It’s about more than effort. It’s about consistency.
There’s basically no such thing as a normal game for Florida Gators basketball these days. Try as they might, the only thing the Gators are consistent at is being inconsistent, whether from week to week or even game to game.
That’s how you get a result like Saturday evening’s loss to Alabama, the first for Florida in 11 consecutive contests against its league rival and first in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center since 1995.
The Gators hustled on Saturday, outrebounding the Crimson Tide an astounding 54-35, and turning those boards into 13 extra shot opportunities – the same margin of additional attempts Florida had compared to Alabama in the second half.
Yet despite Florida holding a four-point lead at the break and getting 13 additional shots in the latter 20 minutes, UF found a way to get outscored by 10 points in the second half and ultimately fall to a team that is more than double its KenPom.com rating of 34 (UA is 75 after Saturday’s win).
Between playing their best games of the season and shooting the lights out, Florida has lost to 15-10 Vanderbilt on the road, been roasted by a margin of 19 points against Kentucky and dropped a game that should have been an easy win had the Gators shot their season average (or anything close to it).
Instead, Florida shot a season-low 28.6 percent from the field, posted its worst percentage from three (.143) since Dec. 8 and hung its worst mark from the free-throw line (.593) since Jan. 12 after making 71.6 percent of its gimmies over an eight-game stretch. Alabama played great defense throughout the night and kept the hosts off their game, but UF’s issues were well beyond that.
“Twenty-three offensive rebounds. Wow. And [you] score 55 points? I’m not sure I’ve seen a box score like that,” said head basketball coach Mike White, verbalizing what most watching the game were thinking. “And then at the foul line, empty trips … empty trips.”
Redshirt senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith was due for an off night, and he had one despite grabbing some boards and blocking a couple shots as Alabama focused its defensive effort squarely on him. But he was far from the only member of his team to post a lackluster performance.
One game after being singled out by head coach Mike White as putting forth his best effort since the coach had taken over the program, sophomore F Devin Robinson went 0-for-5 from the field. Sophomore point guard Chris Chiozza hit 3-of-12 shots with five turnovers and two assists. Redshirt sophomore center John Egbunu, who looked to have figured things out at the charity stripe by going 64.3 percent over his last four games, hit 2-of-9 attempts.
So the Gators lost a game they should have won, fell from a game back in the Southeastern Conference standings to somewhere in the top-third and now plays four of its last six regular-season games on the road including back-to-back such contests against Georgia on Tuesday and South Carolina next Saturday. All of this with a 16-9 record (7-5 SEC) and 2016 NCAA Tournament berth already hanging by a string.
“It was a very tough loss for us. Very tough. … The next two will be a lot harder than this one was,” White said. “To have success in any league, especially this league, you got to take care of your home floor. … It only gets tougher. We play on the road against two really good teams, and it’s a really quick turn[around], so no time to get healthy, to take a rest, to take a break.”
He added on Monday, looking to the week ahead: “My biggest concern right now is not the league standings or our RPI numbers, it’s how the heck we score at Georgia. … I wouldn’t call it a ‘deciding’ week, but it’s a huge week for us.”
The truth about this Florida team is that it gets what it deserves. It has not been screwed over by referees (not more so than any other college basketball program) or produced shocking results … as long as those viewing the games know what to expect going in, which is not to expect the same team to show up night to night.
The Gators win games that would be understandable losses, drop contests that should be victories and have wasted opportunities to pull ahead and make their road to the postseason somewhat comfortable. That doesn’t mean they won’t get there. It just means the journey has become even more difficult for a team that has not proven to be reliable or resilient over the last two seasons.
Florida has improved from the start of the year, no doubt, but there’s so much more room for it to grow and with six – maybe seven or eight, depending on the SEC Tournament seeding – games left to play, there just may not be enough time to reach that point in the spring of 2016.
Florida State also winning the war of words.
A six-year stretch of dominance against the Seminoles ended for the Gators in 2010. Florida is 2-5 against its in-state rival and has been outscored by nearly 100 points in those five losses (140-42) this decade. UF is also losing the recruiting battle with FSU effectively going 5-2 by picking up a higher-ranked class in five of the last seven cycles (wins for the Gators in 2010 and 2013), according to the 247Sports Composite rankings system.
And with things only looking more garnet and gold over the last few months (a 27-2 on-field victory and 2-13 recruiting-rankings win both went FSU’s way), Florida State decided to spend Valentine’s Day sticking its rival.
❤️💛 Happy Valentine's Day! ❤️💛 pic.twitter.com/KfuQLpPH36
— FSU Football (@FSU_Football) February 14, 2016
The quick reaction here? Good on the Noles. It’s light-hearted, funny and definitely accurate, as were the unending 4-8 references they made towards the Gators a few years ago.
