Madison Kirby, ESPN Radio
As the Gators set their sites on the NCAA Tournament, the players must make up for an injured teammate and offensive mishaps by beating their toughest SEC opponents.
March Madness is looming forward and the Gators are trying to make a last stand for their tournament seeding. Though it seems one of the most consistent problems for this Florida team is the difficulty they find in winning big games. They have lost to all their opponents ranked within the top three including Ohio State, Syracuse, and Kentucky; as well as tough unranked opponents on the road like Rutgers and Tennessee. Gator fans can only hope their newly found unity will bring them back together in time for their final three SEC matchups. Where they will face their top two SEC opponents Vanderbilt and Kentucky.
After getting blown out by Kentucky and swept by unranked Tennessee there were a lot of questions to be asked about Florida’s potential heading into tournament play. A lot of those questions have had to do with the maturity of this young team. The team is entirely underclassmen except for its lone senior Erving Walker. Their maturation will become more evident in the next couple of weeks when they show how they have responded to the loss of Will Yeguete, who went out of the Auburn game with a broken foot. Yeguete has been one of Florida’s most consistent players off the bench defensively, and averages over 6 rebounds per game.
Since losing the two previously mentioned games back to back, they have seemed to return to form. They beat Alabama by nearly ten points and crushed the Arkansas home game win streak by beating the Razorbacks by thirty. However against Auburn they had to win the game by overcoming their own 18 turnovers, and pleasing an unhappy Billy Donovan. Walker was quoted in saying that Donovan’s halftime speech was not meant for children.
Though the Gators beat the Auburn Tigers by 16 points with a final score of 63-47, they still did not come close their point-per-game average of 78.3. They did not resemble the 20th team in the nation in terms of points-per-game who had dismantled the Razorbacks only a game before by putting up 98 points. Luckily for the Gators they have a three-day break to get ready for the Georgia Bulldogs. Though the Bulldogs are ranked 11th out of the 12 teams in the SEC the game could prove very important to work out any kinks that the team has been having. It will also be very vital in getting a game plan together, and bench rotation for the two big final games of the regular season.
The Gators have so many stars on the team, but different ones shine from game to game. Against Alabama, Patric Young had 19 points and five rebounds, and against Arkansas Erving Walker had 31 points and five assists. Both of those stats are much higher points than either of them have scored on average throughout the season. Their current point per game averages are 10.4 and 12. 4 respectively. However both players have shown just how big of an impact they can have on the game. The most consistent players on the other hand are Bradley Beal and Kenny Boynton. They almost always score in the double digits, and tend to keep up the offensive rhythm. In fact, during the past four games the two have combined for 134 points, making up 46% of the teams score.
Going forward the team can only hope to put the pieces together and make it work in order to have the best possible position in the bracket. Which Billy Donovan feels will come from hard work “As a team, there’s been times we’ve been good, there’s been times we haven’t been good, its just handling adversity inside of practice. I think sometimes you can see some of that stuff flower.”
Hopefully the past three games fans have been seeing the team flower, and blossom, but the biggest adversity yet will be going into Nashville to beat Vanderbilt at home, who is currently 9-4 in SEC play. Without Yeguete, Donovan and the Gators may need to ask for help from Casey Prather, “So I think someone who has to step up has got to be someone like Casey,” Donovan said, “and I’m not asking him to be Will Yeguete. He’s got the athleticism, and he should be able to do different things out there for us.” Even though Prather has only averaged 6.25 minutes of play in the last 4 games, the team has confidence in him that he will help fill the holes on the roster.
Marching forward to the Madness hopefully the Gators will keep their cool, their stars will shine, and at the end of it they will be proud of themselves.
Madison Kirby is a Telecommunications and Marketing major at the University of Florida. She covers Florida Basketball and Football for ESPN Radio (Gainesville/Ocala). You can follow her on Twitter @madisonESPNUF.