College Basketball and the Final Four Moves On, With or Without the Florida Gators

The hangover has ended. The college basketball world has moved on from the Florida Gators’ loss and so must we. We may not want to completely, but it has to happen eventually, so we might as well pull off the band-aid and realize that for the third-consecutive season, the Gators fell just one game short of the Final Four.

2013 Final Four

Without the Gators to spark our interest over the final few days of the 2012-13 college basketball season, we might as well turn our attention to those remaining in the field for an NCAA March Madness update.

Michigan – We’ll start with the Wolverines for no other reason than they were the team that took down our beloved Florida. It was an ugly game during which the Gators never seemed to have any chance of pulling out a victory. Now Michigan moves on with Trey Burke – the Wooden Award winner – and a roster full of big names. There’s a part of me that wants the Wolverines to win it all; sort of that you-beat-us-now-you-might-as-well-keep-winning feeling. Take note, that feeling doesn’t apply to a handful of schools we’d classify as rivals, and as always Ohio State.

Wichita State – Then there’s the underdog. It’s hard not to cheer for the little guy that wasn’t supposed to be here. Ultimately though, the little guy exits without the trophy. Butler came close not once, but twice, but we haven’t had that true Cinderella finish the story with a happy ending. So with the Shockers comes that part of me that hopes they knock off the big bad schools and “shock the world.” It doesn’t seem likely, but don’t you want to see it happen just once?

Louisville – We move on to the Cardinals and the team that knocked the Gators out of the NCAA Tournament just one year ago. We don’t have a burning desire to want Louisville to win. After all, we still feel the sting of last season and the Sugar Bowl just a few months ago. And there has to be some rule written somewhere about being a Florida fan and not cheering for Rick Pitino, even if he did help Billy Donovan become the coach he is today. In the end though, would we be all that disappointed if they won it for Kevin Ware? Probably not.

Syracuse – And finally we get to the Orange. Hmm. No real reason to cheer for Syracuse from the mindset of a Gators’ fan. Florida last played the Orange on December 2, 2011 and lost. There is no lingering pain from another sport, but also no feel-good story we have a real reason to gravitate to. They are the Orange; we like the color orange. Nope. Not enough. They don’t get a cheering section from this Florida fan and I can’t imagine they do from many others.

Many have made their picks; now it’s your turn. There are three games left. Make your selection.

Who will win the 2013 NCAA Tournament?

    Louisville (80%, 4 Votes)

    Michigan (20%, 1 Votes)

    Syracuse (0%, 0 Votes)

    Wichita State (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 5

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The NCAA Tournament Starts Tomorrow; How Excited Are You?

It’s been a while since I’ve been this excited for the NCAA Tournament. As a Florida fan, I’m always excited for the Gators as they make their way to the big dance, but my overall excitement for the tourney as a whole has leveled off in recent years. Call it an overwhelming obsession with one team, too many other sports on my mind at one time, or whatever you want. Whatever it is, it has put the tournament in a place of muted thrill for me.

Florida Gators - National Champions

That doesn’t mean I don’t watch, but I’ve been a halfhearted tourney follower at best. My brackets were completed with little thought and venture too far out of the SEC and I may give you a line similar to “er…uh…yeah…sure they can pull off the upset…they have that guy, don’t they…no, the tall one…you know who I mean.” I was a sports fan that needed a slap on the wrist, or better yet a smack across the back of the head.

For whatever reason, that period of my life has since passed. I’ve become more involved in the college basketball season and more excited for what March brings than in other recent years (and not just because yours truly has a birthday on the horizon). I’ve watched games, I’ve followed the latest stories, and I’ve even found myself fretting over 8-9 matchups. Basically, I’m back.

Just the other day, Mrs. TBG (not much of a basketball fan) said from her spot on the couch “the Florida game ended, we’re still watching basketball?” Yes. Yes we were. And we still are. I’m excited. Overly so.

