Thursday, February 14, 2013

Florida 69 - 52 Kentucky

Some days are diamonds, some days are stone.  Here are a few observations on a truly disastrous trip to Gainesville.

1.  It's important to understand that Florida's domination of Kentucky was not a surprise.  For weeks now, Ken Pomeroy has been more optimistic about UK's team than almost everyone else -- he had them as the 18th best team in the country going into this game, while they were 25 in the AP poll and somewhere in the 40's in terms of RPI.  But even KenPom thought the Cats were going to get stomped -- he had Florida winning by 16 points (75-59), and they won by 17.  Some of this margin was due to the fact that UK isn't all that good.  It's important to remember, however, that Florida is very good.  Pomeroy thinks the Gators are the best team in the country, and I think he's probably right.  UK lost by 17 points, but look at some other scores from Gainesville this year:

11/14/12:  Florida 74 - 56 Wisconsin (18 point margin)
11/29/12:  Florida 82 - 49 Marquette (33 point margin)
01/09/13:  Florida 77 - 44 Georgia (33 point margin)
01/19/13:  Florida 83 - 52 Missouri (31 point margin)

The Gators also beat South Carolina by 39 and Mississippi State by 25.  They beat Ole Miss by only 14 (78-64), but they had a 19-point lead with 10 minutes left, and cruised home the rest of the way.

Under these circumstances, UK's performance was quite respectable.  To make it a close game, the Cats needed to be red-hot from the outside and hope that Florida went cold from three-point range.  Neither of these things happened -- the Cats went 4-12 behind the arc, while the Gators made 6-14 (42.9 percent).  Given those numbers, the Cats basically had no chance, and the game played out about as one would expect.  In fact, it didn't affect Pomeroy's ranking at all -- he still has the Cats as the 18th best team in the country.

2.  It is simply impossible to overstate what a great job Billy Donovan has done at Florida.  When he came there, the Gators had never won the SEC Tournament and had never reached the NCAA title game.  They had only one trip to the NCAA Final Four.  Under Donovan, they have three trips to the title game and two national titles.  For the last three years, UK has tormented Donovan and the Gators.  We went 7-1 against them.  We knocked them out of the SEC tournament in each of the last two years.  We went to two final fours and won a national title -- while they blew two late leads in Elite Eight games.  But none of these events discouraged Donovan and the Gators.  They shrugged off the loss of Bradley Beal in last year's NBA draft, kept the score of a very good team together, and embraced the important lesson that you don't have to worry about losing close games if you blow out your opponents.  We've had some great coaches at UK, and we've got a great one now, but Donovan has won as many NCAA Tournaments as Pitino and Calipari put together -- and he may get another one this year.

3.  Of course, the most important event in Tuesday's game was the season-ending knee injury suffered by Nerlens Noel.  Fittingly, Noel was injured trying to prevent a Florida basket after one of his teammates had made yet another stupid turnover.  Fittingly, Noel's remarkable, come-from-behind effort allowed him to block the shot.  For me, those two facts are an excellent summary of Noel's all-too-brief time at UK -- he played really hard, he played really well, and he was constantly having to make up for the mistakes of his teammates.  Whatever happens to him from here on out, we wish him only the best.

Now, unfortunately, the rest of the Cats have to go on without him.  UK is currently 8-3 in the SEC and 17-7 overall.  Their RPI is 43.  ESPN's Bracketology shows them as a number 9 seed.  In short, based on their performance so far, they were probably on their way to a first- or second-round loss in the NCAA Tournament.  That was with Noel, who was their best player.  But he's gone now, and the rest of the team will have to improve significantly just to make the NCAA Tournament.  They certainly have some very tough games remaining.  Here's the rest of UK's schedule (home games in all caps):

2/16:  @ Tennessee
3/2:  @ Arkansas
3/7:  @ Georgia

Personally, I will be stunned if the Cats win at Tennessee, Arkansas, or Georgia, and I will be flabbergasted if they beat Florida at home.  I even have doubts about their chances against Missouri.   So my guess is that we have hard and heavy tidings for the remainder of the season.  But Coach Cal and Cats have surprised me before, and maybe they can do so again.

In the meantime, didn't we have fun last season?

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