With only nine players on scholarship and eight of those being freshmen and sophomores, Florida coach Billy Donovan couldn't afford to give his team too many challenges in the first half of the season. The Gators had to get their feet wet, initiate five freshmen into college basketball and try to define roles for the entire roster. From that standpoint you would have to say, mission accomplished.
The Gators know that Marreese Speights has the ability to be effective offensively against anyone. They know that Dan Werner will bring his lunch pail mentality to the floor every night. They know that Nick Calathes is their best all around player, though he still does "freshman" things out there. They know that Chandler Parsons and Adam Allen can shoot, and they know that Jai Lucas can do a lot of things at the point.
But it may be what they learned in the last two games that helps this team most of all. Florida now has confidence that sophomore forward Jonathan Mitchell can give them the kind of minutes they expected when the season began. After spotty performances through the first 13 games Mitchell has given Florida two excellent efforts in consecutive games. Against Temple and High Point, Mitchell scored 27 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out five assists in 34 minutes. In the two contests Mitchell made 11-of-12 shots from the field including 5-for-6 from three point range. Consistent contributions from Mitchell will make the Gators a much better team and give Donovan more options with his substitution patterns.
SEC Tough to Gauge
Every team in the SEC has a record of .500 or better with only Kentucky (6-6) breaking even so far this season. It appears that Tennessee (11-1) and Vanderbilt (13-0) are the teams to beat in the East while surprising Ole Miss (13-0) and Arkansas (10-3) may be the best of the West.
Checking the RPI rankings on Kenpom.com (the NCAA formula) you find only three SEC teams in the top 70 (Tenn. No. 6, Van. No. 8, Miss. No. 18). Alabama (No. 72), Arkansas (No. 83) and South Carolina (No. 111) round out the top half of the SEC in terms of RPI.
The Gators will open league play with a dismal No. 129 RPI despite their record. The reason? Well, try as schedule that is ranked No. 307 among Division One schools. Only Georgia Southern and Temple qualify as wins over top 100 opponents, and that's a killer for RPI. The good news for the Gators is that every SEC team is No. 234 (Kentucky believe it or not) or better, so the strength of schedule component will improve with every SEC game.
Gator Stats of Note
After three games three Gators are scoring in double figures, led by Nick Calathes (14.8) and Marreese Speights (14.5). Chandler Parson is hanging in there (10.1) followed by Walter Hodge (9.5) and Jai Lucas (8.9).
Speights leads Gator rebounders (7.6) with steady support from Dan Werner (7.3). Calathes is the Gators' No. 3 man on the boards (4.7) while also leading the team in assists (5.7).
As a team the Gators are shooting .513 from the field and .394 from three point range. Defensively they are limiting opponents to .410 and .316 respectively. The average score of the Florida Basketball game is 81-61.
Tuesday night in Tuscaloosa it's time to get serious.
Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Larry Vettel
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