I printed out my bracket early this morning and it has more corrections, fixes, and edits than I remember it having in five years. March is here and I’m ready. I’m ready too watch the orange and blue try to win a close game. I’m ready to cheer on those other schools I’ve always liked for reasons I can’t understand (North Carolina) and reasons I can (Wisconsin) should something drastic happen to the Gators too early. And I’m ready to be consumed by all that is college basketball for the next three weeks.

The Nerlens Noel Investigation Has Me Happy I’m “Just A Fan”

By now, you’re aware that the NCAA is investigating Kentucky recruit Nerlens Noel from a variety of angles including his reclassification, relationships and finances. You’re also aware that this isn’t surprising considering Noel’s recruitment and the aforementioned reclassification. I’m not implying any wrongdoing (how would I know what occurred?), but merely stating that it makes sense that the NCAA would look into such a high-profile recruit that was set to be a member of a recruiting class one year later before reclassifying. Everything about Noel could be squeaky clean, but inquiries at the least shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone.

Out of the reporting of the investigation alone, questions have risen. Prominently, about Pete Thamel of the New York Times, who reported on the NCAA’s investigation. And this is where we went from a story about sports to a story about a story about sports.

Glenn Logan of A Sea of Blue sums it up nicely, but the basics are that Thamel is vague about a person the NCAA briefed on the subject (Logan rightly asks why a reporter was briefed by the NCAA), could in fact be the person that was briefed, and didn’t initially make links between Errol Randolph and ASM Sports. It’s that last part that has brought about conspiracy theories of sorts and has furthered my pleasure over being “just a fan.”

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Florida Gators 79 – UAB Blazers 61: Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton Lead Gators To Win

Guards Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton led the Florida Gators over the University of Alabama-Birmingham Blazers on Tuesday night. Behind a combined 43 points from Walker and Boynton, the Gators moved to 12-3 on the season after the 79-61 victory. Not only did both shoot greater than 0.500 from the field, but they went a combined 13-for-18 from behind the three-point line.

In addition to the night had by Walker and Boynton, Patric Young went 7-for-10 from the floor to add 15 points. The three helped relieve what can only be described as an awful shooting night from freshman Bradley Beal. Beal has been streaky lately and on Tuesday night was on the down end of the slope. He finished 2-for-15 from the floor while only scoring five points. He did, however, tie for the team lead with Walker with six assists.

The Gators have now won two straight in convincing fashion after being upset by the Rutgers Scarlet Nights last week. While the loss was an unwelcome result, Florida’s last two games were nice rebounds. If the momentum gained in those wins can carry over to Saturday’s game against the rival Tennessee Volunteers, a new win streak could be well in progress.

Florida’s non-conference schedule has now come to an end as the Gators move on to the SEC. The Gators head into conference play as on of the SEC’s top teams while the Volunteers find themselves at the bottom of the standings. Getting started on the right foot will be the goal of Billy Donovan and the Gators on Saturday.

Florida Gators Vs. UAB Blazers: Men’s Basketball Preview

One final tune-up. One final chance to check the oil, kick the tires, and make sure the tank is full. The Florida Gators host the University of Alabama-Birmingham Blazers on Tuesday night in the last non-conference game before SEC play begins. For Florida, it’s one final status check. For UAB, it’s a self-evaluation of sorts.

The Facts

Opponent: UAB Blazers
When: Tuesday, January 3, 2012 – 7:00 PM
Where: Gainesville, FL
Television/Radio: FSN, Gator Sports Network, Sirius 218, XM 200
Records: Florida: 11-3 (8-0 Home), UAB: 5-7 (1-4 Away)
Rankings: Florida: 13/14, UAB: NR
Point Spread: Florida -17.5
Over/Under: 134.5
Calculated Score: Florida 76-58/76-59
Points Scored: Florida: 85.9, UAB: 59.5
Points Allowed: Florida: 67.3, UAB: 60.5

The Preview

The Gators can score; that much we know. Florida streaks through games, putting together scoring bursts which allow them to maintain a relatively high scoring average. The Blazers, on the other hand, have trouble putting up points, but have been better at stopping them from being scored against them than you might think.

