Five teams have graced the top position in the NCAA rankings since the preseason list came out 18-weeks ago. While some have stayed on top longer than others, this week is Florida’s first on top, a position they could very well hold until the Madness begins on March 18th.
Kentucky was the preseason #1 and they held it for a meager two weeks. Michigan State was up next and they were a little more successful, if you can call three weeks on top more successful. Then we had Arizona, king of the hill. They stood on top of the mountain for eight weeks before an avalanche in California took them down. Syracuse reaped the benefits, leapfrogging the Wildcats to take over the top spot. Back-to-back losses crushed their dreams and now Florida is the newest member of the #1 club.
Florida Gators: Silent Road To The Top
Florida hasn’t had a lot of press this season. They started the preseason ranked 10th before falling as low as 19th in week six. Since then, they have been on the W-Train from Gainesville with an ideal destination of Arlington, Texas.
Let’s start with the positive things. They only have two losses on the season, Wisconsin and Connecticut, ranked #20 and #12 respectively at the time, both on the road, both by single digits and both before Christmas. They have significant victories over Kansas, Memphis and Kentucky, which was on the road. They haven’t lost since December 2nd and they only have one game left against a ranked opponent in their regular season, on March 8th when they host Kentucky.
The Gators are experienced; they only have one freshman on the team. Four seniors, three juniors and six sophomores surround him. This is great this year but isn’t so great for the future. They have four players averaging over 10 points per game and scoring is important. They’ve only had three players play in all 27 games, but they also have a decent bench. The bulk of the minutes are split between six players but a good chunk is spread to three others.
A huge positive that will help them is that they only give up an average of 58.7 points per game. If they can hold the top programs to under 60 points per game in March, they’ll be able to make a deep run in the tournament.
More important though are some of the negatives. They are in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) where they are undefeated. They have not really been challenged, as the SEC is not an elite conference for basketball this season. They rank 180th in the country in points per game with 71.3; only Ohio State (206th), Cincinnati (236th), Syracuse (246th), and Virginia (292nd) rank lower among currently ranked teams.
They also rank 100th in rebounding, 146th in assists per game and 104th in field goal percentage. The Gators are going to have a tough time dominating in March against the Kansas’, Louisville’s and Duke’s of the tournament if these stats don’t improve.
The Gators free throw percentage is atrocious; as they shoot just 67.9% from the charity stripe and rank 235th in the country. This is going to be huge down the stretch since close games are won with free throws. If they can’t hit free throws during the season, I don’t have high hopes they’ll improve in the spotlight, on national television, on one of the biggest stages in sport.
Defense can be a problem for the Gators; as they only average 2.93 blocks per game, good for 248th in the country. They also turn over the ball an average of 11.26 times per game.
The season is long, the players are teenagers or in their early 20s, and the stage is only going to get bigger and the spotlights brighter. Many of these players will not be successful beyond this level. The truly great players find ways to help their team win and that is exactly what the Florida Gators are doing. Whether they can continue that all the way to Arlington, only time will tell.
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