Is Florida’s Game At South Carolina Their Most Important Of The Season?

You read that question, scoffed, looked up the respective records of both teams and scoffed again, but it has to be asked. At 13-4 (1-1 SEC) with a more talented roster, the No. 19/19 Florida Gators should be an easy favorite over the 8-8 (0-2 SEC) South Carolina Gamecocks who have lost 11 of their last 12 against SEC opponents. Then you take one look at Florida’s four losses and have to wonder exactly how much this game means.

On Saturday, Florida travels to South Carolina to face the Gamecocks in what will be the Gators’ fifth true road game of the season. Florida is winless in the previous four and despite that aforementioned talent advantage the Gators are only favored by seven over the Gamecocks. Put all of that together and there’s a reason the question is being asked.

The Gators have two quality losses among the four road defeats. Few will fault them for dropping road games to the Syracuse Orange and the Ohio State Buckeyes. If the Tennessee Volunteers continue to improve, that loss may not be considered much of a blow either. The loss to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights shouldn’t have happened, but it did and there will be those from time to time. They aren’t losses we enjoy (which ones do we like to be honest?), but they happen. The issue is that those four together, at this particular moment in the season, make us ask the question – is Saturday’s game at South Carolina the most important game of the season for Florida?

The answer just might be yes even if it’s difficult to fathom. It’s a yes that will repeat itself if the Gators somehow fall short on the road again. So to that point, they simply can’t let it happen.

At this stage in the season games become more value in whatever twisted equation the NCAA Tournament selection committee uses. We’ve heard the committee focuses on the final 10-12 games a team plays more than any others. The thought is a team that is 22-8, but 4-8 over their final 12 may not be nearly as good as those 22 wins makes them out to be. We also know items such as strength of schedule and strength of losses all factor in. Let’s be clear, Florida will make the tourney, but their seeding, region and potential opponents will be greatly impacted by their resume. That resume can’t include many more road losses and it definitely needs to be free of away defeats the Gators shouldn’t have occurred.

Then there is another factor: mindset. A player’s mindset can have a great impact on his performance. A team’s, well, multiply the player’s by the roster size and you could either have Billy Donovan’s national championship teams who felt they couldn’t be beat by anyone or the potential for disaster. Before anyone jumps at the idea that I’m saying I believe the current Florida squad is headed for disaster, I’m not saying that at all, but if (and this is one of those enormously immeasurable ifs) the Gators lose a fifth straight on the road, all bets are off. This game against the Gamecocks is even more important because of that. We have yet to see Florida carry the momentum of a win into a hostile gym. If they’re able to do so, they’ll answer a lot of their own questions about mental toughness. If they aren’t, they’ll be a lot more we’ll be asking.

Watch the entire game, but pay special attention to Florida’s play in the first few minutes and especially if South Carolina keeps it close. On paper, this may not seem like the most difficult of tests, but it’s an extremely important one nonetheless. The momentum of the first road win could propel this season’s squad to new heights; heights that could determine the path of the remainder of the season.

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 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.

The Long Snapper (4/16/10)

