At the quarter pole of the Southeastern Conference season, the Gators are about where most would have expected them to be.
The road loss at Tennessee to open the league slate might have been something of a shock at the time, but consider that slap in the face a wake-up call. It was, after all, an 11 a.m. tipoff. And those were the Volunteers beating defending national champion Connecticut in Knoxville over the weekend.
But at 15-4 and 3-1 in conference, the picture of the 14th-ranked Gators is starting to come into focus. They’re a talented offensive team at its best in transition and sharing the ball in the halfcourt, and one that must overachieve on defense and rebounding due some size limitations in the frontcourt.
Like Coach Billy Donovan likes to say, it’s a group that is figuring some things out.
“A guy like Patric Young is in a different role, as is Erik Murphy, as is Will Yeguete, as is Brad Beal. Scottie [Wilbekin] pretty much has come off the bench like he always has. Cody Larson in the limited minutes he’s played, this is his first year playing. Outside [junior] Kenny Boynton and [senior point guard Erving] Walker, it’s a little new for our guys,” Donovan said Monday. “So there are things they have to learn and get better at. And I’ve said this before, as much as I’d like to expedite that process sometimes it takes a little bit of time. But I do see growth in those areas. We’ve got good guys that care and want to have an opportunity to go out there and compete and win. I think sometimes you can care so much that you can get into some of those little funks and it requires a maturity to pull yourself out of it and fight through it.”
The fight is about to get really good, too.
Florida’s SEC games to date have come against four of the teams that make up the bottom half-dozen of the early league standings. LSU, Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina are a combined 39-36 overall and just 4-14 in conference play.
Now, bring on Mississippi. The state, that is.
The Gators can make a statement -- and pad their NCAA resume -- by making a stand against the Magnolia State this week. According to RPI numbers through Monday, Florida was 36th heading into Thursday’s showdown at Ole Miss (13-6, 3-2), which checks in at 34th. Mississippi State, ranked 19th in the Associated Press poll and scheduled to be at the O’Connell Center Saturday, has an RPI of 39.
Right now, the Gators are 1-2 against current RPI Top 50s, with a home victory over surging/surprising Florida State (23rd) and road losses at Ohio State (9th) and Syracuse (1). This week brings two more chances to make an impression and score some precious RPI points.