When you see a team sport a 5-7 record, you may not expect much, but UAB’s 60.5 points allowed average says something about their ability on one end of the court. The Blazers also hold their opponents to less than 0.400 shooting from the field. The problem comes at the other end where UAB only averages 59.5 points of their own. That will be the difference in this one.

To this point, UAB hasn’t played a Florida and is unlikely to hold the Gators below 60 points. It would be surprising if they held Florida to under 70 and you cold even go to 80 and possibly beyond. The Gators will outdistance themselves from the Blazers with their range and will make it hard for UAB to keep up on the scoring end. The Blazers are riding a three-game winning streak and coming off a 92-point outburst, but it won’t be enough against the Gators.

Expect Billy Donovan and Florida to use this game as a chance to iron out the wrinkles before the conference schedule begins. It will be a great opportunity for Donovan to get a final look at his roster before the part of the schedule where minutes are no longer given away. Expect the Gators to roll and hope for consistency in the way they do so.

Florida Gators 90 – Yale Bulldogs 70: Gators Bounce Back With Big Win

The Florida Gators rang in the New Year early with a 90-70 win over the Yale Bulldogs. While lost in the midst of bowl games, college basketball will soon take the forefront for the 11-3 Gators. Beating Yale was expected; defeating them authoritatively was needed. Well, maybe not needed, but good for getting back on track after the double-overtime loss to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.

Kenny Boynton was again the leader on the offensive end of the court. A 26-point outing led Florida and matched the output of Yale star Greg Mangano. Erik Murphy added 19, including five from three-point land. Murphy is quickly becoming one of the more valuable Gators, with range many opponents don’t expect. That range will be an asset for Florida as the season continues.

One of the keys to victory – as pointed out by Alligator Army’s Andy Hutchins – was the Gators’ assist-to-turnover ratio. Turnovers have been a frustrating part of Billy Donovan teams in recent years, but Saturday night showed what this squad can do when playing smart basketball. 24 assists to only seven turnovers; a ratio Donovan would take every night.

The Gators move to 2012 with one final tuneup before the SEC schedule begins. On Tuesday, January 3, the UAB Blazers come to Gainesville.

Florida Gators Vs. Yale Bulldogs: Men’s Basketball Preview

A double-overtime loss to the Rutgers Scarlet Knight on Thursday put a questionable defeat on the Florida Gators’ resume. Florida must rebound with authority in their New Year’s Eve matchup with the Yale Bulldogs. With only two games remaining on the non-conference schedule, the Gators need to put the upset behind them and prepare for the home stretch of the schedule.

The Facts

Opponent: Yale Bulldogs
When: Saturday, December 31, 2011 – 2:00 PM
Where: Gainesville, FL
Television/Radio: ESPNU, Gator Sports Network, Sirius 220, XM 199
Records: Florida: 10-3 (7-0 Home), Yale: 8-3 (4-3 Away)
Rankings: Florida: 10/10, Yale: NR/NR
Point Spread: Florida -21
Over/Under: 145.5
Calculated Score: Florida 83-62
Points Scored: Florida: 85.5, Yale: 73.8
Points Allowed: Florida: 67.1, Yale: 64.5

The Preview

Florida doesn’t face Ivy League members often. In fact, the last time was in 1999 and the last time the Gators hosted one was even further back in 1969. It is a rarity and has never happened against Yale. The first matchup against the two will be a chance for Florida to rebound after the disappointing loss, while presenting an opportunity for Yale to see how they match up against a top-10 team.

The Gators are tough at home this season and will look to use the O’Connell Center crowd to their advantage. Florida averages 14.9 more points at home and allows 17.2 less than they do on the road. To say “home sweet home” is an understatement. The Gators are comfortable in their own gym and that should show against the Bulldogs.

Yale is led by senior Greg Mangano who recently became the school’s career block leader. Mangano leads the Bulldogs with averages of 17.3 points and 9.0 rebounds. While Florida relies on more of a rotation, Yale’s five starters average at least 23.2 minutes per game. It will be difficult for the Bulldogs to stay fresh against the Gators if they continue to rely on their starters. Florida would do well by pressing Yale throughout and hope for fatigue to set in.

