VETTEL: Time to dust off the dancing shoes

I'm not saying the Florida Gators have wrapped up a spot in the NCAA's Big Dance but it certainly would behoove Gators to start figuring out what they're wearing to this year's gala. Saturday's win at Tennessee coupled with helpful losses by South Carolina, LSU and Vanderbilt leaves Florida in excellent position for a seventh straight invitation.

I have been saying since conference play began that the Gators needed a 10-6 conference slate to be assured of a bid. With a 7-3 league mark and favorable stretch run schedule, a 10-6 record in the SEC would actually be a bit disappointing.

Florida will be huge favorites to beat Ole Miss Wednesday, Vanderbilt in a week and take care of Georgia in Athens. Just taking care of business there does the job. But the Gators have to be at least 50/50 to beat South Carolina and/or LSU on the road. A split there and it's realistic that the Gators could take an 11-4 SEC record into the regular season finale with Kentucky.

That's something not many would have bet on, particularly after the Gators miserable showing in Tallahassee and facing several games without second-leading scorer Matt Walsh. The floppy-haired junior is now healthy and coming off a 23-point performance at Tennessee. Roberson and Lee are playing like all-conference performers. When the Big Three gets the job done the Gators need just a little bit from their supporting cast.

The Tennessee game with a perfect example. Florida got a total of five points from the quartet of Horford, Moss, Noah and Richard and yet won a key road game. Nine points and ten rebounds from Corey Brewer and eight more from Lee Humphrey gave the big three all the support they needed.

Looking Ahead

Most are going to define this season not by the seventh straight NCAA bid or another 20-win season. It will be defined for many by how the Gators perform come tournament time. Last year, Florida surprised the world with a run to the SEC Tournament title game. Not sure how much good it did. The Gators drew the earliest start time imaginable… just after noon on Thursday and a gassed group of Gators lost to Manhattan.

That loss made it four straight years without advancing to the Sweet 16 and called into question whether or not this program had "hit the wall". While getting a consensus answer to that question is not going to happen, it will be more widely asked if 2005 results in another brief stay in the field of 64.

For this team to succeed and advance I look for two major things. First is consistent play from the second "big" spot. I'm not putting it all on Al Horford. But between Big Al, Joakim Noah, Chris Richard and Adrian Moss the Gators have to provide help for David Lee. I figure a combined 15/10 ought to get the job done.

Secondly, the Gators must become better stewards of the basketball. This team is minus-two turnovers/game in conference play. This is a bigger problem against teams which run three guard looks at the Gators and can really extended their man defense out to mid-court.

The last two seasons the Gators have gotten awful draws from the selection committee so a little luck there would be nice this time around. Last year an early Thursday game spelled doom no matter what team they played. Two years ago, the one thing Florida couldn't survive was a loosely called game against a very physical opponent - enter Michigan State.

The Gators have settled into a nine nine-man rotation but that may be tinkered with if Adrian Moss stays healthy. Moss gives Florida experience, energy and most importantly solid post defense. While his minutes would take away from Horford more so than the other two, it would give Billy another option in determining how best to match up with any opponent.

SEC Likely To Settle For Five Bids

With a poor record against the other conferences this year, it's hard to see the SEC getting it's normal six (hoping for 7) bids. I think five will be the number for the league this year. Right now Kentucky, Alabama and Mississippi State are solid and Florida is on the verge. That leaves pretty much one spot for Arkansas, LSU and South Carolina to fight over. If two of the three were to get hot and hang several straight wins on the board a sixth bid could be within reach. But the key to that might be for the SEC's bottom teams to stop winning games against the middle-of-the-pack squads. Of the three South Carolina has to make a move immediately… they have Kentucky and Alabama this week, and two losses would take them right out of this conversation.

Baseball Season Off To A Not-So-Smooth Start

Pat McMahon's Gators struggled in the field and at the plate this weekend but still managed to escape with two wins in three tries against Charleston Southern. The Gators managed just 24 hits in the three games and committed ten errors. The good news is the pitching was excellent with an ERA below 2.50 for the weekend with 26 strikeouts and just four walks. Newcomer Alan Horne is healthy and looks like he can step right into Justin Hoyman's role of staff ace. One thing the pitching staff needs to get is a lefty who can create matchups out of the bullpen.

Gators cannot spend a lot of time trying to figure it all out. After a Tuesday game with FAMU, the Gators host Miami for a three-game set.

Hey Matt, Thanks For Staying

Matt Leinart really has to be re-thinking his decision to put off his pro career and stay at Southern Cal. The talented lefty has seen five members of the Trojans coaching staff move on, but the big issue is the departure of offensive coordinator Norm Chow. Leinart now faces a senior year of great expectations without his mentor and the architect of the USC offense.

This is another example of why the deadline to declare pro should be pushed back. Basketball players have about six-to-eight weeks from the end of their season until their date of declaration. More than enough time to thoroughly research their status. Football players get a week, and thus have to rely too much on the first information they get, which may not be the best available.

I hope Leinart changes his mind and challenges the rules on this process. Just as I keep hoping the NCAA will tell college kids they can stay in school if they don't like where/when they're drafted.

Urban Meyer didn't have to resign at Utah before considering an offer from Florida. Why should Fason and Crowder have to give up their college eligibility before they even know if the NFL will make ANY offer for their services?

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