Gators Need to Keep Tide from Rolling

For the third time in eight days the Gator basketball team will go after its 20th win of the season Wednesday night. Florida hosts Alabama in an effort to stop a slide that has seen the Gators lose two straight and three out of four after opening the season 18-3.

A win gives the Gators their 11th straight season of 20-plus wins, making the Gators one of just five school in the nation to reach that standard over the last decade plus.

Alabama comes into this one with a 13-11 record and will have to finish strongly to just make the NIT. The Gators have eyes on returning to the NCAA Tournament and probably need four more wins to make that happen.

Alabama fired coach Mark Gottfried earlier this season when the team was 12-7. Gottfried was in his 11th season with the Tide and had led ‘Bama to five straight NCAA bids from 2002-2006. Their best player is senior wing Alonzo Gee (14.1/7.2) from West Palm Beach. Gee scored 32 against the Gators in Tuscaloosa last season. Florida coach Billy Donovan is 12-5 against Alabama, including a perfect 6-0 mark in the O'Dome. He talked about this year's match up.

"Alabama is a team that has played very well since they made a change with Mark (Gottfried)," Donovan said. "Mark and I have been in the league for a very long time and we played against each other in college so there has been a relationship there. Philip (Pearson) has been with Mark for several years and I think the system and what they are doing is relatively the same. They have a team that looks to pound the ball inside. They are not taking a lot of three-point shots but I think they are a capable three-point shooting team. We have an opportunity to go up and play a team from the West and see if we can play well."

Playing well has not been a problem at home for this year's Gators. Florida is unbeaten in front of the Rowdy Reptiles in 13 tries. As course the folks in the stands won't have to try guarding Gee who has to be very motivated to try and get his first win over the Gators in his home state. Donovan said the 6-6 senior is hard to deal with inside and out.

"We had a serious match up problem with him out on the perimeter," he said. "Because of his size, athleticism, strength, and experience he is definitely a tough match up for a lot of people, not just us and he is a very good player. He had a huge game in Alabama last year and we were fortunate to win it there. He is just one of those guys who can get the ball off the dribble against us, he also can get to the backboard and rebound, and he also can post players so he certainly requires a lot more attention than just a man-to-man type of attention."

Florida is coming off a stunning loss at Georgia which took the Gators out of a share of the SEC Eastern Division lead. A big reason for that loss was the play of another tough-to-guard 6-6 senior on the wing, Terrance Woodbury who made seven three pointers on his way to a career high 32 points. I asked Donovan if defending Gee is similar.

"I think they are a pretty good comparison. I think Woodbury may not be as physically strong as Alonzo. I always thought of Alonzo as a big, strong, physical wing and Woodbury is more of a slasher, driver, and spot-up shooter. Alonzo may try to do a little bit more off the dribble in terms of really driving the ball (to the basket) where Woodbury is more of a one or two dribble, pull up guy who likes to shoot threes. He is a dangerous guy because he does have some good quickness. He can drive and stop and he can kind of shoot over some small people."

A look at the top three rankings services and averaging them paints a pretty clear picture for SEC teams hoping to be part of the "Big Dance". I took the current rankings of ESPN Inside RPI, Kenpom.com, and Jeff Sagarin to get a ranking for each SEC contender. Keep in mind just about all of the top 40 teams from BCS Conferences get in, but after that it could go either way.

Tennessee 28
LSU 39
Kentucky 42
Florida 43
South Carolina 48
Mississippi State 86

Florida must finish strongly to raise that number into a more comfortable position. That process needs to start Wednesday night.

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