Before the season started many thought the SEC would be like many of the other conferences across the country, hotly contested by a handful of very good teams. John Calipari was going try to recreate the freshmen magic of a couple years ago that won him a national title but teams like Florida, Missouri, LSU, Tennessee and Mississippi were also thought to contend.
As the calendar turns to February the SEC may be the only power conference with a clear-cut dominant team. It isn’t the freshmen laden Wildcats but Billy Donovan’s Florida Gators. The Gators are currently 19-2 and an unblemished 8-0 in conference good enough to be ranked 3rd in the country. If it wasn’t for a six-point loss at Wisconsin in the 2nd game of the season and a 65-64 loss at UConn the Gators would be battling Syracuse to be the #1 team in the country.
Florida has seemingly gone about their business quietly. Aside from back-to-back wins over Kansas and Memphis there wasn’t much of consequence in the team’s non-conference slate. Early in the season it was tough to gauge the Gators as they were dealing with injuries and suspensions, but for the last month or so they have been healthy and rolling on all cylinders. They potentially gain another cylinder tonight as highly-touted recruit Chris Walker has finally been cleared to play by the NCAA after receiving improper benefits before enrolling at Florida.
Like the other top teams; Syracuse’s rebounding, Arizona without Brandon Ashley and Wichita State’s
competition, Florida is not without warts. Yes they are 8-0 in the SEC but they also haven’t played
anyone better than Tennessee whom they beat by 26. They also still have home dates with Missouri and LSU as well as a road to Mississippi and a home-and-home with Kentucky so the Gators still face plenty of challenges to keep their two-game lead in the SEC.
They have a trio of seniors leading the way offensively. Guard Scottie Wilbekin and forwards Casey Prather and Patric Young are averaging 38.7 points per game for a team that scores 71.2. In addition to the veteran leadership the sophomores Michael Frazier II and Virginia Tech transfer Dorian Finney-Smith add 22.9 points. So while the Gators play nine guys at least 10 minutes a game, they don’t get a ton of offensive help from those coming off the bench.
One slight difference statistically between this year’s Gator squad and the team that lost in the Elite Eight last year is the fact that this year’s edition is attempting nearly four less three-point attempts than last year, which is probably a good thing because this year’s squad is shooting 34% compared to nearly 38% from behind the line.
In a year where no team has set itself apart yet, the Florida Gators have a chance over the next 4-5 weeks to build a resume that could see them as the best of the best when Selection Sunday rolls around.