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The Kids Are Alright

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Landmines lie at each stop on the Gators' SEC schedule, but so far, they have avoided all but one. As fans, we knew this team was not going to be giant killers just yet. Looking at a few stats shows the ball club is on their way to that level.

  • The easiest way to criticize the Gators is their inability to play 40 minutes. Their explosive second frames against Alabama, Auburn, and Ole Miss were diluted by very weak outputs in the first half. Versus Kentucky and Vandy it was the exact opposite. While this is something the Gators need to address, their second half points are a sign of an improving team. In SEC play, the Gators score 219 points in the first half and 250 in the second. In contrast, they have allowed 213 and 211 per half. Either the Gators respond to each of Donovan's strategy adjustments or the kids have the fitness and skill to play hard in the second half. Remember, it was Florida's ability to outrun opponents in the second half that led them to two National Championships.
  • In league play, Florida has shown more willingness to play inside. As happens, the extra pass inside or on a kick out would lead to more turnovers. But the SEC assist to turnover ratio is 1.47. That is .03 better than the out-of-conference ratio. Sure, we could be splitting hairs here, but it is what that .03 means; against tougher competition, the team has protected the ball better. Clearly the Gators are learning.
  • The Kentucky game made Gator fans pull their hair out over the team's free throw shooting. Again, though, UF has improved. In SEC play the Gators are shooting 71.4% at the line, 70.6% in OOC play.
  • All five starters are in double figures in scoring during SEC play. Only Calathes, Hodge, and Speights did that prior to league competition. Calathes, Lucas, Werner are all shooting above their season field goal percentages, and Speights is .001 under (.642 in SEC).
Stats tell part of the story. The bigger story is the way the team is growing up in front of us. The Gators would destroy FSU and Ohio State right now. Speights has tremendously improved after a horrific outing against Ole Miss. Hodge has taken a greater role in the offense as Lucas is now asserting himself more. Calathes sees that and is throwing skip passes, eager to set teammates up on easy buckets. No longer does Mr. Basketball have to run the offense on his own and he can trust his teammates.

The upcoming trips to Arkansas and Tennessee, with a quick turn around, could punch the kids in the face and send them into the division cellar. Hopefully, the team can feast on a weakened league and remain at the top, despite a nearly sure loss in Knoxville (last won there in 2005). More impressive than the 5-1 SEC mark is that only the Ohio State loss was a blowout. The Gators have been competitive in every game.

I think that at the beginning of the season, the team, like us, was looking at them as part of a legacy. That is true. They are holding the torch thrown to them by Lee and the Oh Fours. The difference now is they have found their own identity and style. They have accepted the responsibility of a legacy, but it will be on their terms. And that's alright.