Credit: Jim Burgess/University of Florida Athletics Communications
Florida (14-2, 4-0 SEC) has won sixth straight and has won its first four SEC games by an average margin of 26.8 points. Coach Billy Donovan won victory No. 400 Saturday at home in a rout of Missouri. Donovan improved to 400-160 in 17 seasons at UF and 435-180 overall.
Teams trying to defend Florida find the same problem that Missouri did — balanced scoring – which means it is hard to key on any one player. Erik Murphy led four Florida players in double figures with 15 points. Kenny Boynton added 14 points. Will Yeguete scored 13 points off the bench, and point guard Scottie Wilbekin had his first career double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds. That is just the offense. Defensively, the Gators are suffocating. They lead the lead the SEC in team defense allowing only 51 points per game. The Gators held Missouri’s best player Phil Pressey to two points and six assists. Florida scored 22 points off first-half turnovers, while Missouri scored just four points off turnovers.
A lack of depth is also no excuse for Florida. Despite only seven healthy players due to junior forward Casey Prather remaining out with a sprained ankle, Florida had no trouble dealing with the SEC Thursday-Saturday schedule dilemma. After beating Texas A & M on the road, the Gators improved to 15-1 in Thursday-Saturday SEC games since 2010.
Gary Parrish from cbssports.com noted that Florida is ranked second in offensive efficiency and second in defensive efficiency at KenPom.com. Parrish added that KenPom.com is projecting Florida to be at least a seven-point favorite in every game between now and Selection Sunday.
This might be Donovan’s best team since the consecutive national title teams. The two teams are similar due to their defensive prowess and maturity. Except for a last minute loss at Arizona, this team seems to not get rattled. The Gators play at Georgia Wednesday night.
REBEL STAR: SEC hoops fans are beginning to know the name Marshall Henderson, who leads the SEC in scoring averaging 18 points per game. The Ole Miss star garnered a lot of attention nationally after tying the Vanderbilt game last Tuesday night with a 3-point bomb 10- feet past the arc to send it into overtime. The Rebels won by 10 in overtime. Henderson, a junior college transfer, shoots more 3-pointers than almost any player in the country — 179 through 17 games. Ole Miss (15-2, 4-0 SEC) has won its first four conference games for the first time since the 1936-37 season. Coach Andy Kennedy has armed his team with a solid perimeter defense, a tough
(Credit: Robert Jordan, Ole Miss)
shot-blocker in Reginald Buckner (left, who is No. 2 in the SEC with nearly three blocks per game) and the inside-out scoring duo of Henderson and Murphy Holloway who leads the league with 10 rebounds per game.
The Rebels also generated 19 turnovers in last Saturday’s win over Arkansas. Against the Hogs, Ole Miss had five players in double figures. Jarvis Summers had 14 points and seven assists, while Holloway (15 points, 11 rebounds) and Reginald Buckner (10, 10) each had double-doubles.
Coach Andy Kennedy has yet to have a Rebel team in the NCAA tournament, but that might change this season. Not only is this arguably Kennedy’s best team, but the overall chemistry is significantly improved from last year. Ole Miss is tied with Florida for the SEC lead after two weeks. Next up is a Thursday home game against Tennessee, on ESPN2.
MAN OF STEELE: Alabama (11-6, 3-1) currently on a three-game win streak, has been buoyed by the return of senior Andrew Steele, who has proven to be the Tide’s glue-guy. When Steele is on the court this season, the Tide is 9-1. Steele missed six games in December because of a sports hernia that needed surgery. Alabama lost all but one of those games. Late in the second half of the Tennessee win, Steele capped a 10-0 run with six points, two steals and an assist in a 46-second stretch to give Alabama a 62-55 lead.
Anyone who watches Alabama basketball understands how offensively challenged they can be at times. Yet, during the three- game win streak the Tide is shooting considerably better especially in the second half. Per Al.com, in its past three games, the Tide’s second-half field-goal percentage is .627. Its rate was .625 in a three-point victory over Tennessee in which the Tide outscored the Vols by seven points in the second half. Its rate was .679 in a 75-43 victory at Mississippi State in which it outscored the Bulldogs by 24 points in the second half. Its rate was .565 Saturday, when it outscored the Aggies by 12 points in the second half.
Also according to Al.com, last season, through 16 games, Alabama’s 3-point shooting percentage was .277 (64-231). Only 17.7 percent of its points came from the perimeter. This season, through 16 games, the Tide’s 3-point shooting percentage is .356 (95-267). A total of 26.8 percent of the Tide’s scoring comes from outside the arc.
The trademark of coach Anthony Grant teams’ is its defense converting turnovers into offensive opportunities. Against Texas A & M Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Alabama had nine steals in the second half. The Tide is 10-1 in games with at least eight steals.
Point guard Trevor Releford’s return to action against the Aggies after sustaining a sprained ankle last Monday in practice was significant. Releford scored 15 points in 19 minutes in the second half against the Aggies after failing to score in the first half.
No one is suggesting this is an NCAA tournament team, but the Tide is making improvement despite a woeful lack of an inside game. Because ‘Bama had some bad losses in December, they need an impressive win streak just to get on the bubble. Alabama hosts Kentucky this Tuesday on ESPN.
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