Florida Gators 69 – Kentucky Wildcats 52: Gators Win Convincingly Over Defending Champs

It’s hard to call the Kentucky Wildcats the defending national champions. They are, but at the same time they aren’t. Most of the roster is now in the NBA and the team we see this season is largely a new one. But there sits John Calipari, coaching a program that hoisted the trophy just one season ago. Commanding the other team is one Billy Donovan, masterfully leading the Florida Gators to a 69-52 win over the defending champs.

Kenny Boynton - Florida Gators

The Gators are quickly approaching what could be a dream season by many standards. At 20-3 (10-1 SEC), Florida is one of the nation’s better teams and the convincing win over Kentucky further proved that. The No. 7/6 Gators have lost games to only No. 9/9 Arizona, No. 10/11 Kansas State and—most recently—Arkansas. While the double-digit loss to the Razorbacks hurts, the Gators counter that with an RPI currently at No. 4. Those are the types of things the NCAA Tournament selection committee will take into account. So is the fact that Florida has beaten opponents by double digits in each of its 10 SEC victories. Even more impressive, all 20 of the Gators’ wins—SEC or not—have come by double digits. This is a team that has struggled—three times to be exact—but is approaching near-impossible-to-stop status when running on all cylinders.

Take Tuesday night for example. The Gators stretched a 13-point halftime lead to a 17-point win. Florida shot 49.1% from the field against a team that had only allowed opponents to connect on 37.8% of their shots. The Gators also made 42.9% of their three-point attempts and connected on nearly 80% of their free throws. Offensively, the Wildcats didn’t have an answer. Defensively, they struggled to keep up with the orange and blue as well. Shot blocking freshman phenom Nerlens Noel—who would leave the game with an injury in the second half—managed three blocks, but that was also the total for Kentucky as a whole. The Gators blocked nine Wildcat attempts on the night.

Junior guard Scottie Wilbekin lead Florida with 14 points, but junior center Patric Young was the Gators best player for most of the night. Young put in 12 points to go with 11 rebounds and four blocks. We continuously thank him for decided to return to Florida for his junior season. Three other Gators had double-digit point totals, including junior reserve guard/forward Casey Prather. Prather—filling in admirably for injured junior forward Will Yeguete—had 12 points for the second-straight game.

Winning is good; beating Kentucky by 17 is better. The Gators have only done that once before in Donovan’s time as the Florida head coach. They’ve beaten the Wildcats numerous other times, but only once by that much. Even winning had become rare as Kentucky had taken seven of the last eight meetings. The win gives the Gators their 20th of the season and their 15th-straight season doing so. With seven regular season games remaining and both the SEC and NCAA tournaments to play, Florida has a good chance to make it eight 25-win seasons under Donovan and even possibly get to 30 wins for the third time. The other two times? You already know when those were.

Men’s Basketball Preview: Florida Gators Vs. Kentucky Wildcats – March 10, 2012

We thought we had seen the last of the No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats, but a third matchup was destiny of sorts. If you describe destiny as facing a team you haven’t been able to crack in two meetings already this season. On Saturday, the No. 19/22 Florida Gators face the nation’s top team for a third time and a place in the SEC Championship Game.

The Facts

Opponent: Kentucky Wildcats
When: Sat., March 10, 2012 – 1:00 PM
Where: New Orleans, LA
Broadcast: ABC
Records: Florida: 23-9 (11-6 SEC), Kentucky: 31-1 (17-0 SEC)
Rankings: Florida: 19/22, Kentucky: 1
Current Streak: Florida: W1, Kentucky: W23
Point Spread: Kentucky -8.5
Point Scored: Florida: 76.4, Kentucky: 77.2
Points Allowed: Florida: 65.8, Kentucky: 58.3
Last Meeting: Kentucky 74-59 (March 4, 2012)

The Preview

I enjoy weekend games played earlier in the day. The anticipation of a night game weighs on me throughout the day to the point that I just wish it were over with already. But a day game is ready to go as soon as you are. Wake up, putter around, watch the game, end the day in joy or misery, but at least you know which and can act accordingly.

So here we are again. On the other end of the court, Kentucky. Say what you want about John Calipari, but the man does something right. Some will argue that with that kind of talent anyone can win, but that’s not really true. Calipari is reinventing the wheel year after year with a new roster and different key contributors and yet here are the Wildcats at No. 1 and labeled the favorite to win both the SEC Championship and the NCAA Championship. But that doesn’t mean we won’t cheer for our boys.

