Ready for Conference Play

The non-conference season is over, and after almost a week off, the Florida Gators hit the floor on Tuesday night, kicking off the conference schedule in Tuscaloosa.

The Gators (13-2) are about where head coach Billy Donovan expected them to be at this point in the season. Florida's road loss to Ohio State came as no big surprise and a home loss to a veteran Florida State team in November didn't raise any eyebrows either.

"I've been pleased with what our team has done with the non-conference schedule," Donovan said. "We've been able to do a pretty good job of taking care of business and learning from our losses. Now we move into league play, and in any league, it's always a grind because of familiarity."

For the Gators, their non-conference schedule success has been directly connected to their offense. In 13 wins, the Gators are scoring more than 85 points a game while shooting 53.5 percent from the floor. In the two losses, a mere 50 points a game, shooting just 36 percent. Donovan said the most important thing for a young player to learn is how to react when he's not making shots.

"We have to try and get them to understand that when their shoots are not going in, there are other things they can do to impact the game," he said. "Guys that worry about how they can impact winning never worry about scoring."

Donovan said it's not something that comes easily. It's a mindset that needs to be learned, coached, and maybe most importantly, it has to be seen.

"It's a guy's ability to impact winning when his strength is taken away from him," Donovan said. "The best example I could give is Al Horford and Corey Brewer. Both were big-time scorers coming out of high school. They did other things that impacted our team and impacted winning."

The other thing the Gators have learned throughout their first 15 games is that they'll have to just deal with their lack of size.

"I think our team is what it is physically," Donovan said. "We're going to have to put ourselves in position to win through hustle and hard work and a will to win and a battling mentality. We've got to play in a way where we can take advantage of our strengths."

SEC Strength

Billy Donovan may not be the best judge of the strength of the SEC this season. The conference ranks No. 6 in the RPI ratings, and despite two teams in the top six (Tennessee and Vanderbilt), only three SEC teams rank in the top 50. Florida sits at No. 118.

"I haven't seen one second of our league," Donovan said. "The only team I've seen play is Alabama. I've seen scores and heard about things like that, but at this time of the year, I rarely watch games."

The conference has a combined record of 119-42, but the non-conference schedule ranks second worst among BCS conferences. Only the Pac-10 has a lower rated non-conference schedule. Tennessee's undefeated start is no surprise, but Vanderbilt's undefeated start has people taking notice of the Commodores.

"Everyone says Vanderbilt is awesome, but I haven't seen a possession of Vanderbilt," Donovan said. "I'm sure they are great. I think that because of some of the losses, the perception of the league is that it's down. Your league gets shaped by what they do in non-conference, and the league has not performed as well as it has in past years."

Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Chris Chmielenski


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