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February 1, 2013

Holt-Simonton: Talking Billy Ball



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  • While the two parties came together in Washington, D.C. to avoid falling off the fiscal cliff, the staff here on Inside the Gators is still worlds apart when it comes to Gator athletics. With a tip of our cap to USA Today political pundits Cal Thomas and Bob Beckel, staffers Bryan Holt and Jesse Simonton go back and forth trading barbs, insults and observations as they review the world of Gators sports.

    Bryan: Scottie Wilbekin may not care to talk about it but that doesn't change the fact No. 16 Ole Miss comes to the O'Connell Center Saturday in search of an upset win or maybe just a defeat of less than 30 points. No. 4 Florida is in all-out destruction mode right now, smothering the Southeastern Conference with defense and just enough offense to embarrass the opposition. On the other hand, the Rebels' big national hype seems to have fizzled out after Kentucky decided to make Tad's Pad the scene of a one-night stand to regain a little respect. My question to you is this, Mr. Simonton, is Ole Miss in for more of the Florida norm Saturday?

    Jesse: Duh. It's called 'Rock Chalk Fauxhawk.' Ole Miss has been overrated from the get-go, largely in part to the SEC's substandard talent this season. The Rebels have exceeded preseason expectations, but they shouldn't be confused with a potential juggernaut nor a team that can legitimately challenge this current Gators bunch at home. The O'Dome is finally rocking again, and unlike Florida's football brothers, Billy's boys have spit in the face of complacency. The first half of the Georgia game notwithstanding, Florida is pulverizing opponents -- no matter the skill or talent level. Not since the legacy stamped '04's has a Gators team played with such a relentless combination of unselfishness, clinical defense and pure domination. With the Rebels already banged up (reserve forward Aaron Jones and starting guard Nick Williams are sidelined indefinitely) and Marshall Henderson -- albeit a thrill to watch -- scoring with less efficiency than legendary ex Laker A.C. Green, I'd shocked if this is a true test on Saturday. The real question now is: what is this team's ceiling, and are the Gators peaking too soon?

    Bryan: Since it appears we'll be playing competitive agreement today, I'll approach your final question. Here's the thing: This Florida team has become interesting because of its ability to be a cliche ... stick with me. Every team in sports says it takes one possession at a time and doesn't get caught up in the score, but Florida actually does it. Every team spews hot garbage about not caring about individual statistics, but the Gators actually have players like Will Yeguete and Wilbekin who are giant assets while hardly blowing up box scores. If Florida was winning because of outrageous shooting or streaky offense, its streak could be misleading, but it's dominating with effort and defense and that's incredibly sustainable unless you don't show up. If there was a year for a team with little star power to be the best in college basketball, it'd be this year, but it's still very early.

    Jesse: Yeah, it's early. But have you watched the rest of college basketball this season? It's more painful than one of Taylor Swift's monthly breakup ballads -- and that's really saying something. NCAA hoops stink now, and yet, the Gators are one of a few teams who play a brand of basketball that is both enjoyable to watch and capable of propelling them to championships. Florida doesn't have the individual talent of Michigan, Kansas or Indiana, but Billy Donovan's assembled group plays as a collective team better than any in the nation. You're effort assertion is correct; it's the only thing (aside from injuries) that can truly halt Florida's momentum. Donovan deserves major applause for transforming the careers of Wilbekin and Mike Rosario, especially the latter.

    Bryan: Easy on Swift. The girl has a brilliant business model working. Form brief relationships with young males, kick them out into the cold and then make money off their names. She could be next in line to run the NCAA. This is looking more and more every week like Billy's best coaching job at Florida. The best part is you can see how thin of a line he feels he is watching. Even though his team is often winning by 30, this team looks maddening for Donovan. He is as hesitant to say anything nice publicly as he has ever been. The struggle to keep Rosario from playing street-ball is almost always there as he is now playing 30 minutes per game. Kenny Boynton and Patric Young have their own sets of possible issues. Then you have the defensive catalyst of the team, Wilbekin, who started off the year on a suspension. It has hardly been as seamless as it has looked.

    Jesse: Taylor Swift and the NCAA. I love how easily we simplified the shamateurism of it all. But back to the basic discussion, this Florida team is really, really good, and yes, it's in spite of the bevy of individual predicaments Dononvan combats on a daily basis. But while all of UF's key contributors are flawed in some way, they've each significantly improved one aspect of their game -- Young, blocked shots; Wilbekin, FG%, court vision; Rosario, perimeter defense; Murphy, 3FG%, team defense; etc. -- to collectively form a ferocious team in today's weak college basketball standards. The Gators' average margin of victory against conference foes is an absurd 28.3 points per game, more than three times Kansas' margin (9.4 p/g) versus Big12 opponents. People can rightly scoff at the level of SEC competition, but then you look around the rest of the nation and at Florida's non-conference evisceration's (Wisconsin, Marquette, Florida State) and it gets quiet quick. Because of its offensive balance and defensive tenacity (plus every favorable metric imaginable), this team has serious Final 4 potential -- way more so than the previous two deep tourney runs. I don't see a bunch of latent issues here. What say you?

    Bryan: Florida has as good -- and maybe better -- of a chance winning the national championship as anyone in the country at this point. The Gators are primed for cruise control throughout their SEC slate and a deep run come March (and into April). That said, this is still college basketball and they would hardly be the first January favorite to not pan out. This is why Billy is saying the things he is saying and why the team is so terrified of complacency. It's working for them and has obviously been the right formula so far. The only concern, to me at least, is how formidable a big man Young is when the competition steps up.

    Jesse: College basketball, the land of stiffs, 2013. Young's overall development has crawled to a snails pace, but specific parts of his game (i.e. quicker hands defensively, weak-side rotations) have improved enough to make him more than a serviceable player. Rebounding and free throw concerns still linger, and over the next few weeks he'll face a couple solid frontcourts --starting with the Rebels this weekend. Regardless, the Gators have 10 games remaining before tourney season kick-starts, with only one true road test (at Mizzou) left on the schedule. Florida is in a prime spot to steal a No. 1 seed and position itself for another deep run. I'm sure Mr. Henderson will drop a couple memorable GIF's Saturday, but even his blank stares can't stop UF's locomotive as this train just might keep on chugging all the way to the Georgia Dome.


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