Despite LSU Loss, Florida Is Still Primed To Win The SEC
In Florida basketball's second-to-last contest, it defeated the No. 4 Auburn Tigers by that much, 69-47. It was, inarguably, UF's best game of the season to this point and put an exclamation point on a huge month of January so far, going 4-1 to tip off the new year.
There's a lot of reasons that the Gators look much better as of late, but the most important part is just that they are playing much, much better. Coach Mike White's team has found a groove as of late and the gap between this team's potential and reality seems to finally be growing closer.
Because of that groove, and because of the enormous potential this team has, Florida is primed for a big run. In fact, I think it can win the SEC regular-season crown, mainly because of the upcoming schedule.
Right now, the Gators are treading through a really tough three-game stretch of teams: Auburn, LSU and Baylor. Auburn was the No. 4 team in the nation until the Gators beat them handily at home this past Saturday. That win was obviously huge for the Gators. On Tuesday, it faced an LSU team that sits atop the SEC boasting a seven-game winning streak.
The Gators barely lost a nail-biter in Baton Rouge, 84-82. It literally came down to the final millisecond, as the referees declared forward Keyontae Johnson's game-tying buzzer-beater a fraction of a second late, erasing the basket and a chance at overtime.
And now, UF gets No. 1 Baylor at home in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. That game is the main reason I argue the schedule for why the Gators can win the SEC.
It is a win-win scenario for Florida. If it wins that game, it is the confidence boost of the season, in front of the O'Connell Center's crowd. If the Gators lose, who cares? It isn't a conference game anyway and that is the top-ranked team in the nation.
The opportunity to play a win-win scenario game like this, this late into the year, is a rare but wonderful opportunity. White, and the rest of the Gators, would disagree with this publicly, but it can be a great moral victory game as well. If they just hang tough with Baylor, that is a win for this program with how up and down the season has been at times.
And after that game, Florida plays six games in a row against teams that it should dominate handily. Mississippi State, Vanderbilt twice, Georgia, Ole Miss, and Texas A&M. All of those teams have a losing record in the conference, and Vanderbilt and Ole Miss combine for a woeful 0-8 in the SEC.
These are all super winnable games for the Gators until they take on Arkansas at home on Feb. 18, who is currently 14-3 overall and sits one spot behind UF in SEC standings at No. 4.
This schedule sets up kindly for the Gators to make an eye-opening run here in the middle part of the season. As they start to heat up here in mid-January, playing much better basketball all the way around, the opportunity is sitting right in front of them.
You have an opportunity for a season-altering win straight ahead, facing the No. 1-ranked team in the nation. Then, you have games where you should easily handle the opponent to really build confidence and go on an impressive win streak.
The idea that Florida could be the No. 1 seed heading to Nashville, Tennessee, for the SEC tournament is not actually that far-fetched.
Yes, the Gators lost to LSU. Yes, they looked woefully bad earlier in the season.
But, also yes, they can make everyone forget about those things if this better play continues and they sneak to the top of the conference by the regular season's end.