Let the Postseason Begin

For many years a 23-8 regular season would have had Gator fans dancing in the streets. After all from 1916 through 1998 Florida's basketball program had produced a grand total of five 20-win seasons. But that was then and in the aftermath of a pair of NCAA Titles, Gator Nation is expecting quite a bit more from the guys who inhabit the O'Dome.

So despite posting 11 straight 20-win seasons the Gators need at least one win and possibly two in the SEC Tournament to make this season a "success".

That effort begins Thursday night when the Gators take on Arkansas in The St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa. The Razorbacks have just concluded one of the strangest seasons I have ever observed. Arkansas opened the season with 12 wins in 13 games including victories over nationally ranked Oklahoma and Texas. However since then it's been anything but Hog heaven. John Pelphrey's team won just twice in 16 SEC contests, and enters the SEC Tournament with a 14-15 overall record.

The teams met in Gainesville back on January 17 with the Gators winning 80-65. Nick Calathes led the way with 28 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. Erving Walker (13), Alex Tyus (11), Chandler Parsons (10) and Kenny Kadji (10) gave the Gators five men in double figures on the day. Florida Coach Billy Donovan said there won't be any surprises.

"We obviously played Arkansas; it was our third SEC game," Donovan said. "Both teams have certainly been through a lot and both teams are dealing with some young guys and the rigors of a long schedule. I hadn't really had the chance to see them play a lot as of late. I will get a chance to watch a lot more today. Certainly John (Pelphrey) and I are familiar with each other and I did see a little bit of the Vanderbilt game."

Arkansas is led by Michael Washington who leads the team in scoring (15.5), rebounding (9.5) and blocked shots (1.4). The 6-8 junior forward trails only Korvotney Barber of Auburn among SEC rebounders. Washington scored 21 points in the first meeting while grabbing eight rebounds. Donovan knows the big guy causes plenty of problems.

"It is a tough match up. He is very long and can shoot the ball," he said. "He is as good an offensive rebounder as there is in this league. We played Arkansas last year (and), I think he played 12-14 minutes and had five offensive rebounds. He is a terrific anticipator and has long hands when shots are going up and he can get inside in position. He can post, he can do turnaround jumpers. He can do a lot of different things. He is an all-league guy and he has played like that all year long."

The wild card for the Razorbacks is talented, quick and erratic freshman guard Courtney Fortson (15/5.6). Fortson is second to Nick Calathes in assists per SEC game (5.1), but leads the SEC in turnovers giving it up 4.25 times a game in conference play. Outside shooters Rotnei Clark (12.2) and Stefan Welsh (11.7) give Arkansas a threat from behind the arc.

The two teams are comparable in turnover margin and rebound margin, which are two key areas for the Gators this season. The biggest difference between them is shooting ability. Florida is second in the SEC in field goal shooting in league play (.464) and best from three-point range (.389). Arkansas however is often the gang that can't shoot straight. The Hogs are 10th in FG percentage (.417) and last from behind the arc (.303).

The game is scheduled to begin at 9:45, but historically the late game at the SEC Tournament starts 20-30 minutes late. The winner plays Auburn on Friday night.


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