Currently, that ladder is the one that puts them one rung below the No. 1 ranking in the nation in both polls. The way the Gators are playing at this point in the season, it may also lead to some other ladders, specifically the ones that lead to the rims at the Nashville and Bridgestone Arena, the site of an NCAA Tournament Regional Final and maybe even the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. That’s where the nets will be cut down after some team or teams win the SEC tournament, punch a ticket to the Final Four and claim the crystal basketball trophy for winning the NCAA tournament.
All look to be well within Florida’s grasp. Not just conceptually, but in artifacts that were analyzed and presented here in this column last week — a win streak deep into a conference schedule by astounding average winning percentage — a statistic that since the writing of that column has been picked up and run with on the national sports talk, highlight shows and the Gators game national broadcasts as well. I don’t think they are all subscribers to Gator Country, but we just spotted the pattern and its importance first. The many media outlets across the country that have started to take serious note of Florida’s prospects at winning a third national title have added some equally compelling and telling stats to the profile, such as scoring efficiency — points per possession — for instance, and noted the very short list of other programs in the same company (all won a national title, too).
One reason these statistical phenomena have been picked up and run with by the national media is that since my initial observations of this impressive winning streak ran in this space, the Gators have logged three more slap-yo-mamma beat downs of previously respected conference foes. Through dizzying offense and smothering defense, the Gators have dispatched Mississippi State, South Carolina and Mississippi in embarrassing fashion.
Something that has marked most of the games in the current streak of domination is just how fast and how big the Gators start the game and build an initial lead. They have been putting games away before the opposition is even getting limber. To wit, the Gators have run away with most games before the opposition even breaks into double digits. For instance, ranked Missouri didn’t surpass the 10-point mark until there was 8:46 left in the first half, and by that time Florida had already scored 26. It took Mississippi State until 6:56 was left in the half to top ten points, by which time the Gators had 31. In the first Georgia game, it took the Bulldogs more than 15 minutes to break the 10-point ceiling, and they were already down by two touchdowns to the Gators 24 points. And finally of course, the ranked Gamecocks of South Carolina couldn’t manage more than ten points until there was 17:30 left … in the SECOND half. Florida already had 41 at the time. Over the eight-game SEC schedule thus far, it has taken on average nine minutes for the opposition to break the ten point barrier, and by that time the Gators have already scored on average over 21 points. So just a quarter of the way into the game, Florida has already more than doubled up the SEC competition and has put it on cruise control. That’s one reason all eight games were such commanding wins.
The Gators have also been shutting down the opposition’s leading scorer while they continue to spread their production around so that no team can contain them by concentrating on just one player. Against Ole Miss, the star scorer on the opposite bench had a big night for the first time this season again the Florida defense, but Gators actually did exactly what they intended to do. They defended him very well, both with and without the ball, contained him and frustrated him into taking a bevy of very poorly conceived shots. The only trouble is that he kept making them. Well into the first half Florida was giving Ole Miss scoring phenom Marshall Henderson fits and eventually forced him to start taking wild, off-balance, hotly contested shots from bad spots on the court at bad times in the shot clock. But miraculously they somehow kept falling in. He had more prayers answered that night than the Make a Wish Foundation. It is a testament to the Gator team that someone like Henderson was having a special, magical kind of night that would otherwise put teams in position to pull of ridiculous upsets, but Ole Miss was never even a mild threat in the game.
Boynton Bouncing Back
Despite the Gators’ ability to demolish quality foes while Kenny Boynton is mired in a shooting slump, one of the keys to making a deep tourney run is to get Boynton’s shot back to form. Although Boynton was able to elevate his shooting mechanics and percentage last year, this slump in retrospect should have been anticipated. It has taken him some time to settle into his new floor leadership role, and the new focus has caused him to lose focus on his shot. However, the development in his new role and the continued adjustment to his responsibilities has helped him become more comfortable on the floor of late. Everyone can be taught how to shoot the right way, but the mental focus and chilled nerves have to be there when the game is live. I think he had too much new on his plate to maintain his shot focus. It appears as if he has taken it back, and his confidence level on the floor is once again palpable.
Florida has guys in the past like Brett Nelson and Dan Werner who lost their shot and never got it back because I believe they experienced a mental blockade. Once you go Steve Sax on your stroke, you are in a lot of trouble. I never thought that was Boynton ‘s issue. His resurgence and re-capturing his shot, proper stroke and release mechanics, seems to support this theory, which bodes very well for the money segment of the Florida basketball season.
The Tebowphobia across the National Football League is really bizarre.
