With a come-from-behind, 71-62 win over Georgia on Thursday night, No. 13 Florida clinched at least a share of the SEC East title.
They are now 22-5 overall and 11-2 playing in the (much) tougher division of the SEC. They’ve swept Tennessee and Georgia and taken care of business against Vanderbilt and Kentucky at home. They own non-conference wins over Kansas State and at Florida State and Xavier.
So why is no one talking about this team?
For one thing, the two national championship teams aside, Billy Donovan’s Florida teams have a reputation for being soft. They get beat up inside against bigger teams and they wilt when the pressure is on. Dating back to the days of Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh, this is a program that has become synonymous with underachieving, failing to live up to the hype and the talent on the roster. The one year that the Gators performed to expectations was 2007, their second title season. But that was a direct result of the four guys that led Florida from unranked in the preseason to a 2006 title all ignored the NBA Draft and returned to school.
And on paper, this team looks like one that will end up disappointing.
Kenny Boynton is as talented as any guard in the country, but his shot selection is questionable and he is, without a doubt, the streakiest player in the country. Erving Walker is a diminutive, 5’9″ scoring point guard with a penchant for 28 footers and tough drives to the rim. Chandler Parsons has the skill set to be a top 10 pick, but he never seems willing or able to put it all together. And is anyone going to trust a front court of Alex Tyus, Vernon Macklin, and freshman Patrick Young?
Early in the season, Florida made a non-believer out of most.
They played to the level of their opponent and managed to lose to both Jacksonville and Central Florida.
But this has been a different team the past two months. Parsons has played like a potential SEC player of the year, leading the SEC in rebounding in conference games before a thigh injury slowed him. Macklin has slowly but surely developed into a scoring threat on the block. Walker is showing signs of becoming the point guard and the leader Donovan needed him to be.
He’s still dreadfully streaky, but when he’s hot — like when he scored 12 straight points to lead Florida to open a 63-53 lead on the Gators — he can change the course of a game.
So do I trust Florida?
Not quite yet, not with their remaining schedule. The Gators have to play at Kentucky and at Vanderbilt and get Alabama at home. We’ll know who the Gators are once the regular season is over.
That’s a tough stretch for any team, but Florida is looking more prepared for it every game.