VETTEL: Best Win of the Year

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Temple is not a great team. The Owls are much more likely to find themselves in the NIT than the NCAA when the season ends. But they are a good team, with excellent coaching and a big time scorer. That's why Florida's second half dismantling of the Owls and overall performance here in South Florida has to rank as the best win of the season.

The Gators created some havoc with their full court defense for the first time, and got strong performances off the bench from Chandler Parsons and Jonathan Mitchell in posting their 12th win of the season. The fact the Florida beat Temple by the same margin (17 points) that Tennessee did at home six weeks ago is also significant. The Vols are clearly one of the top two or three teams in the SEC and at least this comparative score indicates Florida is capable of playing with them.

Sharp Shooting and Balanced Scoring

There are a number of places where the Gators earned kudos in this one, starting with 61 percent shooting from the field, and 55 percent from beyond the arc. Florida got those numbers through excellent ball movement (20 assists) and good shot selection. The Gators avoided the kind of prolonged droughts that led to losses to FSU and Ohio State and a nail biting win over Georgia Southern.

Five Gators were in double figures led by game MVP Marreese Speights who scored 20. Nick Calathes, Walter Hodge and Chandler Parsons also reached double digits, but none of those four was the star of the game. Nope, that honor goes to sophomore forward Jonathan Mitchell who came off the bench for a career high 15 points on flawless shooting (6-6, 3-3 3FG). Mitchell added four rebounds in his best 19 minutes on the floor as a Gator. I consider Mitchell a key to the Gators future because he has the potential to be an effective scorer, solid rebounder and better than average defender.

The Gators have a four-man bench with Mitchell, Parsons, Adam Allen and Alex Tyus. They don't need all four to contribute every night, but they must have at least two. Mitchell scored just 30 points in the first 13 games before this performance, and if he can be a part of the mix more consistently, the Gators chances of getting at least two quality performances off the bench every night goes way up.

SEC Around the Corner

Florida now has a 12-2 record and is one win from completing what has to be viewed as a very successful pre-conference schedule. Granted, this is one of the weakest non-conference schedules Florida has ever faced, but it is also by far the least experienced team the University of Florida has put on the floor since World War II. Maybe it should have been a bit more challenging, but you can chalk that up in part to indifferent performances from capable teams like Rutgers, Vermont and North Dakota State. The Gators have gained valuable experience, started defining their roles and made strides towards being ready for SEC action.

Wednesday, the Gators will host High Point, another decent, but not great team and then have almost a week before their SEC opener at Alabama. While conventional wisdom holds that the top three in the SEC are Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Arkansas, there is no super team in the SEC. Vandy is unbeaten, but struggled to put away 5-8 Tennessee-Martin on Saturday. Arkansas lost to Appalachian State, and the Vols, while still my pick to win the league, struggled to beat Western Kentucky, Chattanooga and Xavier.

Florida needs to split its 16 SEC games in order to be pretty certain of an NCAA bid. After what I saw Saturday night, the chances of that happening went way up.

Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Larry Vettel


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