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.

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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2012 Basketball Recruiting: Florida’s Pursuit Of Anthony Bennett

The Florida Gators are heavily recruiting the best player left in this recruiting cycle, Anthony Bennett, the No. 7 ranked overall player in the 2012 class. The Gators, coming off their Elite Eight appearance in the NCAA Tournament, hope to add Bennett to a class that already includes Braxton OgbuezeMichael Frazier, and Dillon Graham – all of whom are guards.

Prior to Wednesday, the Gators faced an interesting dilemma regarding Bennett’s recruitment: because of Florida’s incoming class and the potential return of Bradley Beal, the Gators were facing a tough squeeze fitting Bennett into the scholarship equation. However, on Wednesday, Walter Pitchford unexpectedly decided to transfer closer to home. Beneficial for the Gators, the transfer will open up another scholarship, allowing Florida to focus on recruiting Bennett without worry of a return from Beal, a great player in his own right.

Now, thanks to some unlikely moves in the roster, the Gators will be able to recruit Bennett all-out. The commitments of Nerlens Noel to Kentucky and Shabazz Muhammad to UCLA have left Bennett, a 6’7″, 230-pound forward, as possibly the most-sought-after player remaining, and his recruitment remains relatively open. Bennett’s strengths, despite his shorter-than-average size for a power forward, are his explosive athleticism and consistent rebounding – qualities that could help the Gators in the upcoming season.

Though Bennett is from Nevada and has UNLV in his top three, throughout his recruitment UF has been regarded as the favorite for his signature. The other school in Bennett’s top three, Kentucky, recently signed the top player in the nation, Noel, a 6’10” big man. Because of Noel’s commitment to UK, Florida hopes Bennett may be drawn away from the perpetually talented and young Kentucky roster and John Calipari’s NBA-building system for young players.

UNLV also has an inside track on Bennett. In January, the Rebels received a commitment from the transferring-from-Pittsburgh Khem Birch, a close friend of Bennett. Florida also pursued Birch, before his commitment in January. Though Bennett would enjoy playing with his close friend, he has expressed that it would also be all right if it didn’t happen.

“Hopefully, everything works out and I get to play with him. If it doesn’t, we’ll still be cool.” – Anthony Bennett

Expected to announce his commitment Wednesday night, Bennett postponed his declaration and will likely decide sometime in May. For the Gators, they continue to pursue one of the most-talented players in the 2012 class and hope not to miss out on yet another big man, a type of player that coach Billy Donovan, for some reason, has had difficulty convincing to come to Florida, despite having great success developing bigger players toward careers in the NBA. Let’s hope Bennett is the first in a new line of big men to jump aboard.

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2012 Basketball Recruiting: Nerlens Noel Reclassifies; Florida Gators Among Favorites To Add Center

Nerlens Noel was set to become one of the top-ranked recruits of the 2013 class. In fact, the 6’10” center had already been rated No. 3 overall by Rivals and described by many to be the best shotblocker in recent memory. The drooling at his talents had already begun and only increased when he was able to reclassify himself as a high school senior and become a member of the 2012 class.

Noel was originally part of the 2012 class, but repeated his sophomore year after transferring. That technically pushed his entry date to college one more year into the future. But now he has reclassified and schools will speed up their recruiting of the big man. The Florida Gators are thought to be near the top of his list along with Connecticut, Georgetown, Kentucky, North Carolina, Providence and Syracuse. The Huskies, Wildcats and Orange are rumored to lead the way, but every school will now make a harder push for Noel.

Of the three recruits currently part of the Gators’ 2012 class, none are taller than 6’4″. It’s not secret that Florida needs to add big men over the next two classes. Noel wouldn’t just fit that role, he would be an instant star of the offensive and defensive ends of the court. His defensive talents have already practically reached legendary status and he continues to improve his offensive game. Noel will see immediate minutes wherever he lands. And, of course, there’s that glorious flattop.