By no means was this a pretty win for 19th ranked Florida over 13th ranked Kansas, evident by some of the more gruesome stats in recent memory.
Florida will take it anyway.
Spurred by a 21-0 run after an initial slow start, the Gators never looked back, pushing the lead up to as high as 18 points before the Jayhawks started to slowly chip away at it. But by then it was too late, a testament to the Gators rock chalk solid defense, in particular a nasty 1-3-1 zone defense the young Jayhawks never really figured out. Not even freshman sensation Andrew Wiggins, who finished with 26, could do enough to save them.
It appears I was right when I said a few weeks ago that this version of the Florida Gators wouldn’t ever have the explosive offense previous teams did. You know, like the ones with Kenny Boynton, Erik Murphy, and yes, even little Erving Walker who could drive you crazy by launching a three from the team logo at mid court and then making you scream with joy when he buried it. But that’s OK, because while the offense has taken a step back, the defense has been upgraded. Patric Young, for all his faults on offense, is becoming a real presence in the paint defensively, Scottie Wilbekin appears to be one of the best defensive point guards in the country, and the Gators do a great job as a team disguising that 1-3-1 zone until the opponent has already started to run its offense.
Looking at things from the big picture perspective, the Gators could pretty much finish up their NCAA Tournament resume with a win over Memphis next week in New York City (which, by the way, I will be going to). They finally got that elusive win over an RPI top 10 team (Kansas was ranked #2 in the RPI coming into the game) after missing chances to do so against Wisconsin and Connecticut. Other than Kentucky and Missouri, the Gators don’t even play another team that’s currently ranked the rest of the season. Now, Florida needs to show that they can win away from the O’Dome, because they won’t be playing on their home court in the games that really matter. And this is a solid Memphis team they’ll be facing; their only loss came to 7th ranked Oklahoma State, and they got a rematch with the Cowboys in the Old Spice Classic in Orlando- and won.
I do want to point out, though, that while this was a big win for Florida, it likely wouldn’t have happened were it not for 24 Kansas turnovers. Dan Shulman and Dick Vitale spent most of the game marveling at the Jayhawks’ inability to simply hold onto the ball. The Gators got lucky in the sense that if they played Kansas 10 times in Gainesville, they’d probably never get this many gifts again.
At the same time, the Gators had one of their patented awful free throw shooting nights. 20-34 is not good by any means, but it was only that good because they managed to funnel the ball into their better shooters’ hands, and made eight out of their last 12. Do the math. That’s a horrible percentage, and Florida can’t expect teams to turn it over as much as Kansas did and still win even with such a pathetic showing from the charity stripe. And even in this game, things got a little more nerve wracking than they should have- I repeat, Kansas had 24 turnovers- until Kasey Hill put it away with two free throws to make it 67-61, which turned out to be the final margin.
In any case, it’s great to finally get that win the team can hang their hats on when it comes to seeding the field of 68 in mid March. Finally, Florida fans can claim a big win to go along with the big victory over FSU on Thanksgiving weekend.
Lastly, keep your eyes peeled for Neil Blackmon to make his writing debut here, and I think Joey’s got something planned in terms of postgame coverage for this game, too.
Until next time…