It is as if no team’s front office saw what he did for the previously bottom-feeding Broncos (and then when the “greatest football player in history” was to come and carry the team to a world title, Peyton Manning fell short of what Tebow did: leading them to the playoffs AND actually winning a game in the postseason).
I know the potential for hype overload and quarterback controversy is not a small thing, but that never stopped teams from standing in line for other controversy magnets like Randy Moss, Ocho-feces, etc., when they were in their prime as Tebow is now. Only all their hype and controversy was negative, whereas most of Tebow’s is positive.
Jacksonville of course leads the parade of oddity. They are literally saying, “Yes we are a floundering franchise that can’t sell tickets and are perpetually on the bubble of sale, relocation and/or contraction, but we absolutely REFUSE to make a cheap and risk-free move of signing one guy who will guarantee home sellouts every week for at least a year or two! And you can’t make us!”
National Signing Day Predictions
Recruiting Guru Extraordinaire Andrew Spivey today laid out his five expected additions to this class, and I have all five of them on my list as well, along with one surprise addition. Until the very recent development of Tanner McEvoy dropping us down his list because of the probability of never having a chance to start at Florida behind Driskel, I had him as a sixth predicted signee for Wednesday.
Here is my list of expected additions to the class ranked in terms of my confidence level in garnering their signature on a Florida Letter of Intent, in descending order:
1) James Clark: I think he’s been leaning toward us for a few weeks and as Clark pointed out in interviews with Gator Country staff, had his eyes opened wide in terms of the program, his early playing time opportunity and especially Florida’s academics and business school prestige on his visit over the weekend. Also, he spent his whole Ohio State visit weekend tweeting pictures of horrifying snow storms and dank, gloomy snow-enveloped cityscapes in and about Columbus, giving hints about something on which he couldn’t help but focus, IMO: the horrendous weather and the glaring difference between that and the warm, sunny skies of Gainesville.
2) Jalen Ramsey: This is the prospect of the five that Andrew feels least confident of signing. I am only feeling confident with him because, while Andrew (very smartly) gave strong consideration to the recent silence from the Ramsey camp and the fact that anything could be happening behind closed doors … I am (quite foolishly) basing my confidence on what I felt when the Ramsey camp went dark. I felt all the signs were there that he was all Gator and only keeping things hush-hush to preserve the sanctity of his National Signing Day announcement ceremony. I think every team feels strongly about getting his signature because he is so respectful and courteous on his visits that he gives every staff the impression they lead for his services. However, he has no reason to be deferential to all programs when he is talking with his friends and teammates, one of whom accidentally tweeted his choice of Florida, only to immediately delete the tweet and defer to Jalen’s assertion that he was still undecided. Even knowing all of that, he may not have been sold on Florida back then — this I know. And knowing that even if he were decided on Florida then, everything could have changed 100 percent and 180 degrees since then, and this could be upside-down by now, I’ll still go with my last known informed confidence level, because it makes me feel better.
3) Tashawn Bower: It’s like the Iocane Powder showdown in The Princess Bride. Since Florida is on a meteoric rise and Auburn is in a death spiral and just replaced its entire coaching staff, only a great fool would choose the Tigers over the Gators; and bower is not a great fool, so he can clearly not choose the Letter of Intent in front of Auburn. But perhaps I am falling victim to one of the classic blunders: the most famous of which is, “Never get involved in a land war in Asia;” but only slightly less well-known is this: “Never go against a Murphy’s Law when the mind and decision making process of a TEENAGER is on the line! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha-……” (THUMP!)
4) Jay-Nard Bostwick: We got the last visit, he loved the visit and he knows we have the biggest need. Also, Miami is a burning ship sinking in a sea of molten lava, and the Crimson Tide vibe seems to have cooled a good bit with him lately.
5) Jarran Reed: Whenever Bama is involved these days, nothing is certain. But I share Andrew’s interpretation of recent events (de-commitment from and elimination of Ole Miss, Alabama looking good for the recent Texas de-commit at the same position that they have higher on their board, possibly no room left in the Crimson Tide’s signing class, etc.) to be that we are in far better shape for him than we were, say, last week.
The final addition to our current list of commitments is a complete surprise that few saw coming. There is a trio of players that I have in mind, and I will list them in my post-signing day column, but not here because I don’t want anything out there that could create a negative impact on any of those kids signing with Florida. I will say that two of them are currently committed elsewhere and one is uncommitted … publicly, at least.
We shall see how it all falls out (or into place) on Wednesday. It should prove to be an exciting day for all Gators and one we may be celebrating well into the next four to five years. Until then, remember that every day is a gift, that’s why they call it the present.