Through the first three months of Todd Golden’s first year, the Gator basketball team was able to consistently say one thing: for all the struggles, for all the trials and tribulations, and for all the limitations it had, the Gators were at least beating the teams they were supposed to beat.
That talking point was eliminated on Saturday in the O’Dome, as a Vanderbilt team that entered the game ranked #99 in the NET rankings came into Gainesville and beat Florida, 88-80. It’s the first time the Gator basketball team has lost to Vandy at home since Mike White accomplished the dubious feat in each of his first two years. It’s also the first time Vandy has beaten Florida in both football and basketball in the same season since 1988-89.
Far more important than any of that, though, is the damage that this loss does to the Gators’ NCAA Tournament resume.
Not only is the Gator basketball team’s resume’s “bad loss” column no longer blank, the loss drops Florida to 6-6 in the SEC and down to #54 in the NET. This game was supposed to be the start of a much more breathable seven-game stretch to close the year after a brutal four-game gauntlet. Instead, it only opened the door for more questions about what this team was capable of.
For the eighth game in a row, Florida was outrebounded by a margin of four or greater. Colin Castleton had another great game, recording 25 points and 11 boards, and Riley Kugel dropped 18 points of his own, but the Gators’ offense really struggled down the stretch after a hot start. It’s easy to just hand Vanderbilt credit for draining twelve threes, but at some point, you’d have to think that Florida’s defense- which has mostly been a strength under Todd Golden- could adjust and try defending the perimeter. Instead, Florida has now surrendered 27 threes and 185 points in its last two games.
It’s possible that this loss will be what shakes the Gator basketball team awake. It’s possible that this will mark the beginning of an impressive turnaround to finish the year. It’s possible that Florida starts stockpiling wins in the last six of the aforementioned easier seven-game stretch to conclude thee regular season.
And Florida needs to. Yes, Todd Golden is young, and bright, and has shown the ability to make adjustments before. But with Colin Castleton gone after this season and the raw-but-promising Riley Kugel sure to be a hot commodity in the free agency-esque era of the transfer portal, continuity is even less of a thing in college basketball today than it used to be. And if Todd Golden can’t wring some results out of a team that at least has some talent- like, say, reaching the NCAA Tournament- the job will only get harder for him in subsequent years.