Gator Season Full of Highs and Lows

After the two greatest seasons in school history it stands to reason that this season would be a little less successful than what Gator fans had gotten used to. The 2007-08 basketball season will be remembered for a number of things, both positive and negative.

It was a campaign in which a young group of players extended the school's string of 20-win seasons, but failed to extend a similar streak of NCAA Tournament appearances.

The Gators opened the season with a string of successes against a rather weak non conference schedule. The two best teams they faced in the pre-conference slate were Florida State and Ohio State and the Gators lost to both by a combined 37 points. Florida's 13-3 record entering SEC play still left the team with a high RPI and needing a 9-7 SEC record or better to reach the big dance. That didn't happen, and the Gators have to be content with 24 wins, a deep run in the NIT and a ton of experience gained for a squad without a single senior. We'll look at the 2008-09 Gators in a few days, but for now let's review the most significant things about the season just concluded.

High Point ----- Florida routed Vanderbilt 86-64 in the O'Connell Center to improve to 18-3 overall, 5-1 in the SEC. No one questioned if the Gators were an NCAA team at that point. In fact, the bigger question centered on whether or not they could stay in the SEC race.

Low Point ------ Halftime of the Alabama game at the SEC Tournament in Atlanta. The Gators entered the conference event needing two wins to make it to the field of 65 and seemed to have a pretty good draw with an Alabama team they beat in Tuscaloosa. Florida's chances of winning lasted about five minutes, by which time it was already 14-zip, Alabama. Soon it was 30-5 and it bottomed out at 42-14 late in the first half.

Best Win ----- The 70-57 victory over Arizona State that earned Florida an NIT Final Four spot was special. The Gators took out one of the last teams eliminated by the NCAA Selection Committee and did it convincingly on their court. The Gators sprinted to an early 13-point lead, but fell behind midway through the second half. The game-ending 22-7 run was some of the best ball the Gators played under the circumstances.

Worst Loss ---- The Gators were 19-5, 6-3 in the SEC when LSU came to town on February 13th. The Tigers were last in the SEC West (1-7) and Coach John Brady had just been fired. It should have been a breather, and it was…. for LSU. The Tigers harassed the Gators into 19 turnovers and shredded the Florida defense (such as it was) for a slew of easy shots on the way to making 60 percent for the game. This was the loss that undermined the Gators' confidence more than any other.

Most Valuable Player ----- Nick Calathes was sensational for most of the season and produced a rookie year beyond even the most optimistic expectations. He set the school record for assists (221) and broke the freshman record for points scored (552). He also led the Gators with 58 steals and the same number of made three-point baskets.

Biggest Disappointment ---- Jonathan Mitchell was one of four returning veterans but never made a meaningful move towards claiming a significant role on this team. He ended up eighth in minutes played (11.4/g) and ninth in scoring (3.1). Many expect the sophomore to transfer closer to his home in New York.

Highest Ceiling ----- Chandler Parsons is the early favorite for most improved Gator next season. He had an up and down first season, but ended up with solid numbers (8.1/4.0) off the Gator bench. Parsons must get MUCH stronger physically in order to become a better defender, rebounder and finisher. He also needs a lot of work on the free throw line. Parsons shot just .627 on the freebies and ended the year in a 6-for-17 slump in that area.

Mystery Man ----- Before the season began sophomore center Marreese Speights was named a lottery pick for 2008 by ESPN.com. At times, he played like it, but too often he would disappear for long stretches of time. Speights numbers were solid (14.5/8.1) but not spectacular. He had five games of scoring six points or less and ten games with six of fewer rebounds. He ended the season in a big way (16/18) against U-Mass, but missed four or five easy ones as well.

Roster Limitations Hurt ----- When four players leave for the NBA with a year of eligibility left you are bound to be shorthanded. Having just nine guys wasn't the Gators biggest problem, though, having just three guards was. That problem was exacerbated when no one from the group of Mitchell, Parsons and Adam Allen stepped up and claimed the small forward spot. Had that happened, Calathes, Jai Lucas and Walter Hodge could have shared two jobs instead of all three being on the court more often than not.

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


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