Maybe it’s time to call this Florida basketball team exactly what it is – a bunch of overachievers who might be hitting the wall after playing a lot of very good teams to the wire this year. Hustle and hard work on the defensive end of the floor have made the Gators competitive but sometimes you reach that point where hustle and hard work aren’t enough. Over the course of a long season, sometimes you get to that point where there is very little left in the tank.
That’s what the Gators looked like Tuesday night at the O-Dome when they dropped an 87-74 decision to a good, but certainly not great Vanderbilt team. Florida played lead footed, slow to react defense and that’s all Vandy needed to make shot after uncontested shot. The Commodores shot 57.3 percent from the floor overall and 50% from the 3-point line.
Give Vandy credit for being able to knock down uncontested shots – something the Gators haven’t exactly mastered this year – but the Commodores should have never had as many wide open looks as they had. You have to wonder how well Vandy would have shot if the perimeter defenders had been able to stick hands in the faces of the shooters. This was a very beatable team the Gators played, but instead of an 18th win that would have solidified their resume, the Gators took a beatdown loss.
With the exception of about three games, the Gators have played good enough defense to keep games close. The difference between the 17-11 the Gators are and the 23-5 they probably should be right now is a few missed layups, more than a few missed free throws and a few nights when the Gators couldn’t hit the 3-ball ocean if they were standing on the end of the pier. For the most part, defense has never been the problem. At 17-11 with bad offense and a defense that might be ready to crack, the Gators look a whole lot like a team that’s going to spend March in the Nobody’s Interested Tournament (NIT), playing some directional school that feels it has plenty to prove because it got ignored by the big dance selection committee.
At 23-5, Florida would be a top ten team and one that has a shot at a top four seed.
It’s a razor thin margin the Gators have been working with this whole season and for razor thin to translate into victories it’s taken kamikaze dedication to defense. Tuesday night kamikaze defense bore the look of minds that are willing but feet that won’t cooperate. Yet, even without the signature defensive effort, Florida still had a chance to win the game.
A chance that slipped away when, unlike Vandy, the Gators couldn’t knock down wide open shots from the perimeter that would have turned the crowd rabid and made life hell the last five minutes of the game for the Commodores.
When Vandy was able to all but shut out Dorian Finney-Smith and KeVaughn Allen, it also exposed Florida’s overall lack of talent and that has plenty to do with why this team might have finally hit the wall. Beyond Finney-Smith and Allen, there isn’t a go-to guy on the roster, no one capable of carrying the rest of the team with his offense. The SEC might not be the best conference in the country, but all the good teams have more than two guys that can carry the team when they get hot.
Here is hard charging reality: Florida has maybe 3-4 guys whose games have developed enough to play at the highest level. All the rest have to hope their hustle and willingness to play as hard as they can every night can somehow make up for that lack of talent.
It’s too late for the Gators to infuse some talent into the roster this year. Next year the roster will stay virtually the same unless Mike White can add an SEC-ready graduate transfer or someone on the roster has an epiphany moment and his game develops at warp speed. The Gators will have to once again rely on overachieving and hustle and hope it’s good enough to get over the hump in close games and avoid games like the one against Vandy when a good but not great team looked like world beaters because UF had hit a wall.