With Mangano likely to matchup with Patric Young, the Gators may have to rely on outside shooting to open the game up. This means at least two of the three primary guards will have to be on their game. Florida can stand for one of the Bradley Beal, Kenny Boynton, Erving Walker trio to have an off day. They can’t have it be two or, dare I say it, all three. Against Rutgers, it was only Boynton “on.” That was painfully evident when Beal and Walker misses led to Knights’ baskets in transition. Yale can’t be overlooked and the guards need to come to play.

If anything, this will be a chance to see how the Gators respond after a tough loss. Florida is 2-0 after losses this season and should easily improve that to 3-0, but that depends on which team we get. The offensive firepower is there, now the defense must reappear. Expect the Gators to finish 2011 with a win; how it comes is up to them.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights 85 – Florida Gators 83: Upset Drops Gators To 10-3

To keep you guessing, I have posted the recap of Thursday night’s game over at Alligator Army. To do the same, the Florida Gators lost in double-overtime to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.

Thursday’s loss did little to answer questions about how good Florida can be. At times, the Gators looked like their offense would take over and send them to a big victory. At others, the defense broke down and allowed the Scarlet Knights to keep the game closer than it probably should have been. A familiar problem was also present and continues to be a thorn in Florida’s side. That would be the Gators’ need to lower the quality of their shot selection in fast-paced games. We’re becoming uncomfortably accustomed to this happening and all hope it’s something Billy Donovan eventually puts on end to.

The loss drops Florida to 10-3 on the season and 0-3 on the road. With a visit to the Tennessee Volunteers on the horizon, the Gators’ road troubles need to be solved.

Florida Gators Vs. Rutgers Scarlet Knights: Men’s Basketball Preview

Game previews are back and hopefully here to stay. Although – as with everything around here – that’s far from guaranteed.
 
The Florida Gators men’s basketball team travels to Piscataway, NJ to take on the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on Thursday night. Florida has been off for the last week, but rides a five-game winning streak into Rutgers. With the start of the SEC schedule only nine days away, it’s important for the Gators to continue to build momentum heading into conference play.
 
The Facts
 
Opponent: Rutgers Scarlet Knights
When: Thursday, December 29, 2011 – 7:00 PM
Where: Piscataway, NJ
Television/Radio: ESPN2, Gator Sports Network, Sirius 220, XM 201
Records: Florida: 10-2 (0-2 Away), Rutgers: 7-5 (6-2 Home)
Rankings: Florida: 10/10, Rutgers: NR/NR
Point Spread: Florida -11
Over/Under: 144
Calculated Score: Florida 77-66/78-67
Scoring Offenses: Florida: 85.8, Rutgers: 68.8
Scoring Defenses: Florida: 65.6, Rutgers: 61.3
 
The Preview
 
This game is being touted as Mike Rosario’s return to Rutgers, although we’re not sure if we’ll even see him on the court. The transfer guard – that played his first two collegiate seasons with the Scarlet Knights – didn’t appear in the Gators’ last two games. He’s been cleared to play against Rutgers, but exactly how many minutes he’ll get is anyone’s guess. A lingering back strain could limit him, but so could his performance on the court. Billy Donovan was quick to pull Rosario earlier this season against the Syracuse Orange when the guard wasn’t playing up to the coach’s standards.
 
Realistically, the key won’t be Rosario’s play. He could provide a spark off the bench against his former team if he can go, but the other Florida scorers will be the focus. The Gators come into the game averaging 85.8 points per game – good for fifth in the nation. Even in losses to the Ohio State Buckeyes and Syracuse, Florida averaged 71 points, which is more than Rutgers has averaged the entire season. The Gators will have to continuing scoring against the Knights, which could be easier said than done.
 