Sure we’re nervous. Sure some of us may even wish this one were over before it even begins. But we’re still fans with hope. Among the things we hope for is a Patric Young performance reminiscent of the one he had the last time Florida played Kentucky. We’d also like to see even moderately acceptable shooting come back from the guards. And then there’s that defense thing. On the season, the Gators allow 65.8 points per game. They allowed 78 and 74 to Kentucky in the two losses. Those numbers actually might not be awful if Florida had come close to scoring it’s average of 76.4, but instead the Gators managed 58 and 59.

We could go into every aspect of each of those defeats in detail or further discuss just how good this Kentucky team is, but there’s really no point. You know, you watched those games, you were “there.” What we can do is focus on those three things – Young, shooting percentage, defense. Those three things can keep the Gators in the game. Neither team necessarily needs this win (they’ve both punched their tickets to the Big Dance), but a Florida upset would impact seeding and may just do enough to deflate a little bit from Kentucky’s championship balloon.

Men’s Basketball Preview: Florida Gators @ Kentucky Wildcats – February 7, 2012

The matchup we’ve all been waiting for: the No. 7/8 Florida Gators hit the road to take on the No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats. Want to know just how good Florida is? This is the game to watch. The Wildcats are always on attack mode and will test the Gators on both ends of the court. It could be a high-scoring affair and a good test for both squads.

The Facts

Opponent: Kentucky Wildcats
When: Tuesday, February 7, 2012 – 7:00 PM
Where: Lexington, KY
Television/Radio: ESPN, GatorVision
Records: Florida: 19-4 (7-1 SEC, 2-4 Away), Kentucky: 23-1 (9-0 SEC, 14-0 Home)
Rankings: Florida: 7/8, Kentucky: 1/1
Current Streak: Florida: W7, Kentucky: W15
Point Spread: Kentucky -9
Over/Under: 142
Calculated Score: Kentucky 75-66/76-67
Points Scored: Florida: 80.1, Kentucky: 78.2
Points Allowed: Florida: 65.0, Kentucky: 57.7
Last Meeting: Kentucky 70-54 (March 13, 2011 – SEC Tournament)

The Preview

Wildcat Blue Nation answered some questions for us (link above) and showed that confidence is high among Kentucky fans. That’s not ground-breaking information and should have been obvious considering the Wildcats are 23-1 and ranked No. 1 in both major polls, but Gator fans shouldn’t feel much different. At 19-4 and No. 7/8, Florida isn’t that far behind. Tuesday night gives us a top-10 matchup between two teams that are definitely worthy of their rankings.

On paper, it will be a tough one for the Gators. This feels like one of those games where everything must go right for Florida from the start. Kentucky is the type of team that can jump all over every mistake and go on multiple runs to pull away. The Gators must play smart and Billy Donovan needs to be ready for every matchup John Calipari throws his way.

Florida hasn’t looked great on the road and has struggled to a 2-4 record. Sure, the Gators have won two-straight, but the Wildcats haven’t lost at home in a very long time. You have to go all the way back to March 4, 2009 to find a home loss for Kentucky and that was before Calipari was leading the Wildcats. The crowd will be in it and the team will play up for their fans.

This could be the year Kentucky makes a serious run at the national championship, but before they get there they have to face the Gators not once, but twice. That first time is Tuesday night. Donovan will have Florida ready. We just have to wait and see if the Gators show up.

Preview: #12 Florida Gators vs. #15/#16 Kentucky Wildcats, 3/13, 1:00

In the last 10 years or so this has seemed to become the dream matchup in the SEC.  As Billy Donovan has brought #12 Florida (26-6, 15-3 SEC) to prominence, #15/#16 Kentucky (24-8, 12-6 SEC) has welcomed a new rival.

Exactly six years ago to the date of this game, the Gators and Wildcats last met for the SEC Championship.  On March 13, 2005, #24 Florida upset #5 Kentucky 70-53.  Those Gators were led by Matt Walsh who had a game-high 26 points and David Lee who pulled down 17 rebounds.  Two true freshmen – Corey Brewer and Al Horford – started and were significant contributors.  Another – Joakim Noah would log one minute of time on the court.  Another true freshman and future NFL Draft pick – Cornelius Ingram – would also get into the game.
Those Gators would see their season end one week later in the second round to Villanova.  Despite losing that game, the Wildcats would go farther than the Gators in the NCAA Tournament, advancing to the Elite Eight before losing to Michigan State in double overtime.  The SEC Championship game that season was a rematch of the year before in which Kentucky would get the best of Florida.  The Gators would go on to win three conference titles in a row and two National Championships to go along with them.  You know, in case you happened to forget those years of glory.
It’s been too long since these two have faced off for the conference crown.  They are the class of the SEC this season and are 1-1 against each other.  The Wildcats are riding high and although they haven’t been as dynamic and powerful as they were last season, John Calipari has Kentucky playing well again.  The Gators, on the other hand, are still a little bit of a surprise.  It’s not that much of a shock that Florida is playing for the SEC Championship, but the current run may not have been expected.
The Gators have only lost once since January 29.  That one loss?  To the Wildcats of course.  But during that same time period, Florida also beat Kentucky.  It’s another matchup against the team Donovan always seemed destined to coach.  Through it all, he has stayed at Florida and tomorrow he looks for his fourth SEC Tournament title.

