Saturday, January 31, 2009

Gator Basketball Looks Like NIT May Be Waiting...Again

Thanks to the ESPN Full Court package and GatorVision, I've been able to pretty much catch all of the Florida Gator men's basketball games this season. And, after watching Tennessee soundly beat the Gators last night 79-63, it's clear to me that the Gators will be a perennial 'bubble team' from now all the way up to Selection Sunday.

Although Alex Tyus is slowly evolving into a smaller version of Udonis Haslem, and Chandler Parsons looks to finally have his head on straight after a horrendous start to the year, the problem with the Gators this year is that they are consistently inconsistent. One night, they'll go 1-15 from behind the arc, the next night they light it up. For some reason they can't hit free throws lately (only 57 percent against the Vols...ugh). Dan Werner should be dominating the blocks and nailing threes like Matt Bonner in his senior year; instead he continues to get outplayed underneath and can't find his jump shot (1-5 from behind the arc last night). Walter Hodge seems to play out of control too frequently and, like Werner, couldn't make a shot last night if his life depended on it.

The only beacon of consistency for the Gators has been Nick Calathes, Florida's do-it-all Super Sophomore. A couple of days after his second triple-double, Calathes put up a solid game against the Vols with 21 points and 4 assists. However, he got hit with two quick fouls to open the game and ended up sitting on the bench for the majority of the first half. Clearly the Gator offense just does not go without Calathes, as they scored a paltry 22 points total in the first half.

The Gators had little defense for the plethora of Tennessee's slashing swingmen, as the Vols seemed to drive into the lane at will for easy shots. While not as apparent in the Gators' out-of-conference schedule, it is clearly showing that their lack of size inside will more than likely be what keeps the Gators out of the big dance again this year. Highly-touted freshman Kenny Kadji in spurts looks to be the real deal, but he will need to develop at a supersonic pace in order to develop into the Horford-esque player that the Gators need now. Eloy Vargas, the other highly-touted big man that Billy brought in this year, is just not ready, as he appeared to be lost in his brief appearances early in the season, and rumors still persist that a lack of conditioning is still hurting him.

Next season may be the one where Florida finally gets back onto the national stage, with Vargas and Kadji (each having a year of conditioning and the training table under their belts) joining Georgetown transfer Vernon Macklin on the interior to provide a more imposing presence akin to the Noah-Horford-Richard frontcourt of 2006. Add incoming freshman superstar Kenny Boynton to provide scoring and great perimeter defense, assume Calathes doesn't jump for the NBA, and the Gators should be a Top 10 team next season. But that's next year.

The only saving grace for this season may be the fact that the entire SEC appears to be down this year (not a single team ranked in the Top 25), and Florida may still be able to emerge out of the mediocre parity in the SEC due to Calathes and Donovan's coaching skills. However, it's hard to look anyone in the eye and tell them with a straight face that Florida can be an Elite Eight team this year. The Gators just do not have the consistency from its current personnel to be a shoo-in for the Big Dance, let a lone make a deep run into the tournament. I hope I'm wrong, but after watching the Gators against Tennessee last night-I'm pretty sure Gator Nation will be biting their nails on Sunday, March 15th when the brackets are released.

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