Less fun? Comments made by Florida State defensive line coach Brad Lawing on National Signing Day. Lawing, who previously worked at Florida under Will Muschamp, explained that he was not surprised by the flip of four-star defensive tackle Shavar Manuel from the Gators to Noles because he not only knew it was coming but planned it in order to make UF look bad on the big day.
Lawing told the Orlando Sentinel that Manuel basically gave FSU a silent verbal commitment around the time the player made a public one to Florida. The coach then admitted he told Manuel to “play the game [and] tell the damn Gators anything they want to hear” leading up to Feb. 3, when Manuel decommitted from UF and signed with FSU.
While this may appear to be minor and perhaps just another shot across the bow in the grand scheme of things, looking at the situation on a micro level, Florida State may have hurt more than Florida with this deception.
A Gators coaching staff that often tells recruits it does not play games and will shoot at them straight now has a bit of ammo should it need to make a case for “how things work over there with the Seminoles” to a prospect deciding between the schools. Florida can call Florida State deceptive, and it can also point out how FSU played a role in another deserving player potentially not getting an opportunity to play for a major program like UF.
Look, the Gators have plenty to answer for about the 2016 recruiting cycle, and they should’ve been prepared by recruiting other talented defensive tackle prospects especially since everyone – including most recruiting writers and this scribe, who does not cover Florida recruiting as in-depth as those that do it as a full-time job – was pretty sure Manuel would be with the Noles by the end of the day. Still, while Florida State may have won in the media with this move, it actually might ding it a bit in homes.
And trust me, we’ll talk more about Gators football recruiting soon enough.
The ladies’ road is also a bumpy one.
Florida women’s basketball has been a revelation this season but progress does not come without struggle. The Gators have not only dropped back-to-back games for the first time this season, they’ve done so by the two largest margins of the year in 15 to No. 2 South Carolina on Thursday and 22 to unranked Auburn on Sunday. That, as they say, is not going to be good for business.
Expect UF to drop in the Associated Press Top 25 on Monday. Florida has also done itself no favors in terms of earning a high seed and potentially easier road in the NCAA Tournament. Still, the Gators have proven to be able to bounce back this season. Over their final four regular-season games, they’ll need to do just that.
Oh yeah, the two-time defending champs started their season.
Remember that Gators softball team that spent years falling just short only to win back-to-back national titles over the last two seasons? Florida started its second consecutive title-defending campaign over the weekend, and boy, did it impress.
Playing in the annual USF Wilson-DeMarini Tournament, UF roasted its four opponents by a combined score of 38-1 in a foursome of run-rule victories. The Gators routed Illinois State 11-0 in their Friday season opener, beat down Michigan and Virginia Tech 8-0 on Saturday and Sunday, and then put a bow on the weekend by beating South Florida 11-1 later Sunday afternoon.
Leading the way for Florida was sophomore infielder Janell Wheaton, who powered her way to nine RBI over the four games, finishing 6/12 at the plate with a homer, three runs, three walks and a stolen base.
UF will play its only home games of the season’s first month in a double-header Wednesday at 5 p.m. against Jacksonville. After that are tournaments in Orlando, Florida, and Palm Springs, California, before the Gators host an event of their own beginning March 3.
Not Only Gators: Vinyl
It may seem infrequent that HBO commissions a new series and misses, but it happens more than you might think. If the rest of the series can live up to Sunday’s debut of ‘Vinyl,’ the premium network won’t have much to worry about as this looks to be its next smash hit.
As not to give too much away, I’ll keep the review short and unspecific. Bobby Cannavale, who had been mostly a character actor until showcasing his chops as Gyp Rosetti in ‘Boardwalk Empire,’ is the perfect choice for the lead of Richie Finestra. To this point, it looks like Olivia Wilde, Ray Romano, Ato Essandoh and Juno Temple are perfectly cast as well.
The two-hour pilot was gripping from start to finish, though if we’re being honest, the last three minutes were quite absurd. Even if the last scene was meant to serve as foreshadowing for the main character’s arc, it was still over the top. (If we were three seasons into the show, you might point to it as a ‘jump the shark’ moment.)
I’m curious to see how Martin Scorsese, Mick Jagger and the writers place ‘Vinyl’ within real life rock ‘n roll, as unlike ‘Boardwalk Empire,’ its characters are not based off real people and rather serve as 1970s archetypes.
There’s a ways to go here, but so far so good from ‘Vinyl.’
This Week’s Movie Trailer
The Top 5 List
From the home office in Wahoo, Nebraska…
Personal (early) Best Picture favorites*:
2. The Revenant
3. Bridge of Spies
4. The Big Short
5. The Martian
* Still need to see ‘Brooklyn’ and ‘Room’
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