As quickly as the Gators hoops team climbed the mountain on Saturday, they fell off the cliff Monday. The Kansas State win will certainly carry a lot of weight come March. So too will the loss to Jacksonville and its RPI in the 190s. Obviously, UF can overcome a bad loss (see last season’s tragedy against South Alabama) to make the Big Dance. The Gators entered Monday’s game with a top 3 RPI and it should remain in the top 30 or 40 throughout SEC play. That coupled with the four additional at-large bids makes a Tournament berth very likely. But this is a team that has higher expectations than just dancing in March.
Florida has played two amazing halves of basketball this year – the first half against Ohio State and the second half against Kansas State. During those halves, the Gators have looked like Final Four contenders. Take away those halves and Florida has looked like a middle of the pack MEAC squad. As frustrated as we are at this, Billy Donovan has to be beside himself. This team attacks, plays tenacious defensive, hits the glass and effectively uses its size inside only occasionally. The rest of the time, they have looked lost out there.
Something that has really perplexed me so far this season is the apparent regression of most of the returning players. Can you name one returner who is playing at a higher level now than in previous seasons? Vernon Macklin looks more comfortable and seems to be doing a better job of staying on the court without fouling but his numbers are only up marginally (11.0/6.4 to 10.6/5.5). Erving Walker is more reckless with the ball this year; his assist-turnover ratio was almost 2:1 last year but is 1:1 this year, horrid for a point guard. Kenny Boynton is down almost two points per game and also has a worse assist-TO ratio. Perhaps most disappointing are Chandler Parsons and Alex Tyus. The two seniors are the only guys on the team in their fourth years in the program. Parsons’ numbers are drastically down across the board. He isn’t attacking the rim or creating off the dribble as he did last year. Gone is the playmaker, leader and go-to guy we thought we had. Tyus’ numbers have dipped the furthest of anyone. He is a shell of his former self, shaky from the outside and weak inside.
The question has to be asked of Billy and his staff… why have so many players regressed? The only guy who looks much better than last year is Erik Murphy, who without question should be starting over Tyus. If it weren’t for the frisky freshmen, there wouldn’t be much to be happy about it with this team.
Despite the issues, this Gators team has talent and the potential to do some damage in March. Those 40 combined minutes against a national title contender and an Elite Eight team offer impressive evidence. The SEC will be tough, especially the East. But if Florida can commit to playing hard every night, can trust its size offensively and aggressively penetrate to the rim, they should easily make the NCAAs and land a decent seed. If the inconsistency continues, though, this has the makings of the most disappointing hoops team ever. And coupled with the football collapse, Gainesville just might not survive that scenerio.
One sidenote… half the blame for the loss to JU goes to Jeremy Foley and Donovan. Scheduling a Monday afternoon game during winter break less than 36 hours after a game in Miami against a top 10 team? That’s completely stupid.