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Here We Go Again?

It's been stated quite a bit over the last few weeks that the Gators basketball team had a stretch of games last season -- losing three games in a row to Arkansas, Tennessee and Alabama -- before ripping off 11 straight wins and being crowned the National Champions in Indianapolis.

This statement, of course, has been said constantly to try and somehow ease the frustration we as Gator fans are suffering from due to the recent struggles of this year's squad.  The Gators, who were riding a 17 game winning streak and a possible repeat title run based on their level of play, have fallen back down to earth -- and quite quickly at that -- by losing three of four games to conference opponents.

Now, it's perfectly fine to think this way.  It does show you that the way a team plays in the regular season, at certain points at least, in no way shows us their title run capabilities in the NCAA tournament.  The Gators couldn't buy a win for a whole week and a half last regular season, yet came out of the season looked at as the best team in the country.

Skids like the one that is riddling the Gators right now cause a whirlwind of negative activity surrounding a program.  The media and fans start pointing fingers and handing out blame. Coaches and players try to explain what the problem is, and how they could go about fixing it.  It happens everywhere.

Coach Billy Donovan would like to think that the recent stretch of bad losses could be simply attributed to running into good opposition.

"I don't understand why these other teams don't get credit," Donovan said, according to Tuesday's postgame interview transcript that was posted on Tennessee's Web site. "I don't understand why Tennessee doesn't get credit. They are an NCAA Tournament team. Vanderbilt is an NCAA Tournament team. These are good teams we are playing against."

Now, I do think that this is the case, somewhat.  Tennessee and Vanderbilt are among the better teams in the conference, and LSU did come out with a ton of energy and a great gameplan. However, this does not excuse the losses in full because there are clear factors that are resulting in the Gators inability to win as of late.

One problem, very major problem at that, is the way the Gators defense has allowed teams to shoot a high percentage and get out to an early lead.  This is a team issue in which not only one player could be looked at.

However we are seeing certain players getting some of the blame -- including Gators big man Joakim Noah and the two starting guards -- which is going to happen when a team is losing.

"I don't feel like I've been contributing the way I should," Noah said. "I take some of the blame for that. At the end of the day, though, it's about us as a team getting through this."

"I'm sure there's a lot on his plate," Donovan said. "And you can make those excuses. Joakim's definitely a competitor, but he needs to know that when you put that jersey on, and you step across the lines and play, there are no excuses. You need to go out and do your very best."

As for the guards, Lee Humprhey and Taurean Green, the Gainesville Sun's Pat Dooley explains why they are taking some heat over the recent slide:
You can't be an effective team unless you're getting production from both the frontcourt and the backcourt. Florida's starting guards are both struggling terribly in the last four games.

During that stretch, Lee Humphrey and Taurean Green have combined to shoot 26 percent. And during the last four games they have combined to have 10 assists. That's 1.25 per player per game. Comparatively, Green has 13 turnovers during that stretch.

Obviously there are problems with this team right now that are not allowing them to compete in these games.  Outside of a few small runs, the Gators have not really been competitive in their losses for a combination of reasons, and that is not something that should be happening to a team as talented as this one is.

At least the problems that are hindering this team are evident, so that there is a clear path to reaching the level of play they were at a few weeks ago.  All it will take will be a nice re-focused effort, a solid defensive performance and a more efficient offense to return to where we all think they should be.

But as you know, this team did lose three games in a row last year, and still won the National Championship.  I thought I'd remind you about that.

And who was the team the Gators beat last year to propel them to a wins in both the SEC tournament and the NCAA tournament?  Kentucky.  The team that will be coming into Gainesville on Sunday.  The team that the Gators will hope to beat in front of the home-crowd to not only secure an undefeated home record this season, but to get them back on the right track before the postseason begins.

Following their three game losing streak and an easy win over the Georgia Bulldogs last season, the Gators traveled to Rupp Arena to face the Wildcats, a place that had never been kind to the Orange and Blue.  The Gators cruised to a 15-point victory over their SEC East rival, ending their season on a high note and giving them quite a bit of confidence -- which allowed them to be a team that was much better overall than their regular season performance would predict.

Here's hoping we see a similar postseason run this year, only to be preceded by a nice win over the Wildcats to close out the regular season campaign on Sunday.

Go Gators!