Excited for the College Basketball Season

No other start to a season can match my excitement when college football rolls around.  As much as I enjoy a number of other sports, they just don’t compare.  I spend the offseason following college football as much as, and most of the time more than, the sports that are actually in session.  There’s plenty of news even that time of year what with recruiting, forecasting, and, ugh, arrests.  There was a time when I was quite the NBA fan.  The NBA and NBC on Sundays kept my attention for the entire day.  That time has long come and gone.  Today’s NBA has its moment, but overall just doesn’t appeal to me.  I still enjoy the NFL and always will.  I’m quite the hockey fan as well (when games that spark my interest are actually broadcast).

Then there’s college basketball.  I enjoy it, but also find myself annoyed by parts of it.  I’ll never be a fan of the one-and-done rule for selfish purposes.  I have no problem with any individual being giving a shot to earn a living at what they want to do, but for myself, I want to see guys stick around.  As a fan, I want the players I enjoy watching to stay.  Texas fans can look back to the season they got to watch Kevin Durant and smile, but that’s all it was, one season.  Being a Florida fan, transfers also take their toll.  I don’t know the transfer statistics when it comes to other schools, but the Gators have to be somewhere near the top of the list.  I also hate the overlap, even if it will never change.  As a college football fan first, I find myself struggling to be fully invested in anything else until the season is over.  With nearly a two-month overlap, it’s typically hard for me to come close to diehard levels until mid-January.  And if a college basketball game is played on a Saturday, forget about it.  Hopefully this season will be different.
I’ve attempted to become a bigger fan of sports other than college football and the NFL in the past.  I took a chance at baseball, but didn’t even make it to midseason.  That was a much more difficult endeavor though because I was never a huge fan.  I enjoy going to the occasional game, will watch big matchups, and read the occasional column here and there, but overall, I have other sports-related priorities.  I’m sad to say I didn’t even know the San Francisco Giants had won the World Series until around noon the following day.  Baseball typically gets its shot during the brief period between the end of hockey season and the start of football season.
College basketball is a little different though.  First of all, it’s a college sport.  That right there gives it an advantage.  Basketball is also a sport I enjoy playing.  When I was younger I liked playing basketball more than any other sport.  I averaged maybe two minutes a game on my middle school teams, but loved all of it.  When it came to high school though the two sports I played consistently – basketball and soccer – were part of the same season.  I went with soccer because it was the sport at which I was better.  As much as I loved basketball, I was never very good at it.  I can hit deep shots with surprising accuracy, but defense and banging around down low were never things I wanted to do.  If you play remotely adequate defense, you could easily shut down what little game I may have had.  I was the opposite of unstoppable.  I also had, and still have, an extreme hatred for tank tops.  There are just certain types of attire that should be restricted to specific genders.  Anything sleeveless is one of those.
With the college football season still in full swing and some great matchups happening every weekend, it’s difficult to dive into college basketball.  Difficult, but not impossible.  There’s plenty to look forward to when it comes to the upcoming season.  Duke is the overwhelming favorite to take home the National Championship, and would repeat in doing so.  Harrison Barnes became the first freshman to be named to the AP All-American team and could provide a needed boost at UNCKentucky has reloaded after losing virtually everyone to the NBA (and even if John Calipari-coached teams fuel my hatred of one-and-done, they’re sure fun to watch).  Despite losing Robbie Hummel, Purdue is still a serious threat.  Things are looking up for both Florida and USF.  And don’t forget about the expanded NCAA Tournament.
For a few seasons there life was hard for the Gators (as hard as it can be for a two-time National Champion) and Bulls.  For Florida, two straight NIT appearances after back-to-back National Championships made fans wonder if the program had really become a power or if it would fall back to good, but not great status.  For USF, a move to the Big East was a positive, but killed any chance being competitive in basketball.  Then the 2009-2010 season happened.
Florida actually won less and lost more games than it did in each of the two NIT seasons, but neither of those things mattered when the Gators were invited to the NCAA Tournament.  Just to get into the Big Dance is an accomplishment, wins and losses don’t really matter.  It was a quick exit for Florida, but the Gators played BYU hard in the first round and, most importantly, were back in the tournament.  The Gators start the 2010-2011 season ranked #9 in the AP Poll and #11 in the Coaches Poll.  A little high in both if you ask me, but I’ll definitely take it.  With players like Kenny Boynton and Alex Tyus returning and freshman Patric Young joining the team, a trip to the Sweet 16 isn’t nearly as much of a long shot as it was in previous years.
Life in the Big East is always going to be tough for USF, but the Bulls only won one less game overall than they had the previous two seasons combined and eclipsed their conference win total from those two seasons by two in just 2009-2010 alone.  Coming off a 20-13 (9-9) record, USF is no longer thought of as the whipping boy of the Big East.  They may not compete for a conference title and with the loss of Dominique Jones are likely to not even sniff the NCAA Tournament, but the Bulls are no longer a guaranteed win for an opponent.  Stan Heath has turned this team into something the school can be proud of.
Both teams kick off their seasons on Friday at 7:00 pm – Florida hosting UNC-Wilmington and USF at home against Southern Miss.  Desirable matchups from a fans standpoint?  Hardly.  But college basketball is back and will carry us into the void as the college football season rapidly approaches its end.  It’s only November 10, but before we know it conference championship games will be over and we’ll be gearing up for the wait for bowl season.  What better way to fill the gap than with college basketball (you know, that sport with a postseason tournament).

