Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Billy Donovan's Gators have blazed bright in the first three months of the college basketball season, then struggled through a tough February before. And they won a title that year.
What if I told you that a team started out the year with only two losses in their first twenty games, both away from home against quality opponents, before dropping three quick conference road games to unranked teams?
If you think I'm talking about Florida, you're right, but it's not this year's team... It's that team from 06-07, who just so happened to storm through the SEC Tournament and roll their way to a second national title.
What I'm saying is: Relax, Gator fans, nothing matters until March.
That's a message that probably comes as cold comfort after another Tuesday night struggle on the road, but acknowledging the similarities and differences between the Florida team that was scuffling in 2006-07 and the one that's struggled to break through on the road this season is important to remaining sane over the rest of the Gators' schedule.
2006-07 Florida started its season with six wins by — and I swear I checked the numbers on this twice — and average of 40.5 points. The Gators beat all of those first six opponents by at least 25 points. None of them would make the NCAA Tournament.
Florida then lost two of its next three, one in a classic overtime game against Kansas in the Las Vegas Invitational and one on the road at Florida State. (The filling in between those losses was an 83-27 — again, not a misprint — win over Southern.) There was, perhaps, reason to worry about the Gators then, but they responded by ripping off 17 straight wins, including an smithereening of Ohio State at home and a road win over Kentucky, and arrived at 24-2 with a Valentine's Day win over Alabama.
Then they lost three of their last five SEC games, all on the road and all by double digits, to Vanderbilt, LSU, and Tennessee. Lee Humphrey was well off his typically insane shooting in those games, making just seven of 21 threes, and Taurean Green was far worse, making three of 16 threes. Joakim Noah took just 13 shots in those losses, and had double-digit points just once, in Nashville.
You may also remember that as the game in which Vandy coach Kevin Stallings wouldn't give Jo the ball. (Also, Humphrey was shooting 60 percent from three in SEC play!? Dear sweet Tebow.)
Florida recovered, and returned to its punishing ways, winning the last 10 games of that season and winning all of them by eight points or more. There was no switch that was flipped, no player returning to health: Florida just had its shots fall and played better defense, and things worked out.
2012-13 Florida started the year 7-0, and beat three NCAA Tournament teams — two that appear slated for the No. 5 line or above — in that stretch. It beat those three teams by an average of 23.3 points per game, and all seven foes by exactly 25 points per game, and left home twice to do so, beating Florida State on the road instead of coughing up a painful loss.
Florida then lost two of its next three, one in a classic game that went down to the wire at Arizona and another to Kansas State. (The filling in between those losses was an 82-43 win over Southeastern Louisiana.) There was, perhaps, reason to worry about the Gators then, but they responded by ripping off 10 straight wins, including an smithereening of Missouri at home and five road wins by 17 or more points, and arrived at 18-2 with a win in a Saturday showdown against Mississippi.
Since then, the Gators have lost three of their last seven SEC games, all on the road and just one by double digits, to Arkansas, Missouri, and Tennessee. Erik Murphy was well off his typically insane shooting in those games, making just four of 20 threes, and Kenny Boynton was just as bad, also making four of 20 threes. Patric Young took just 21 shots in those losses, and had double-digit points just once, in Knoxville.
That's a weird set of coincidences.
How you and I remember this stretch will depend on how Florida closes this season, obviously, and Florida's going to need to play better to make good on this comparison. The Gators will get Will Yeguete and Michael Frazier back at some point, maybe on Saturday against Alabama, and will have a better team with them than without them. They get two straight home games against teams that are likely not as good as the three teams they have fallen to in their next two games, and a road test that they may be at full strength for at Kentucky in the regular season finale. They still control their destiny in terms of SEC Tournament seeding, and have an outside shot at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The sky didn't fall last night, because it basically can't fall on a team that has done as much as Florida has. The stars might still align like they did in 2006-07. Relax, and let the season play out.
What else can you do, really?