USF has had a proud legacy at middle linebacker the past few years.  Not Ohio State linebacker proud, but proud enough for the little program on the rise (can I still call it that after all these years?).  And now the next in line is ready to show what he can do.  Sophomore Sam Barrington is ready to leave his mark and most importantly is ready to take over as a leader on the defense.  Barrington returns the second most tackles of any Bull (I have no idea if that sentence is structured correctly, but it’s good enough).  He has the size – 6’3”, 220 pounds – to excel at any linebacker position, but looks to master the middle one.  And along the way to becoming the leader of the defense, Barrington also looks to help others.  He is currently setting up a foundation to provide assistance to the children of Ghana – where his father lives.  Barrington is one to be proud of USF fans.
I get discipline, but I never fully understood the no profanity rules some coaches put in place.  Turner Gill at Kansas is the latest.  Maybe it’s because I view them as just words.  Maybe it’s because it’s football.  Maybe it’s because it honestly doesn’t offend me if someone says something that may be considered profane (although I do like to point out when it’s used for absolutely no reason, but let’s not get into the whole Tim Tebow and the Alabama game discussion again, that won’t go well for anyone).  Then again, I tend not to curse on this site.  That is of course out of respect to readers who may not like it.  Maybe that’s the same thought process behind football coaches implementing the ban.  Respect for others.  Maybe it’s because they feel they are molding gentlemen.  Maybe this paragraph has too many maybes in it.  Moving on.
The Chick-fil-A Bowl has extended its partnership with the SEC and nothing could make me happier.  Chick-fil-A is a glorious restaurant for which chickens proudly give their lives for our pleasure.  If you don’t like Chick-fil-A, there is something wrong with you.  Their breakfast menu is quite surprising and their general food is absolutely amazing.  While peaches are alright (the Chick-fil-A Bowl used to be the Peach Bowl, keep up with me), Chick-fil-A is so much better.  So much better.  That my fast food establishment of choice has a partnership with the SEC only helps its cause.
Is the deck stacked against Derek Dooley?  I’m seriously asking.  Not trying to poke fun here, but things don’t seem too bright for Dooley at Tennessee.  After all, he was an “oh crap, we don’t have a coach” hire and didn’t have what you could really refer to as success in his previous position.  That doesn’t mean he can’t head the Vols in the right direction (Gene Chizik did better than anyone expected during his first year at Auburn), it just means it seems he’ll have to overcome overwhelming odds.  Maybe he’ll do it.  Maybe he won’t.  But right now it seems highly unlikely that five years from now we’ll still be talking about Dooley as the Tennessee head coach.
The List: For Friday, a just because list:
1. Tomas Plekanec
2. Bon Jovi
3. Lane Kiffin’s last loss at Tennessee?  Yup, the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
4. Brandon Marshall
5. The weather right now is why I live in Florida.
The Sixth Man: Florida has a chance to add a scoring guard if everything goes great this weekend.  Rutgers transfer Mike Rosario is unhappy with his development with the Scarlet Knights and has been granted his release.  He will visit the Gators this weekend to determine if they are a viable candidate for his services.  After sitting out next season, Rosario would have two years of eligibility remaining.  In two seasons with Rutgers, Rosario averaged over 16 points per game.  With depth at guard always seeming to be an issue for Florida, Rosario would be a welcome addition.  The former McDonald’s All-American seems very open to becoming a Gator.

The Bull Gator (3/16/10)

USF has received its first verbal commitment of the 2011 recruiting cycle.  Punta Gorda Charlotte wide receiver Alex Mut is the first member of that class to become a Bull.  The 6’2”, 185-pound pass catcher hauled in 58 receptions for 1,014 yards and 14 touchdowns as a high school junior and will look to improve upon those numbers as a senior.  Mut has always wanted to go to USF and chose the Bulls over Duke and Rutgers.  He hopes to be able to contribute immediately on the field and may get that chance with the wide receiver depth chart expected to be wide open in 2011.  Getting Mut may have slightly opened the door for USF when it comes to his teammate, running back Mike Bellamy, but with offers from some of the larger programs in the nation, Bellamy is ultimately expected to go elsewhere.
Jim Leavitt has decided to sue USF after all, citing that his firing wasn’t legal and the investigation conducted was obviously biased.  His lawyer had the following to say: “The USF report is a rambling collection of hearsay/double hearsay statements and non-contextual quotes that, in essence, is a subjective, picked-over, blatantly biased summary by USF.”  Well, okay then.  So basically, they believe Leavitt was unjustly fired.  The former head coach still denies anything ever happened and due to that believes he is owed a large part of his remaining salary.  I have to wonder how we ever got to this point with coaches.  Having to have reason to let someone go.  Is because he no longer fits the ideals the university is looking for a good enough reason?  Multi-million dollar buyouts.  If you don’t win consistently, why should you receive money to be fired?  Some of the standards are put in place to protect the coaches and some are put in place to protect the schools.  I get that much.  What I don’t get is how we have gotten to a point where it is so difficult for either to move on if they feel the fit isn’t right anymore.  Leavitt will fight this until the end – or at least until the point the school offers him what he, and his lawyers, deem a worthy settlement amount – and it will happen again.  An incident will occur and a school won’t be able to fire their coach as easily.  Or a coach won’t provide a winning program, but will be given millions to be shown the door.
It’s hard to believe that 2010 will mark Robert Marve’s fourth season in college.  That’s right.  Marve was part of the recruiting class that included soon-to-be NFL Draft pick Jimmy Clausen and new Florida starting quarterback John Brantley.  Look at the top of the Rivals100 from that year and you’ll find five of the first six names will be playing on Sundays this fall.  Marve on the other hand will be starting over at Purdue.  After announcing he could no longer play for Randy Shannon at Miami, Marve opened up his options and eventually decided on the Boilermakers.  He’ll be competing for the starting quarterback job this fall.  For now, it looks like Marve may have landed on his feet, but it’s still a story to follow.  Marve had his troubles at Miami and was far from a model citizen.  Miami blocked him from transferring to a number of schools even though it was initially said he wanted to come closer to his Tampa home to be with his father who was sick.  In case you aren’t too good with geography, Purdue is quite a ways away from Tampa.  But Marve has settled in and seems to be doing well.  How he does on the field is a different story altogether.
Sometimes being dominant in one sport isn’t enough.  Sometimes you must be dominant in multiple sports to prove your rule over all others.  Jeff Demps is among those chosen few.  Not only is he faster than most in pads, he’s faster than most without them as well.  There’s a good possibility we’ll be watching him in the Summer Olympics in the future, but for now we can settle for Demps the National Champion.  Demps set a school record in the 60-meter dash and then won the final to lead the Gators to their first indoor National Championship.  Demps was named an All-American in the process.  Cheers to the entire men’s team and the women’s team (who finished fourth) as well.  (H/T: One Eyed Willy)
Today’s list is easy. My final four in order of finish.  I would give my standard bracket warning, but you already know it by heart.  So right or wrong, here are my final four.  Realistically three and four could be tied, but consider it my push for a third-place game.  And that’s right, there is no Kentucky.  Take what you will out of that.  It could’ve been spite.  It could be the fact that I’m not sure I see them winning six in a row to take the title.
1. Kansas
2. Duke
3. Syracuse
4. West Virginia
The Sixth Man: With this site taken the turn toward college football, the March Madness Challenge has suffered.  This year, and most likely for future years, I’ll have a group on ESPN.com’s Tournament Challenge you can join.  There is no prize other than bragging rights or pride.  I’ve never been one for pride.  But bragging rights…that’s a different story.  So saddle up and join the fun.  It’s easy.  Head over to the group page or find it yourself (the group name is The Bull Gator, as if you couldn’t have guessed that).  Once there enter in the password – thebullgator – and fill out your bracket.  Play to win, play for fun, or just play.  It doesn’t really matter, but become immortalized in the annals of this site.  It’s your chance to take down the two-time winner, One Eyed Willy, and shut him up forever.  (Please note: there’s no guarantee you’ll shut him up forever, or even a few minutes for that matter.)