The Sixth Man (6/3/10)

Other sports getting entire posts dedicated to them again?  Have you lost your damn mind?  It’s debatable.
Former USF star Dominique Jones is on the workout circuit in preparation for the upcoming NBA draft.  Jones recently worked out for the Milwaukee Bucks who were excited about his talents.  The Bucks liked Jones’ abilities as an on-the-ball defender and were pleasantly surprised about his shooting.  Some have knocked Jones’ shooting abilities, but he has performed admirably so far and appears to be impressing those that matter the most.  The former Bull still have a number of workouts to go, but may have planted himself firmly in the second half of the first round of the draft.  There are a number of rumors out there of him remaining a Bull, only in Chicago this time.
John Calipari is doing everything he can to dodge questions about former guard Eric Bledsoe (Florida fans, it’s okay to breathe a collectively sigh of relief that Bledsoe didn’t end up a Gator).  The Kentucky coach is using elevators as getaway vehicles and other times not really answering questions.  He’s deferring to the school when it comes to inquiries regarding the way UK evaluates transcripts and is doing his best to avoid getting into any detail whatsoever.  Calipari is also adamant that he will be the coach of the Wildcats next season despite rumors he may be headed wherever LeBron James ends up.  We can pinpoint the last few days as the moments when it started to unravel for Calipari at Kentucky.  On the court, good stuff.  Off the court, watch out.
The SEC is toying with the idea of throwing out the East and West divisions when it came to basketball.  Basically, all 12 SEC teams would be part of the conference as a whole and not split into divisions.  Part of the discussion could be attributed to the fact that the East drastically outplayed the West during the regular season.  One has to wonder if there is much of a need for divisions, but in the end, the coaches wanted to keep the current format.  The divisional setup is fine for them and something they feel doesn’t need to be eliminated.  And the fans may feel the same way.  Although it means little in the entire scheme of things, it’s fun to “win” the East.
Get used to Duke being Duke for a while to come.  Mike Krzyzewski has said it time after time, he isn’t leaving.  Despite constant rumors of Coach K being offered positions with different NBA teams, Krzyzewski continues to state that he isn’t going anywhere.  He also says that he isn’t reaching out to teams and in fact never has.  Any mention of his name for open positions has been done by others as he remains dedicated to the Blue Devils.  So Duke will remain that team you love to hate as they continue to put a quality product on the court year after year.  Damn you Coach K!

The Bull Gator (4/9/10)

