Gators Making Most of Second Chance

Let's be honest. No one wants to be in the NIT at the end of the basketball season. It's all about the Big Dance, the field of 65, March Madness and one shining moment.

But the NIT does serve an important purpose, just like the third and fourth tier bowl games do at the end of football season. The NIT is a chance to earn absolution for the season just passed, or serve as a springboard for the season ahead.

Teams that enter the NIT usually do one of two things. Either they mess in the bed like FSU did in losing at home to Akron or they seize the opportunity to get better and create something to build on like the Gators have.

Florida's 70-57 win at Arizona State showed that this Gator team and staff have learned a few things in recent weeks. The players have learned to hustle on both ends of the floor. The staff has accepted the reality that this team is much better equipped to play zone than man-to-man. Florida's zone was very effective against the Sun Devils, holding them to just 57 points, and just seven in the final ten minutes.

Fast Start Impressive

The early part of this game was all Florida. The Gators shot out (literally) to a 17-3 lead after just six minutes of action. That lead kept dwindling little by little until Arizona State finally took the lead at 47-45 and again at 50-48. But the final ten minutes were dominated by the Orange and Blue. Playing in front of a hostile crowd of 12,000-plus the Gators won the last portion of the game by the score of 22-7.

The Gators got a number of strong performances in this one and one kinda strange one. Walter Hodge was superb with 18 points and Chandler Parsons was huge off the bench scoring 13 of his 15 in the second half. Marreese Speights, who I identified as the key in my preview had a double/double (14/10) and could have done more had the offense looked for him more consistently. Nick Calathes added a typical game with 11 points, six rebounds and nine assists.

The strange game came from Dan Werner who scored Florida's first five points in each half, but those were the only ten points he put on the board.

Next up the Gators will face Massachusetts and another personal match-up for Head Coach Billy Donovan as he faces a guy he helped develop as a player in Travis Ford. The game itself doesn't mean that much. The Gators have already made the NIT pay off in a big way. They have made it a 24-win season and they will be one of the last eight teams playing college basketball this spring. It's not like the last two years, but for a nine-man team where eight of the nine are first and second year players it's pretty damn good. And it gives cause for much optimism about next season and beyond.

Questions or comments? Contact's Larry Vettel

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