Florida Basketball: Why the Gators Are the Best Team in the Country

Sean BielawskiContributor IIIJanuary 21, 2013

January 19, 2013; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators guard Scottie Wilbekin (5) lays the ball up during the first half of the game against the Missouri Tigers at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center. Mandatory Credit: Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports
Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports

It was easy for Florida to get lost in the shuffle on a Saturday that featured an upset of a top-ranked team and a dramatic buzzer-beater off of a stolen inbounds pass.

Despite the lack of drama in Gainesville, no team impressed more on the sport’s biggest day so far this season than the Gators in their 83-52 drubbing of No. 22 Missouri.

In a year when there is no dominant team (like Kentucky last year), it’d be just as tough to find a team better than Florida as it is to find something that Billy Donovan’s club does not do well.

So far, the Gators are 14-2 and 4-0 in SEC play. All 14 of those wins have come by at least 13 points, and the four conference wins have been by an average margin of 26.8 points per game.

What once looked like a hollow non-conference resume has perked up recently. Florida beat Wisconsin, 74-56, on Nov. 14, which now looks better after the Badgers beat Indiana in Bloomington last week. The Gators also demolished Marquette, 82-49, and the Golden Eagles have started 4-1 in Big East play with wins over Connecticut, Georgetown and Pittsburgh.

Even the losses are plenty excusable. Florida lost at No. 6 Arizona, 65-64, on Dec. 15 in a game where the Gators led by six with just over a minute to play. Florida also dropped a 67-61 contest to No. 11 Kansas State in Kansas City a week later. Certainly, there was no shame in either setback.

Advanced stats guru Ken Pomeroy has Florida atop his rankings, as the Gators are No. 1 in adjusted defensive efficiency and No. 2 in adjusted offensive efficiency. Duke is the only other team in the country ranked in the top 10 in both categories (the Blue Devils are ninth in offense and fifth in defense).

Florida shoots 49.1 percent from the field, which ranks ninth in the nation, and also shoots a more-than-respectable 37.5 percent from three. The defense allows opponents to shoot 36.1 percent, ranking fifth nationally, and 29.7 percent from beyond the arc.

These Gators are that well-rounded, and it isn’t tough to see why. Florida features a backcourt with talent and experience. Kenny Boynton (13.3 ppg) and Mike Rosario (12.5 ppg) are seniors who lead a balanced scoring attack. Junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin can distribute and defend.

At 6’9” and 249 pounds, junior Patric Young provides the muscle down low while 6’10” senior Erik Murphy can spread the floor, knocking down 44.6 percent of his three-pointers.

Juniors Casey Prather (who is out one more week with an ankle injury, according to the Tampa Bay Times) and Will Yeguete give Donovan depth on his bench. All totaled, Florida’s first seven players in its rotation are upperclassmen.

Does that mean that these Gators are without flaws? Of course not. Florida still needs to prove that it can win close games and execute down the stretch, something that it did not do in Tucson.

The Gators also need to do a better job getting to the free-throw line. Arizona outscored Florida from the charity stripe, 18-6, while Kansas State had a 20-10 advantage.

But that is just nitpicking.

Unfortunately, Saturday’s game against Missouri was supposed to be one of the last times that Florida would be seriously tested in the regular season. The SEC is down this year, with just three teams in the RPI Top 50. Six teams in the conference currently sit outside of the RPI Top 100, according to the NCAA's weekly rankings.

The Gators still have to play Mississippi, Kentucky twice and at Missouri, but the rest of the SEC schedule should cause few problems. 

In March, Florida will try to take the next step after making the Elite Eight in each of the last two seasons. The Gators last won a national championship in 2007, cutting down the nets in the Georgia Dome after defeating Ohio State.

Come April 8 in Atlanta, Florida could easily find itself in the exact same position.