Entering Monday's game against Miami, the Florida Gators sat at seventh in Ken Pomeroy's rankings.
With Monday's loss to Miami, Florida fell ... to eighth.
That's about how much it matters to the best college basketball efficiency rankings that the Gators succumbed to a barrage of Angel Rodriguez threes — and I felt pretty sanguine about the defeat even before checking KenPom this morning.
Very little about that loss felt good, as Trevor noted in his recap last night. Florida's offense vanished down the stretch. Kasey Hill played poorly. The way that Florida's guards took over the game in the final few minutes — by taking most of Florida's shots, few of them great — reminded many strongly of Florida's three Elite Eight teams of the past four years, all plagued to a degree by second-half collapses.
It felt like a horror show that we had seen before, and one we dreaded reliving.
But I've paid attention to more than a few Florida basketball seasons in my life.
Florida almost never starts a season on a fantastic roll. Since the 2005-06 season, when the Oh-Fours led the Gators to a 17-0 start that was the best in school history, Florida has lost at least one of its first 10 games every year. It has lost one of its first eight games every year, too, and one of its first seven games in all but two of those nine seasons. Florida has been 1-1 four times in the last five years ... and three of those years resulted in trips to at least the Elite Eight; we're now in the fourth.
The losses in that span came to Ohio State teams that made the Sweet Sixteen (losing to Kentucky in the final seconds) and Final Four, respectively, to a Wisconsin team that went to the Final Four, and to Miami last night. We won't know if Miami ends up being as accomplished as those teams that preceded it until March, but the Hurricanes sure did look good late, thanks to Rodriguez getting about as hot as I've ever seen a player get in the O'Connell Center.
Miami jumped 16 spots in KenPom, from 55th to 39th, after the win, and with a marquee road non-conference win, a decent non-con schedule, and what should be a brutal ACC, there's very little chance the 'Canes will be a "bad" loss for the Gators in the eyes of the almighty RPI — even before the committee factors in Florida having just seven healthy rotation players, one of them a walk-on and three of them freshmen, for this contest. It's not a good thing to blow a lead and lose at home, obviously, and doing so to Miami is painful for Florida fans still reeling from another fall of faltering football, but this wasn't a sky-is-falling defeat.
Yeah, Florida's home winning streak is over, and it was sad to see it go. Yeah, I don't like losing to Miami any more than you do, and Miami now has a winning record over Florida in Florida-Miami games I've seen in person. (I went to Sun Life last year for that debacle, and watched Florida usher Miami from the 2011 NIT, for the record.) Yeah, Hill needs to get better, and Florida needs an inside presence, and so on and so forth.
But I think Florida wins that game last night if even one of Dorian Finney-Smith, Brandone Francis, Dillon Graham (more on his transfer later), Damontre Harris, Chris Walker, or DeVon Walker was available. (And all of them could have been! John Egbunu and Alex Murphy, not so much.) I think Florida wins that game if Rodriguez doesn't get an insane shooter's bouncer on the second of four threes he bombed in over the game's final seven minutes; I think Florida wins if Miami goes 4-for-6 instead of 5-for-6 on threes in that stretch.
I think Florida wins if Hill doesn't foul Rodriguez on a three, or if Hill puts in one of the two layups he missed, and especially if he makes the one off a Michael Frazier II steal that would have ignited the crowd with just under seven minutes to play. I think Florida wins if Miami doesn't get an offensive rebound with under a minute to go that allows Rodriguez a chance to fire his dagger. I think Florida wins if Frazier doesn't go 0-for-4 over that final stretch, or if the Gators get just one good shot that isn't a look for Jon Horford late.
None of those things happened, of course, and so Florida fell on the wrong side of the razor's edge in an exhilarating basketball game that was destined to make the winners ecstatic and the losers crestfallen. It wasn't all bad: That was a fun game, maybe the best back-and-forth battle late that I've seen at the O'Dome since Florida vanquished Arizona in overtime a few years back. And it was good, in my mind, to see a depleted Florida roster hanging with a team buoyed by a shot-making guard throwing haymakers — that experience is valuable, even if it could have come in a win.
Chris Walker is back on Friday, and Doe-Doe will heal up, likely working back into the rotation for Florida's Battle 4 Atlantis trip. Hill won't be that bad again, and Jacob Kurtz and Devin Robinson rotating out of the frontcourt lineup will fix problems with establishing an interior presence that were simply insoluble on Monday.
Things will get better. I'm rather confident of that. And I won't really start worrying unless they don't.
A seven-man Florida team (with six scholarship players) didn't play well enough to beat a good Miami team that got white-hot down the stretch. I don't care if it sounds like an excuse: That's the bare truth.
And if there was pain in that loss, there wasn't a lot of shame that I saw.