish.