VETTEL: Brewer Needs To Get Back On Track

One of the benefits of the Gators being 21-3 is that Florida can indeed take them one game at a time and not have to engage in a lot of scoreboard watching. While half the SEC is in the "bubble" range as it relates to their NCAA hopes, the Florida team can focus on each game and concentrate on fixing the problems that might be major factors in its post-season potential.

Topping the list for the Gators has to be getting talented forward Corey Brewer back on his game. "Spiderman," as I like to call him, has had his moments since spraining his ankle against Tennessee but they have been few and far between. Brewer has not been as explosive, not been as effective and not been as disruptive on either end of the floor.

The numbers are dramatic:

GAMES 1-16: 13.6 points, 5.7 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.2 steals.

LAST SIX GAMES: 7.0 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.2 steals

Other than the second half against Kentucky Brewer has struggled to find his game. He has been making poor decisions with the basketball, gambling rather than guarding on defense and ignoring the boards. Through the first 16 games Brewer was shooting .483 from the field, but he's just .250 since.

Corey Brewer in many ways is a key for this team because he is so difficult to match up with. There's no 6-8 guy in the country that can run with him and nobody who matches his speed who even comes close to his height. It is no coincidence that he was hurt during Florida's first loss and the Gators are just 4-2 in the last six games he's played in. If Florida is to make a run in the NCAA, Spiderman must have all of his powers.

Rebounding Issues Won't Go Away

It may be astounding to realize the Gator basketball team is almost ten rebounds a game worse than last year in SEC action. Last year Florida was an average plus-7 in rebounding differential against conference teams while this Gator team is minus-2.2. That difference has been a major factor in two Florida losses and will be an issue from now on. Billy Donovan has often said the hidden issue in Florida's rebounding woes has been poor rebounding by the Florida guards. However, if you compare this year with last, you'll see the front line has seen a significant drop off.

David Lee was a beast on the boards in conference play last year, grabbing 10.3 per outing. His replacement in the Florida front court, Joakim Noah is getting 6.3 against SEC competition. Considering Al Horford's numbers are virtually unchanged (8.0 this yr. 7.8 last) the switch from Lee to Noah is the biggest single change. Lee Humphrey (1.7) doesn't come close to Matt Walsh (3.8) on the glass … and that's about it. Taurean Green is an improvement over Anthony Roberson, but just barely.

The one place where Florida's guards can help the most is not in terms of getting many more boards, but boxing their men out. Florida's athleticism should let the Gators chase down more than their share of loose balls, provided the Gators guards keep their men away.

More Records Within Reach

The list of UF records this team has set is remarkable, what with the 17-0 start, 20 straight home wins, and eighth straight 20-win season. But there are still more marks for these Gators to try surpass. Two wins this week would give Florida the first 23-3 record UF has ever seen. Four wins in the final six regular season games would make this the first Gator team to win 25 regular season games.

I bring this up as a not too subtle reminder to myself as well as you guys to appreciate what this team HAS done, even while we assess their shortcomings. To be putting this kind of season together despite being down three scholarship players is nothing short of amazing. To do it with a lineup that features four sophomores and a junior most of the time just adds to the impressive nature of what they have done. It's been one helluva ride.

Updating SEC Chances for NCAA Bids

As you know, I am loathe to declare any team a "lock" for the NCAA tournament because to me a lock means you can lose all of your remaining games. However, in order to try and paint an accurate picture for the SEC hopefuls, we'll declare three teams (Tennessee, Florida and LSU) as "virtual locks". Three others (Ole Miss, MSU, and Auburn) can be ruled out unless they win the SEC Tournament. So here's what it looks like for the other six.

Alabama (14-8/7-3): Definitely #4 in the pecking order at the moment, the Crimson Tide is probably in with three more wins. Tuesday at South Carolina and Saturday at home against Tennessee are both winnable and losable. Two losses and they are in much tougher position.

Kentucky (15-9/5-5): This team is a bit of a mess right now. To see the Wildcats 5-5 in the SEC is almost unprecedented. They face a must week with games against Georgia and South Carolina. The 'Cats have the toughest non-conference schedule and that will help their NCAA chances, but most of those games were losses with the notable exception of West Virginia. At least three wins are needed and maybe four.

Arkansas (16-7/5-5): After a slow start, Arkansas is playing as they were expected to and the Hogs are getting close. They face a trap game at Ole Miss before hosting the Gators Saturday. Three wins should do it, but like Kentucky a fourth would be a good idea.

Vanderbilt (13-8/4-6): The Commodores got a huge win over Kentucky Saturday and a follow up win over the Gators would put them back in the mix. Since 8-8 didn't get it done for them last year, they have to think they need five of their last six SEC games.

South Carolina (13-10/4-6): The Gamecocks are home twice this week and will have a shot at at-large consideration if they win both. Alabama and Kentucky promise to be very difficult, but it's supposed to be hard. Hard to believe they are 2-0 against Florida and 2-6 against everyone else.

Georgia (14-9/4-6): The Bulldogs are probably the longest shot of the bunch because they lack big wins. Still, they can move up in the pecking order if they can take care of Kentucky and Vanderbilt. Gators are hoping they are out of the hunt before they make it to Gainesville on March 1.

The top three on this list are obviously in the best position entering this week, but there are so many contender-versus-contender games during the week ahead that the order could change dramatically in seven days.

Keep those emails coming!

Don't forget to email me your questions and comments, but please do not include attachments! My email address is: vettel@gatorcountry.com .


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