The Mark Miller Report: Gators can win it all

The SEC Basketball Tournament is this weekend. I plan to see Florida’s first game in person today and will see how the weekend plays out from there. I would certainly love to be able to watch the Gators cut down the nets in Atlanta.

There is no debating that this has been an incredible season for Gator basketball. As much as I loved watching the 0h Fours play, I think I’ve enjoyed watching this scrappy “team” gut out wins even more. I love their poise. They never seem to get flustered even during their coldest stretches. They seem to truly believe that if they just keep doing what they know they are supposed to do things will end well.

Gator fans should do everything they can to relax and enjoy this SEC tournament. Because, let’s face it, once the NCAA tournament starts, Gator fans everywhere will be holding their collective breath through each game desperate to survive and advance. No matter how unreasonable a stance it may be, anything less than a Final Four appearance will seem like a huge disappointment after the season Florida basketball has just completed.

That said, this really would seem to be the perfect tournament team. The Gators get excellent guard play, especially from point guard Scottie Wilbekin. Freshman Kasey Hill gives Florida another guard who can handle the ball and create his own offense. Michael Frazier II and Devon Walker provide three point threats that require defenses to defend outside the line. Casey Prather and Dorian Finney-Smith are both scoring threats at forward while Will Yeguete sets the tempo on defense. Add Patric Young who has turned in his best play at center down the stretch this season and this is a team with the depth and versatility to do everything it takes to win tournament basketball.

And then there is Billy Donovan. Donovan has taken his team to the national championship game three times. He has gotten the Gators to the Elite Eight each of the last three seasons. The man clearly knows how to coach in the tournament. He brings his best team since the 04s into this tournament as almost certainly a #1 seed. Even a first round loss in the SEC tournament is unlikely to knock the Gators out of a #1 seed. Winning the SEC tournament would place Florida firmly as the top overall seed.  Billy should find his team with a decent path to the Final Four.

Donovan is a master of keeping his players on an even keel. That is important in tournament play. Knowing that a loss means the end to their season can make a team tighten up if they find themselves trailing in the Big Dance. Playing tight is disastrous in basketball. I see no chance that this team will react that way to adversity. They have not done it at any point all season. I expect a Gator team that comes into every game with a business as usual approach and remains that way even if they are trailing late in a game.

This is a team that has played in a lot of games that were close late and found a way to win and keep their streak alive. That experience will be extremely valuable over the next few weeks. Poise and defense is what it will take to win a national championship. Both are areas where the Gators have excelled. Anything can happen in March as we have seen year after year, but this Gator team should (barring injury) go into the NCAA tournament as well positioned to win it all as any I can remember. That said, I would be lying if I denied that I will be heavily stressed for the next few weeks.

I will pick Frazier as the pivotal player from here on out. If he is hitting his threes, the offense opens up for everyone. Defenses will be forced to come out every time he touches the ball which will allow for scoring in the paint. As long as Frazier stays hot and Young stays out of foul trouble, I like this Gator team to cut down the net with One Shining Moment playing in the background.