Although Rutgers’ schedule to this point doesn’t put fear into the hearts of anyone, the Knights have only allowed opponents to score more than 66 points in three of their 12 games. Those three instances all came within the first five games of the season. Yes, Rutgers is 7-5 overall, but four of those losses came by a combined 18 points. This will be the first true test the Knights have faced, but one they’ll push themselves for, being their last game before they begin Big East play.
 
With losses to only No. 1 Syracuse and No. 2 Ohio State, Florida is one of the hottest teams in the nation. Since losing to the Orange, the No. 10 Gators have defeated Arizona in overtime, the then No. 22 Texas A&M Aggies by 20 and the Florida State Seminoles by 18. This game should be no different as Florida looks to extend its win streak to six games before returning to Gainesville to close out 2011 against the Yale Bulldogs.
 
One of the Gators’ strengths is their ability to find scoring from a number of options. Four players average double-digits in points with two others just below the 10 per game mark. If someone is having an off night, it’s easy for another player to pick up the slack. With nine players averaging more than 10 minutes per game and only two getting more than 30, expect a heavy rotation to keep Florida fresh. Rutgers also has a solid rotation with seven players averaging over 20 minutes per game, but with no one scoring even 12 points per contest, it will be difficult for the Knights to match the Gators’ scoring ability.

Playing a true away game will be a good test for Florida as the Gators have only had two of those so far this season. In recent seasons, Florida has dropped an early game or two they really shouldn’t have. Look for the Gators to not allow that to happen against the Knights, but also watch this game closely as it should give us a good read on Florida’s ability to handle a crowd. While crowds at Ohio State and Syracuse were certainly different, this is still a nationally televised game. Crowds always are a little louder when the entire country is watching. The Gators should have little trouble outpacing the Knights, but this could be a telling game at this point in the season.

College Basketball Takes The Forefront

“Ball so hard…”

There’s more to that line from a song with a title I won’t mention from Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne, but those three words serve the purpose of this piece.

You see, I have never balled so hard. During my basketball days, which thanks to uncooperative knees have long since passed, I was a lurker. I kept myself somewhere around the three-point line and rarely ventured anywhere near the rim. I was a defensive liability, but had the one redeeming quality of being able to hit threes. My inability to do little else led to me not play the sport in an organized fashion past the eighth grade with the exception of the occasional summer league or Saturday at the fraternity house. Even in those situations, it was quickly discovered that I lacked any desire to guard anyone, so being picked first or second or third was rarely an occurrence.

It was around the time of those fraternity house games that my love of the NBA disappeared. I can’t put a finger on exactly what caused my passion for the National Basketball Association to fade away, but it went from being an important part of my sports world to being an afterthought placed behind a handful of other sports. The NBA just didn’t do it for me anymore and 12 years later it still doesn’t.

What is amazing in all of that though is that I never stopped loving the game of basketball. Without a desire to closely follow it in its professional form, I still clung to the college game. Call it the aura of March Madness or the fact that I’ve always been drawn to college sports over professional ones, but I would still never miss a big game.

Today, not much has changed. The NBA lockout wasn’t news to me and neither was the league’s return. In fact, my only concern over the whole matter was the possible loss of Chandler Parsons’ rookie season. Despite this being the first time this season I’ve mentioned the sport on this site, I’ve been closely following the college basketball season. I’ve watched games, read predictions and previews. I’ve been keeping up with recruiting and the Florida Gators’ need to find any big men available (I’ll be posting an ad on Craigslist shortly). I’ve still loved the sport…the college version.

It’s funny because I like the NFL. I see it as many do, as an extension of a college athlete’s career as a football player. I play fantasy football and I participate in a variety of pools. I watch games on Sunday and am just as amazed at the Tim Tebow extravaganza as the rest of you. But when it comes to the NBA, I’ve moved on.

With the college football season winding down, my love of the college game grows. I’ve spent much of the day reviewing the Gators and reading everything I can about their Wednesday night opponent – the Arizona Wildcats. I’ve even brushed up on my knowledge of the Florida women’s team. Still weeks away from the Gators’ bowl game and two months away from national signing day, there’s a void to be filled. I openly welcome college basketball to fill it for me.