The University of Florida basketball team is in the midst of an amazing run. The only problem for the Gators is that the calendar says February, not March.
Since losing on the road to Kansas State on Dec. 22 (61-67), the Gators have reeled off nine straight victories, including seven consecutive SEC wins where the average margin of victory has been an astonishing 28.2 points. The closest conference game during this stretch was a 17-point road victory over Georgia (64-47), a game in which the Gators actually trailed by three points at halftime.
No SEC opponent has scored more than 52 points during this amazing 7-0 run, which has included four road wins and a 31- point pounding of a ranked Missouri team (83-52) on UF's home court.
The latest victim was South Carolina where the Gators held the Gamecocks to10 first-half points en route to a 75-36 win at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center in Gainesville, It was the lowest point total for South Carolina since entering the Southeastern Conference in 1992. Once again, the Gators were sharp from the 3-point line where they shot 57.1 percent (12-of-21). Next up is a Saturday night battle with Ole Miss and SEC leading scorer Marshall Henderson
The big question for the Gators is: Are they peaking too early? The SEC conference tournament is still more than a month away, and it’s still more than two months until the Final Four tips off in the Georgia Dome April 6-8.
For Billy Donovan, who earned his 400th victory as the Gators head coach during this recent streak, the challenge will be keeping his team focused and motivated for the stretch run, especially in a conference that is having a down year. Another challenge will be ensuring the Gators’ eight-man rotation still has fresh legs come tournament time.
The Gators have been winning with a combination of pressure defense and uptempo offense. The Gators are ranked third in the nation in scoring defense, holding opponents 51.2 points per game and have an offense ranked ninth in field goal percentage (49.3). Their ability to sustain the torrid pace of a pressing defense over the next two months will go a long way toward determining their postseason fortunes.
So far, the Gators show no signs of letting up and have the look of a number one seed and Final Four contender. The emergence of point guard Scottie Wilbeken, the continued improvement of forward Erik Murphy and the formidable presence of center Patric Young have all contributed to the Gators' early success.
After a brief shooting slump, guard Kenny Boynton seems back in stride with back-to back strong performances against Mississippi State and South Carolina. The Gators continue to get solid production from guard Mike Rosario and forward Willie Yeguete, while freshman guard Michael Frazier II has shown great promise off the bench.The Gators' depth will improve now that Casey Prather has returned from a high ankle sprain.
Suffice it to say that if Selection Sunday were today, the Gators would have earned a one or two seed based on their undefeated and dominant January run. But it’s a long season, and the Gators have to hope there is enough gas in the tank to keep them running in March, when it really matters.