Georgia Win Best Since Atlantic City

There's still a long way to go in this basketball season, but Florida's 87-71 win over Georgia Wednesday night has to be viewed as the Gators' best performance in two months. Florida has not played this well since they beat Michigan State and Rutgers in Atlantic City two months ago.

Those wins upped the Gators to 6-0 on the season, but Billy Donovan's team proceeded to split the next 10 games, leaving the Gators 11-5, 0-2 in the SEC.

Florida has responded well to losing those first two SEC outings, knocking off LSU, Arkansas and South Carolina. However they needed a game winning shot at the buzzer to dispatch with the Gamecocks. Still Florida was facing a very important game against a Georgia team that had just knocked off then 10th-ranked Tennessee the last time out. While the Bulldogs were 15 points better than the Vols that night, the Gators were 16 points better than the Dawgs in front of the home folks in the O'Connell Center.

The win came despite Florida again getting virtually no scoring off the bench with Dan Werner's two points the only points from the non-starters in this one. Of course when you top three scorers combine for 65 points you don't need a whole lot more. While Werner looked incredibly tentative about shooting the ball, the senior forward did have his best game in a while grabbing six rebounds and dishing out a pair of assists. He also gave the Gators typically sold defense.

Eleven games remain before the SEC Tournament and the Gators' picture is reasonably clear in terms of post-season possibilities. Let's examine some key factors.

SEC schedule ---- Florida has 10 games remaining in the SEC and six of them will be played on the road. Of the four home games, only Auburn would come into the O'Dome as a significant underdog. Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State all promise to be difficult matchups for Donovan's gang. The road schedule includes nothing but challenges starting with Sunday's contest at Tennessee. The Gators need to split the 10 games to post a 9-7 SEC mark and a 6-4 finish would be a great way to impress the NCAA Selection Committee.

RPI Improvement ---- As of Thursday morning the Gators are No. 51 according to Kenpom.com and No. 61 in the ESPN Inside RPI. The top 50 teams can be pretty confident about getting an NCAA bid so Florida is either on the bubble or just outside it at this point in time. That will change as the Gators go through the remaining schedule. Every team left on the slate has a better RPI than Florida's average strength of schedule so even a .500 type record going forward will leave the Gators in pretty good shape.

X Marks the Spot ---- It would be easy to overlook the Feb 13 game against Xavier in the midst of the 16-game SEC gauntlet, but that would be a mistake. The game against the Musketeers could well be a difference maker when it comes to post-season opportunities. Xavier is No. 15 in the RPI and No. 33 in Kenpom.com. A win there would further enhance Florida's resume in non-conference play.

Backcourt Stamina ---- Florida has gotten superb play out of its backcourt of Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton. The problem is the Gator tandem is backed up by, well no one. Florida gets occasional minutes at the "2" from Chandler Parsons and Ray Shipman, but in SEC play the starters are playing about 34 minutes a night. Despite that heavy load, Walker (19.2) and Boynton (18.0) are combining for almost half Florida's 75.3 points in conference games. Their ability to hold up over the long haul will determine just how far this team can go.

R-O-L-A-I-D-S ---- Well that's how a commercial spells "relief", but the Gators could use some relief from the b-e-n-c-h. In the Gators' four game SEC win streak they've gotten an average of just four points from the non-starters and almost all of them from Dan Werner. If they can get more assistance from Werner, Shipman and Erik Murphy that will help get the other issues listed above to turn out the way the Gators would like them to.


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