SEC MEN’S BASKETBALL STANDINGS
1. Kentucky (21-7, 11-4 SEC)
T2. South Carolina (22-5, 9-5 SEC)
T2. Texas A&M (20-7, 9-5 SEC)
T4. Vanderbilt (17-11, 9-6 SEC)
T4. LSU (16-12, 9-6 SEC)
T6. FLORIDA (17-11, 8-7 SEC)
T6. Ole Miss (18-10, 8-7 SEC)
8. Georgia (14-11, 7-7 SEC)
T9. Alabama (16-11, 7-8 SEC)
T9. Arkansas (14-14, 7-8 SEC)
11. Tennessee (13-14, 6-8 SEC)
12. Mississippi State (12-14, 5-9 SEC)
13. Auburn (10-16, 4-10 SEC)
14. Missouri (10-18, 3-12 SEC)
Tuesday scores: Vanderbilt 87, Florida 84; Kentucky 78, Alabama 53; Arkansas 85, LSU 65; Ole Miss 85, Missouri 76
Wednesday’s games: Georgia at Auburn; Mississippi State at Texas A&M; Tennessee at South Carolina
GATORS POUND OUT 12-4 WIN OVER EASTERN MICHIGAN
The Gators used Tuesday night to flex some muscle at the plate as they scored 11 runs in the first four innings and then cruised to a 12-4 win over Eastern Michigan at McKethan Stadium. Florida got a 2-double, 4-RBI night from Peter Alonso, the first homer of the year by J.J. Schwarz and a combined 4 hits by the two guys at the top of the batting order (Dalton Gurthrie and Buddy Reed).
The #1-ranked Gators (4-0) face Eastern Michigan again Wednesday night in a game that will be played in Lakeland at Joker Marchant Stadium, where the Detroit Tigers hold their spring training.
FLORIDA SPRING SPORTS IN THE POLLS
Baseball: The Gators remain the #1 ranked team in the nation after a 3-0 start. Others from the SEC in the top 25 are #3 Vanderbilt (3-0), #4 Texas A&M (3-0), #7 LSU (3-0), #15 South Carolina (3-0), #20 Mississippi State (2-2) and #24 Arkansas (3-0). Miami (3-0) is ranked #6 while Florida State (3-0) holds down the #18 spot.
Softball: The #1 ranked Gators (11-0) got all 32 votes in the USAToday/NFCA Coaches poll. Other ranked teams from the SEC are #3 Auburn (10-1), #4 Alabama (10-1), #5 LSU (8-2), #8 Georgia (9-0), #14 Tennessee (8-3), #16 Texas A&M (11-1), #17 Missouri (6-0) and #18 Kentucky (9-2). Florida State (6-3) is ranked #13 while UCF (4-7) is ranked #22.
Men’s swimming: After winning their fourth straight SEC title, the men’s swimming team ranks #1 nationally in the collegeswimming.com poll. Other ranked SEC teams include #4 Auburn, #5 Georgia, #8 Alabama, #9 Missouri, #10 Tennessee, #12 South Carolina, #15 Kentucky, #19 Texas A&M and #24 LSU. Florida State is ranked #29.
Gymnastics: The Gators are ranked #2, just .093 behind #1 Oklahoma in the latest polls. Florida has posted the highest team score this season (198.175). Other ranked teams from the SEC include #3 Alabama, #7 LSU, #8 Auburn, #9 Arkansas, #10 Georgia, #16 Missouri and #22 Kentucky.
Women’s tennis: The new poll comes out Thursday but the Gators held on to the #3 ranking last week even though they had a bye. Florida could leapfrog #2 North Carolina if the Gators can knock off #1 California in Berkeley on Friday and #14 Stanford in Palo Alto on Sunday. Other ranked SEC teams are #4 Georgia, #6 Vanderbilt, #17 Alabama, #18 Ole Miss, #19 LSU, #20 Kentucky and #25 Mississippi State. Miami holds down the #12 ranking.
Women’s indoor track: The Gators are ranked #3 nationally in the latest track coaches poll. SEC ranked teams include #2 Georgia, #4 Arkansas, #8 Tennessee, #12 LSU, #15 Kentucky and #20 Texas A&M. Also ranked is #18 Miami.
Women’s lacrosse: By virtue of their road win over last week’s #2 North Carolina, the Gators (3-0) moved all the way to #4 in the Inside Lacrosse poll.
Men’s golf: Although their final round of the Sun Trust Invitational was disappointing, the Gators remained #5 in Golf Week’s rankings. Other SEC teams in the poll are #4 Auburn, #7 Alabama, #13 Vanderbilt, #16 Georgia, #17 LSU, #27 South Carolina, #29 Arkansas, #32 Kentucky and #39 Texas A&M. Florida State is ranked #3, South Florida #22 and North Florida #46.