We Gots Us Some More Games Times…

None of these time announcements are probably newsworthy.  For all I know, they’ve been decided upon for weeks now and I’m just finally stumbling upon them.  But I take a little bit of pride in helping you schedule your upcoming weeks.
This Saturday, Florida hosts Vanderbilt at 7:15 on ESPN2.  The evening start time forces me to direct you to the following site.  Fall weddings should be disallowed.  There are 8 other perfectly good months each year.  Pick one, be wed then.  Those of us with a pulse for college football only get angry when a Saturday is spent in suit and tie watching nuptials be exchanged.  Don’t get me wrong, we’re happy for you.  We’d just be that much happier if it were, say, March.
On November 14th, the Gators will travel to South Carolina to take on the Gamecocks at 3:30.  That game will be televised on CBS.  And the following Saturday, FIU will come to The Swamp.  Unfortunately that one is only on pay-per-view so find a bar.  I could’ve sworn we were told we’d be able to see each and every Gator game on non-PPV stations this season.
And the Bulls are all set for their matchup with RutgersUSF and the Scarlet Knights will be the ESPN Thursday night game starting at 7:30 on November 12th.  I think you’ve truly mad it when you no longer play on Thursdays.  Of course, being in the Big East means that’ll never happen.
 

Christian Jones, Loser No More

Lake Howell’s (Winter Park, FL) Christian Jones was never a loser. To insinuate he was, would be a death sentence. Jones would use linebacker-sized 6’4”, 220 lb. frame to wish you had never had a bad thought about his high school program a day in your life. But the reality is the teams Jones has played on haven’t been very good. Before winning on Friday, Lake Howell had lost 16 straight. Not exactly where you might look for the next big college prospect, but Jones is one nonetheless.

Fast and big, Jones is a terror as a linebacker, but might be best suited for rush defensive end at the next level. With his speed and some added bulk, you have a sack specialist in the making. Although Jones lists Florida and FSU as his favorites, he won’t schedule any official visits to the instate schools. Being so familiar with them and having the ability to visit them any time he wishes means Jones will be keeping his officials for out-of-state trips. Michigan, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Rutgers, Tennessee, and USC seem the most likely to get visits from the defensive freak. And he plans on being in Miami for this weekend’s game. We have a while to wait though; Jones won’t announce until signing day.