Time for Some NIT-Picking

Thursday started off as a great day for the Florida Gators. Villanova lost. UAB lost. Dayton lost. FSU improved Florida's RPI with a win over Wake Forest. Even the early session of the SEC tournament was good for the Gators as Eastern Division teams South Carolina and Vanderbilt posted wins. After some setbacks earlier in the week, things were finally going the Gators way.

That is, until they took to the floor.

The Gators were behind 14-zip midway through the National Anthem. They trailed 30-5, and at one point, I thought I was looking at the scoreboard in Glendale when the score said 42-14, but it was the Gators who had the 14.

Give them credit, they did fight back and made it interesting during the final 20 minutes, but most of the time when a team has to expend significant energy to get close they run out of gas before they can finish the deal.

Disastrous Start The Key

The Gators came out and played as poorly as you could imagine in the early minutes of this one. Florida's early possessions alternated between bricks and turnovers. On the other end it appeared Florida's defensive game plan was to intimidate Alabama by forcing them to make uncontested lay-ups.

It didn't work.

By the time the alarm went off, Florida was down 28 and while they closed to within six (57-51) but missed two shots to get even closer and that was that. The Gators got whipped on the glass by 14 and lost 80-69 to a team they beat on their home court by seven two months ago.

After the game Billy Donovan made perhaps the most telling comment about this season.

"I'm not excited about these guys being sophomores next year," Donovan said to the media folks in Atlanta. "Just because these guys are going to be a year older it doesn't mean they are going to be a year better."

NIT is the Start of 2008-09

They say that NIT stands for "Not Interested Tournament". Well that's no longer the case in Gator Nation where both basketball teams are likely headed to the second tier tournament of college basketball. Florida's men and women may get the chance to host, but they'll certainly be playing next week.

It would be a mistake to look at the NIT as a chance to end this season on a high note. That cannot happen. This season ended Thursday evening in Atlanta, Georgia. Next season begins with the announcement of the field for the NIT and finding out who Florida will be playing and where.

Five newcomers will join the Gators next year, but this group of guys will be the core of the Gator basketball team next season. Will they get tougher? Will they get smarter? Will they learn to play with passion game in and game out? Perhaps the NIT will give some encouraging answers to those questions. One thing for certain, this team entered the Georgia Dome with a great opportunity to earn an NCAA bid and they messed in the bed.

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

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