Skip Holtz announced that senior offensive lineman Zach Hermann’s football career has come to an end.  Hermann’s neck injury was such that he was probably never going to be back to full strength, and at this point, he decided it wasn’t worth it to risk further injury.  Hermann has more career starts than any other current USF offensive lineman and was working to attempt to come back from the injury that forced him to miss the final five games of the 2009 season.  I’m sure it was a tough decision for Hermann to come to, but if he did, he was obviously concerned about his future.  You never like to lose players this way, but in the end this is probably the best thing for Hermann.  We hear too many horror stories about what becomes of some players long after their careers end.
In case you haven’t gotten enough Tim Tebow yet, more is on the way.  That is if you’re like me and still play the NCAA Football video game year after year.  Tebow has been named the cover athlete for the 2011 version (which comes out in 2010 in anticipation of the 2010 season, but sure why not call it the 2011 version?).  If you believe Wikipedia, Tebow will be the cover athlete for all versions of the game.  He is the second Florida player to grace the cover.  Danny Wuerffel was the first, making the cover of NCAA Football 98.  The Gators almost had a former player on one of the covers of last year’s game, but for some reason (and yes, I know the rumors, I just like the guy too much to get into the whole situation again) Percy Harvin ended up being replaced, leaving me to have to look at Michael Crabtree all year.
A fan mock-up of what a Tebow cover could look like.
Years after missing out on one, Tennessee finally got their Phil Simms clone and he is set on claiming the starting positionMatt Simms came to the Vols via junior college and Louisville before that.  He left the Cardinals after the 2008 season when it became clear he would not be the team’s starting quarterback.  There was also the little issue of a four-game suspension which could have had something to do with a picture of Simms that circulated.  He spent a season in the junior college ranks that some would say was mediocre at best and now has a handle on becoming the number one guy at Tennessee.  That became even more of a sure thing when on Thursday senior QB Nick Stephens announced his intention to transfer.  As someone who has watched the ups and downs of a previous Simms, I can’t decide if this is a good thing or a bad thing for those of us who are Gator fans.  On one hand, he did virtually nothing at Louisville and older brother Chris had his collapsible moments.  On the other, there is a level of talent there that makes me think he’ll have a few big games.
Steve Spurrier has decided it’s time for him to be a jerk.  Make your own jokes for that one.  I’ll get you headed in the right direction.  He’s decided that NOW is the right time?  Anyway.  Spurrier has taken back all offensive play-calling duties as he enters his sixth season as the head coach of South Carolina.  And along with that, he’s decided that he has been too soft with his players over the first five years.  It’s time for Spurrier to be a jerk and to turn himself into what made him so successful at Florida.  Understand the odds of him having that same kind of success are roughly…well…it’s impossible really.  Know your role Gamecock fans, you can have a great season here and there, but becoming a power in the SEC is probably too much to ask for.  But Spurrier will try before he rides off into the sunset.  He’s bringing the intensity back and plans on pushing his players harder than he has before.  If anything, Spurrier has upped the level of talent at South Carolina, but not everyone has lived up to their potential.  If he can get his players to perform, they definitely could improve.  Win the SEC East?  That’s a different story, but improve they can.
The List: There are two stances on Spurrier when it comes to Florida fans’ feelings.  Some still love the guy and always will (I fall into that category).  And others have moved on bitterly.  Too each their own, but even if you hate the Spurrier left, remember it’s not his fault this man was his successor.  And be happy there is only one name on this list.  We’re all lucky there weren’t more failures between Spurrier and Urban Meyer.
1. Ron Zook.
The Sixth Man: Kentucky will be back.  It’s what John Calipari does.  He recruits top-level talent and gets the most out of his younger players.  Calipari had three straight years where his leader was a true freshman guard.  But it’s hard to not think the Wildcats will stumble next season.  If all stay true to their declarations, five Kentucky players will leave early.  Add three more seniors to that, and there is hardly a team left.  Calipari has already put together the beginnings of another very good recruiting class, but can they be that good?  Remember, this recent team didn’t make the Final Four.  I’m sure Kentucky will still be good and with that present a problem for Florida at least twice a season, but the Wildcats will take a step back in the upcoming season.  Maybe not a big one, but a step back all the same.

John Wall Commits to Kentucky; I Commit to Watching UF/UK Games Blindfolded

Another one of the nation’s top recruits – John Wall – has committed to Kentucky. Florida made a late run at Wall, but the Gators probably never had a realistic chance of landing him. What hurts the orange and blue the most is not missing out on Wall and Eric Bledsoe, it’s that they are now both Wildcats. Wall could be one-and-done, but if John Calipari can bring talent like this to Lexington every year, consider Kentucky back…in a big way.

Patrick Patterson Withdraws from NBA Draft

It’s starting to get to the point that I don’t want Florida to play Kentucky…ever again. Since John Calipari was named head coach, the Wildcats have reloaded with a great recruiting class. And now Kentucky just got its biggest commitment yet.

Patrick Patterson is returning. The junior forward has withdrawn his name from the 2009 NBA Draft in hopes of coming back and helping Kentucky compete for a national title. He may have a good chance of doing just that. Calipari came close to titles with both Massachusetts and Memphis. But now he’s at one of the big dogs. Despite some down years, Kentucky is still one of top programs in the history of college basketball. And I no longer have any desire to watch Florida play them.