Florida basketball is steamrolling through the SEC. The Gators have won 11 of their first 12 conference games, and each of those victories has come by at least 14 points.
The amazing part about Florida's season is the Gators are doing this without much NBA talent.
Florida is having success by playing excellent team basketball with a roster loaded with upperclassmen, sharing the scoring load while suffocating opponents on the defensive end. Five Gators are averaging between 9.4 and 13.0 points per game, and the defense ranks second nationally in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com.
DraftExpress.com and NBADraft.net do not have a Florida player projected to go in the first round of either of their 2013 NBA mock drafts. Chad Ford of ESPN.com has Patric Young ranked No. 27 and Erik Murphy No. 70 on his list of the top 100 draft prospects, but no other Gator is included.
That is a rather large problem, even though on the surface, it might not sound all that important. After all, what does the NBA have to do with Florida’s quest for a national title this year?
Historically, there are not very many examples of teams winning a national championship without NBA lottery talent.
In the last 25 years, only two teams have won national championships without at least one future NBA lottery pick on the roster: Kentucky in 1998 and Duke in 2010.
Duke could be crossed off that list if Mason Plumlee goes in the first 14 picks of this year’s draft, which is a very real possibility. That Kentucky team had three eventual first round picks on its roster in a year that capped off the Wildcats’ run of three straight years with a trip to the national title game, including two championships.
This year’s Florida team has experience, with two consecutive Elite Eight appearances, but not that kind of experience.
Where the absence of a big time NBA prospect particularly hurts this team is a lack of a go-to player. Playing team basketball is fantastic, but there comes a point where someone needs to step up in a big moment and make a play when things break down. The Gators have good offensive players but no great player they can turn to routinely in a moment like that.
Senior Kenny Boynton has been through the battles, but he has a tendency to settle for tough perimeter shots. Scottie Wilbekin and Mike Rosario are playing major minutes for the first time at Florida. Murphy relies on others to get his shots, and Young does not have an advanced offensive game.
If Florida romps through the NCAA tournament the way it has the regular season, this won’t be a problem. If the Gators find themselves in a close game, there could be some issues. Earlier this season, there were warning signs on that front.
The Gators are 0-2 in games decided by single digits. They gave a game away at Arizona on Dec. 15, leading 64-58 with just over a minute remaining only to be outscored 7-0 in the final 56 seconds to lose. No one was able to step up on a big stage that night against a quality opponent.
Kentucky last year had a player in Anthony Davis who could take over a game against anyone in the country. Connecticut in 2011 could say the same with Kemba Walker. Florida does not have that luxury.
Because the Gators don’t have that elite talent, they will be vulnerable in March or early April. Unfortunately for Florida, history indicates it will be too tough to overcome.