Men’s indoor track: The Gators are currently ranked #10 in the track coaches poll. Ranked from the SEC are #1 Arkansas, #3 LSU, #4 Tennessee, #5 Texas A&M and #8 Georgia.
Women’s golf: The new poll comes out Thursday and the Gators should move up from their #11 ranking after winning the Allstate Sugar Bowl Intercollegiate championship in New Orleans, their third team title of the season. Other SEC teams in the Golf Week rankings are #5 Georgia, #6 Arkansas, #7 Alabama, #19 Tennessee, #21 Texas A&M, #24 Missouri, #29 South Carolina, #40 Vanderbilt and #49 LSU. Also ranked are #22 Florida State and #45 Miami.
Women’s swimming: With their sixth place finish at the SEC meet, the Gators dropped to #17 nationally in the collegeswimming.com poll. The SEC is well represented with #1 Georgia, #3 Texas A&M, #5 Tennesse, #13 Missouri, #15 Auburn, #27 Alabama, #28 Arkansas and #45 South Carolina. Florida Gulf Coast is ranked #31 and Florida State is ranked #43.
Men’s tennis: The new rankings will come out Thursday. Florida is currently ranked #23 in the ITA poll. Ranked from the SEC are #7 Texas A&M, #11 Georgia and #19 Ole Miss. Also ranked are #14 South Florida and #25 Florida State.
HARBAUGH SAYS CRITICISM IS “COMICAL”
Even NCAA president Mark Emmert is concerned about Michigan’s plans to hold a week of spring practice at IMG Academy in Bradenton. While admitting that Michigan isn’t doing anything against the rules, Emmert says Michigan’s players are “having a hard time being students and do what students want to do.”
Emmert joins SEC commissioner Greg Sankey and ACC commissioner John Swofford in questioning the practice, all of which has Harbaugh smirking.
Said Harbaugh, speaking to the Detroit Free-Press, “I guess [SEC commissioner Greg Sankey] is stating a case, but it doesn't hold water to me. It's not an addition of time; it's the same amount of time. It's 20 hours. We'll be on the same rules and guidelines every other team will be under on spring practice.
"I think there's been some humor about it. I think it's comical that he's taken exception to it."
Some might call it parity while others might say it’s a case of not enough good basketball players calling the college game. Evidence? There are only four teams in the country with three losses (Villanova, Xavier, Hawaii, Arkansas-Little Rock) and only three with four losses (Kansas, St. Mary’s, Grand Canyon). What this tells us is it’s possible no team will make the NCAA Tournament field with fewer than five losses and there could be an abundance of teams with 10-plus losses. Last year, Kentucky went into the NCAA Tournament unbeaten. There were two teams with two losses, three teams with four losses and three teams with four losses.
David Lee’s unemployment didn’t last very long. The former Gator signed on with the Dallas Mavericks where he will give some inside scoring off the bench for a team that is three games above .500. Lee and Chandler Parsons make the Mavs the only team in the NBA with two Gators on the roster.
The Billy Donovan-coached Oklahoma City Thunder are 40-16, third best record in the Western Conference and fourth best in the NBA.
David Turner is leaving Mississippi State to coach the D-line at Texas A&M. Turner is the fourth defensive coach to leave the Mississippi State staff since January.
Tyler Ulis showed why he’s the SEC Player of the Year Tuesday night when he was a one-man wrecking crew, destroying Alabama with 19 points, 10 assists and 3 steals.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
After Tuesday night’s loss to Vanderbilt, do you think the Gators will make the NCAA Tournament or are they a lock for the NIT?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Originally titled “Country Life,” the album “D&B Together” was the sixth and final album by Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett, whose went under the name Delaney and Bonnie and Friends because their albums were a coalition of some of the best musicians in the world. On D&B, the backup band includes Eric Clapton, Duane Allman, Dave Mason, Steve Cropper, Leon Russell, Billy Preston, Jaimoe, King Curtis, Rita Coolidge, Tina Turner and Eddie Kendricks.