One game without John Egbunu, who will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL, and the Gators’ win streak is still intact.
Florida men’s basketball survived a wretched start on Saturday in Starkville to eventually scoot by Mississippi State to the tune of 57-52. Defense again traveled for the Gators and allowed them to secure their eighth straight win.
Against the Bulldogs, Florida obviously struggled, and now the Gators have two difficult contests on deck this week as they face the SEC’s other top teams, South Carolina and Kentucky. With news of Egbunu’s injury, optimism for Florida’s season has begun to wane - though confidence remains in Kevarrius Hayes’ ability to fill in.
Florida was still physical in Egbunu’s absence, out-rebounding the Bulldogs 42-38 and blocking six shots in total. Against Mississippi State, Hayes blocked four shots, including a big one after Florida took a 54-52 lead, but he also now has to be more focused on staying out of foul trouble. Devin Robinson also stepped up on Saturday with ten rebounds and two blocked shots.
Losing a large and physically imposing player like Egbunu will likely have some impact on the Gators moving forward, as they finish their regular schedule and move into postseason play. There is also the matter of Canyon Barry, who left Saturday’s game with a ankle injury. Florida is hopeful he will be able to play tomorrow at South Carolina. Keith Stone also dealt with a viral illness last month and has not been the same since.
An injury to a starter or major contributor on any team has the potential to alter that team’s course. It also has the ability to change the expectations for a season. Injuries are a part of sports. All athletes compete with the ever-present specter of physical harm hanging over them, and Florida is not the only team in the field that is dealing with an injury ahead of the postseason.
I think we can all recall injuries that significantly altered the trajectory of a team’s season, or impacted the expectations for that season. Tebow forgive me for bringing up the 2013 Florida football season, but might things have played out a little differently for those Gators had Jeff Driskel or Tyler Murphy or Dominique Easley not gone down?
Of course, there have also been occasions where injuries were predicted to play a major role and did not, or where expectations were curbed too harshly in the wake of one. In this past football season, Florida was forced to turn to the then-third string center, redshirt freshman T.J. McCoy, but the Gators didn’t experience a drop-off at the position. In fact, McCoy had strong showings against some of Florida’s toughest competition. And think about Ohio State’s 2014 national championship team playing, and winning, with their third string quarterback in the postseason. (I do realize these are all football comparisons and we are talking about basketball here.)
The Gators still won on Saturday, and as they have shown all season, Florida can win in different ways and with different personnel taking leading roles. The Gators scored half as many points against the Bulldogs as they did against Auburn four days earlier, but the end result was still the same.
The business of forecasting what impact, if any, an injury can have is a tricky one. Have your expectations for Florida’s season been altered? How much Egbunu’s injury could change, or not change, the outcome of the Gators’ season still remains to be seen. For now, Florida’s goals are still in sight and the Gators passed their first post-Egbunu test with a mark in the win column.
And as always, this Weekly Open Thread is for any and all comments on any and all topics, with the rules of commenting decorum still applying.