The Florida Gator Boys Are Hot Again!

Jim FolsomContributorNovember 28, 2009

KANSAS CITY, MO - NOVEMBER 24: Erving Walker #11 of the Florida Gators drives the ball downcourt against the Syracuse Orange during the CBE Classic game on November 24, 2008 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

We interrupt this most important football weekend to bring you the following message. The Gators are at it again. Friday night, the Gators ran their record to 5-0 with a 77-74 win over No. 2 Michigan State in Atlantic City. It appears that Billy Donovan hasn't forgotten everything he knows about basketball after all.

The Gators opened up the season with three cupcakes at home. In the opener, they hit one three-point shot in the last minute to keep alive a streak of 579 games. A streak that dates all the way back to 1992.

They beat Stetson easily despite the poor shooting but that was to be expected. Then they played host to Georgia Southern. In the first half the Eagles were able to stay withing one point as again the Gators could not hit a jumper. The second half UF pulled away to win by 20.

Game No. 3 vs. Troy went much the same way even though the threes did start to fall a bit. Troy actually led at the half by 1 point. Florida got it together in the second half again to pull away by 22. But at 3-0 and staring at an impressive and very tall FSU team and No. 2 Michigan State, there were plenty of doubters in Gainesville.

This was especially true considering the Gators last two NIT seasons. I myself made the comment at halftime of the Troy game that it looks like we'll be hosting the NIT again.

But an impressive defensive display against FSU in the first half along with some guys finding the range from deep and UF built a 20-point lead at the half. They then withstood an icy cold start to the second half and with the help of some more stellar defense, got a five point lead back up to 15 in a flash.

Then the Gators packed up for a road trip to New Jersey to face the Spartans. They jumped out to a 9-2 lead which the Spartans quickly erased at 11-11. Instead of folding the Gators hung tough and led by two at the half. The first part of the second half again saw the Gators go ice cold as MSU built a seven-point lead at the 15:00 mark, 50-43.

The Spartans seemed to get every rebound and had numerous easy buckets in the game but the Gators never quit. They pressed MSU into 23 turnovers (the same number FSU had) and they made every big shot down the stretch. Erving Walker hit a deep three to put UF ahead by one with a little over 3:00 to go, to make it 72-71. The Gators were again awful from three-point land but made the big one.

This Gator team was picked to finish fifth in the SEC East this year. But so far, they have a look of a team that may not be the most talented or the most athletic, but they will fight you for 40 minutes. They will press you into mistakes and they look to be very confident going to the free throw line in clutch situations.

With two wins over BCS conference schools already, they look to be a very good bet to make the NCAA Tournament. They play a Big East team tomorrow night (Rutgers) and another on Dec. 10 (Syracuse). A split with those two and going 9-7 in the SEC will be plenty enough to get UF in. 

The 2006 Gators were similar to this team. Nobody picked them to do much, not even Gator fans. They went to an early season tournament and knocked off Syracuse in Madison Square Garden. Pretty soon that team was 22-0 in February. I know it's early yet. I know that Gator Nation has it's focus on winning three more football games. But keep an eye on these guys.

They may be up to something.