In a town where national championships are becoming second nature, the Gator men’s basketball team is the one responsible for starting that trend. Don’t fret Gator Nation; they still got it. Well, sort of.
In a day where men’s college basketball seems to be dominated by the Atlantic Coast and Big East conferences, the lowly SEC is still clawing its way for respectability. Jodie Meeks of the University of Kentucky is doing his part to represent the SEC in a way it deserves.
For those of you who live under a rock, Mr. Meeks exploded for 54 points against Tennessee a couple of weeks ago, breaking the school’s longstanding single-game scoring record (Dan Issel: 52 points).
Lest we forget the Gators’ back-to-back championships in 2006-2007, a feat last accomplished, ironically enough, by ACC powerhouse Duke in 1991-92. The mindset of the college basketball fan is much like that of its players: short-term and soon after, long forgotten.
Only one player returns from those UF championship teams, senior guard Walter Hodge, who has become a pivotal role player in the Gator cagers' lineup. Hodge is not the player to look towards to put the team on his back. Hodge has never had to hold that responsibility, considering he played alongside four future NBA draft picks who were more than willing to hold the burden of leading their team to the Promised Land.
Enter Nick Calathes and Chandler Parsons. Calathes and Parsons are familiar teammates—not only because they are in their second year playing alongside each other in Gainesville, but because they were also high school teammates at Orlando’s Lake Howell High School.
Calathes is on a tear in conference play, topped off by Wednesday night’s 20 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists for just the third triple-double in Florida history. The Gators walked out of the O’Connell Center with an 83-57 lopsided victory over Georgia.
On the season, “Nick the Quick,” as he is referred to by the Gator faithful, is averaging 17.8 points, 6.6 assists, 43 percent from behind the three-point arc, 5.4 rebounds, and 1.9 steals per contest. Hardly peanuts.
The win on Wednesday night moved Florida (18-3, 5-1 Southeastern Conference) into a first-place tie with Kentucky atop the SEC East. At 18-3, the Gators are back to where they were a season ago, when they finished the season 3-8 and failed to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998.
Contrarily, Parsons can be just as much of a key figure as Calathes in leading the Gators back to the NCAA tournament, as long as the duo doesn’t get complacent. In a devastating loss to South Carolina, it was Parsons who missed the free throw that led to the full court pass that would be the winning basket for the Gamecocks.
Parsons' ability to put his shooting woes behind him will be a huge factor in the Gators’ success. In a five-game stretch from North Carolina State to Arkansas, Parsons couldn’t throw the ball into the ocean if he was standing on the beach, connecting on only 2-of-20 three-point tries. This led to Parson’s unconscious shooting exhibition against Vanderbilt last week, which will hopefully help him become a more consistent offensive threat.
Things must be calm in Gainesville right now knowing that your season rests on the shoulders of Nick Calathes and Chandler Parsons, especially with Calathes giving out triple-doubles like the Gainesville police give out underage drinking citations.
In terms of making the tournament, I have my money on the Gators. Granted, Jodie Meeks is a spectacular basketball player, but I still have trouble believing that a team who lost to the likes of the Virginia Military Academy and the University of Miami (FL) can be a long-term threat in the SEC.
The Gators have one loss against a team ranked between 51 and 75 in the RPI, when it would take an abacus to figure out VMI’s RPI come season’s end.
Look for the Gators to continue to make a push for the NCAA tournament, especially when the SEC tournament comes around. Don’t be surprised when the two people pushing the most are those lanky high school teammates from Orlando.