Today's Game Big For the Gators

What is it about Florida's Basketball coach that renders him helpless in games decided by four points? Three of Florida losses this season have been by four points, and yet Florida does not have one win in a game so decided. Can't he call the right defense? Can't he get a good shot off? How can this team hope to have any confidence in a four-point game during the post-season? Florida really needs to win a game like this down the stretch or it could be curtains come tournament time.

Then again, Donovan might just really like playing Yahtzee. After all, the Gators are undefeated in three games decided by five points. Maybe odd scores suit the Orange and Blue better. Maybe there's a comfort zone that comes with a five-point margin.

Or maybe it's all just a coincidence.

One thing that is not coincidental is that this team has had a chance to win every game in the final few minutes. To go 26 games without a loss of more than six points (no they haven't won a game by six, but they did lose one!) is a pretty impressive accomplishment. This team gets in position to win the game every night. It stands to reason a young team would fail to execute on a number of those occasions, but this team has only let four get away.

Coulda Would Shoulda

Wednesday's game with Tennessee is a big one, but it could have been so much bigger. Just one win over South Carolina or a win in Fayetteville would have put Florida in position to tie the Vols with a win in the O'Dome. Instead the Gators have to settle for getting a little revenge against the Vols and edging closer to the first 25-win regular season in school history.

One of the great myths being perpetrated out there is that Tennessee is having a great year despite a lack of talent on the squad. Are you kidding me? The Vols were huge underachievers last year, no question. But this year's version is not a bunch of overachievers…. They're achievers.

Tennessee entered the season with three-year starter CJ Watson returning at the point. He had 966 points and 460 assists in 88 starts when the season began. Taurean Green had 124 points, 69 assists and had never made a start.

The two-guard, Chris Lofton was a freshman All-American last season, starting all 31 games, scoring 410 points and knocking down 93 three-pointers. While Lee Humphrey is a year older he entered the season with 17 starts, 253 points and 62 "threes".

That's 999 more points for the Tennessee backcourt coming into 2005-06.

Small forward Dane Bradshaw entered the year with fewer starts (13-32) and points (189-241) than Corey Brewer but had more rebounds (130-110), assists (105-63) and minutes played (960-791). Senior forward Andre Patterson had 43 starts, 476 points and 386 rebounds in division one, about half coming at UCLA. By comparison Joakim Noah entered the campaign with no starts, 102 points and 72 boards.

At center, Major Wingate a junior had more points (254-179) and minutes played (981-730) while Al Horford had the edge in starts (25-23) rebounds (209-164) and blocked shots (51-38).

By any measure, the Vols entered this season with a more experienced team than Florida. Certainly Bruce Pearl has earned a world of credit for the job he has done in getting this group to play up to its abilities instead of the 14-and-17 embarrassment they were a year ago. But don't let that well-deserved praise obscure the reality. Tennessee should have been better last year, and their success this year is not the coaching achievement of the millennium.

What To Do About ‘Bama?

Last week sorted things out pretty well with the SEC as far as the NCAA Tournament is concerned. Florida, Tennessee and L-S-U are in. They can focus on the various sites where they might get sent. South Carolina, Georgia, Ole Miss, Auburn and Mississippi State can forget about at-large consideration and either win the SEC Tournament or start N.I.T.-picking.

That leaves Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Arkansas and Alabama that could fall either way. The Wildcats are almost in with 17 wins and Ole Miss coming to town Wednesday night. Vandy bounced back from the Florida win to rout Georgia, but must get four more wins and that won't be easy.

But Alabama is really tough to figure out. The Crimson Tide would seemingly be a lock with an 8-4 SEC record, but ‘Bama struggled to a 7-and-5 mark in non-conference play. To ‘Bama's credit, they played a very difficult pre-SEC slate, but they lost to all the good teams they faced. Alabama was beaten by Memphis, Notre Dame, Temple, Oklahoma and N.C. State. Their best non-conference win came against Winthrop. Alabama is 15-and-9 overall, and may need three more wins to be sure they'll be called on selection Sunday.

As for Arkansas, the Hogs are now even in the SEC and have 17 wins overall. They have played better of late, last week's loss to Ole Miss not withstanding. Tuesday it'll be the Hogs and Tide in Fayetteville, putting the winner in great shape while the loser will have a lot of work ahead.

In Case You Want To Be Annoyed

Florida's loss at Arkansas came in part because of the Hogs getting 42 chances at the free throw line. No Florida opponent this season had shot more than 30 in any game. The Gators were called for 30 fouls in the contest, seven more than their previous high. The discrepancy between Arkansas' 42 free throws and Florida's 20 was the largest against the Gators in more than two years.

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