VETTEL: Gators Remain UnFOURtunate

With just three games left before post-season play begins the Florida Gators are looking at the odd reality that four of their losses have been by four points. All were winnable. Three of them saw the Gators with the ball in the final minute of a tied game (or a lead) only to turn it over. There are a number of reasons for the Gators shortcomings in the clutch, but I agree with Billy Donovan that inexperience is the biggest culprit of all.

Florida does not have enough guys who can create their own shot. Really, only Taurean Green and Walter Hodge can, but neither does it as well as Anthony Roberson did a year ago. Green seems to struggle with teams that play him physically which is no surprise. I have written many times that should be every team's game plan against the Gators. Hodge is strong taking it to the basket and seems more comfortable being banged around. Corey Brewer should be effective creating on his own and sometimes he is. But too often Spiderman's web does not stick to the ball, and drives to the basket become turnovers. He had six in the Tennessee game.

The second culprit in close games has been poor perimeter shooting. In the losses to Arkansas and Tennessee, Lee Humphrey has gone 3-15 from the field while Corey Brewer was 7-19 against the Vols and Green managed just 2-8, Florida's bigs have been winning the battles, but Florida has been losing on the perimeter. That needs to stop in a hurry.

Bama Game Huge For Both

The Gators are 5-and-5 in their last ten games and need to get on a bit of a run before tournament play. The loss to Tennessee marks the second time Florida has suffered consecutive losses this season. Meanwhile Alabama let a big lead get away in losing to Arkansas on Tuesday. The Crimson Tide would seem to be in great shape for an NCAA bid with its 8-5 league mark, but a 7-5 non-conference record puts them in a tough position.

To his credit, 'Bama Coach Mark Gottfried challenged his team with a very difficult pre-conference schedule, probably the toughest in the league other than Kentucky. However the problem is they lost to just about all of the good teams they faced. Memphis, Oklahoma, N.C. State, Temple and Notre Dame all knocked off the Tide. The best non-conference win would probably be Winthrop or Louisiana Tech.

Sunday's match up will feature a great backcourt battle between Taurean Green and Ronald Steele. Green is coming off a tough game against Tennessee in which he scored four points and committed four turnovers. He made just two of eight shots and never got to the free throw line. Steele on the other hand was a one man gang who kept Alabama ahead of Arkansas for most of the night. It's critical for Florida that Green get away from the turnovers (14 in the last 3 games) and run this team like the guy who shredded Kentucky five games back.

Officially Joakim Noah is questionable, but it's hard to imagine him missing this game. The match up of Noah and Horford against Jermareo Davidson and Richard Hendrix should be a good one.

SEC Post-Season Picture Much Clearer

This week's results have cleared up where each team in the SEC stands with regards to NCAA and NIT consideration. Assuming none of the bottom six wins out and reaches the SEC Tournament final, they are out as far as at-large NCAA consideration goes. Georgia, Vanderbilt and South Carolina are in good shape for the NIT, especially when you realize the NCAA owns the tournament and has given the okay for sub-500 teams to take part. It's an absurd decision if you ask me, but that's the way it is.

Florida, Tennessee and LSU had already wrapped up spots and I think Kentucky is in. Their 18 wins, brutal non-conference schedule and 8-5 mark in the SEC added to their tradition gets the deal done. Arkansas needs at least one more win, Alabama probably three. 'Bama is 15-10 and it's hard to see a 17-12 Crimson Tide squad advancing to the NCAA field of 65. The bottom three in the West --- Ole Miss (14-12), Mississippi State (13-13) and Auburn (11-13) are in hailing distance of NIT consideration with strong finishes.

This weekend's schedule couldn't be better. The top six teams are playing each other as are the bottom six. A perfect weekend for the Gators would be a win over Alabama, Arkansas knocking off Tennessee and LSU beating Kentucky. That would strengthen Florida's record, all but assure Arkansas a bid and move the Gators back ahead of Kentucky in the SEC East race.

Right now both the Gators and Wildcats control their destiny in the race for second in the East. That's significant for NCAA seeding perception and, more importantly a bye in the first round of the SEC Tournament. There's every reason to believe that race could come down to the Florida/Kentucky game in Rupp Arena on the final day of the regular season.

Jacksonville Still In Range

I wrote a week ago that I thought the Gators needed to get to 25 wins to solidify a trip to Jacksonville for the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. I stand by that number. The reason 25 is important is it will put the Gators above the 500-mark for the second half of the season. Late season performances are always given extra weight by the selection committee,

With three regular season games to go and at least one in the tournament, it's pretty clear how important the Alabama game is for Billy's boys.

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