The national pundits are starting to tell us that this isn't the most talented team in the country, but it may be the best team in the country. With the loss of Syracuse on Wednesday and if the Gators win on Saturday at Ole Miss, they very well may be propelled into the number one spot in the polls.
It is a testament to the hard work these guys have done, but it also puts expectations on a club that isn't perfect, and has a couple of issues that are facing them as they head to tournament time.
The most dangerous element of this team in terms of staying on the winning track is lack of depth. They have been an injury plagued bunch, usually of the minor variety, but several players on the squad have missed playing time due to ijjuries of one sort or another.
The front court depth from the bench consists of freshman Chris Walker who has only played a hand full of minutes in a few games after finally being cleared to play, junior walk-on Jacob Kurtz who plays about 10 minutes a game, and sophomore Dorian Finney-Smith who could be a starter. This isn't a slight against these guys; it is just the truth about the lack of depth in the front court.
The backcourt isn't much better and it seems between senior Scottie Wilbekin, freshman Kasey Hill, and sophomore DeVon Walker, someone is usually missing from the lineup. They have combined to miss 13 games so far and Hill is missing out of the lineup right now.
When they are all healthy we know how good they can be, but when a piece or two is missing, we also see that they are a tired bunch at the end of games and also leaves coach Billy Donovan with fewer options off the bench if someone isn't playing well.
The other issue this team faces is the three-point line. It has always been a staple of Donovan's teams and they don't call it "the great equalizer" for nothing. In Florida's case they have issues on both sides of the ball. The Gators rank 144th nationally at 33.7% in defending the 3-point line and they rank 175th nationally at 34.1% in shooting from the 3-point line.
This is a problem only when they run into a team that is shooting it hot and Michael Frazier and /or Wilbekin are off. However, their inability to guard the line well means teams are going to shoot it a little better against them than they normally do against anyone else.
These are the two major flaws of this team. Luckily they are maybe the only two flaws on this team.
These guys do so many things well and it comes from having four seniors on the court that have played together for four years. They interact on the court without a sound at times. In the Auburn game on Wednesday we watched back-to-back alley-oop dunks from Wilbekin to Patric Young and then Wilbekin to Prather. They sometimes seem to be an extension of each other.
It is a team of role players. Where else will you find a top-five team who's leading scorer is putting in 16 points a game and a year earlier averaged just six.
They pass well, they pick for each other, they are good in the full court press, they rebound well, and they do so many things that show up in stats. These are all the makings of an unselfish bunch that only cares about winning games. And it is paying off in big ways.
With five games left and a 24-2 overall record, the Gators are just two wins away from tying the 06-07 national championship team's school record of 26 regular season wins. They hold a three game lead over Kentucky for the regular season SEC title, and can finish no lower than second in the conference. Again, that is with nearly a third of the conference schedule left to play.
Why do I say all of this? Because at any fleeting moment come tournament time, it could all end. A bad night shooting while the opponent rips the nets, or an injury or two because this team plays so hard, could lead to a disappointing loss and end to the season.
That is why we need to embrace this team. Understand their accomplishments and the hard work that seniors Casey Prather, Scottie Wilbekin, Will Yeguete, and Patric Young have worked so hard to do to get to this point.
We need to understand that despite a schedule that included playing at Wisconsin, at UConn, at Kentucky, Kansas at home, and Memphis at home, and going 3-2 despite injuries and suspensions, this team has persevered to where they are because of all of their work to do so.
And, we need to enjoy this team while we can.