Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  Last updated 1/8/13
GAINESVILLE, Fla. While the Southeastern Conference basks in the glow of a seventh national football championship in as many seasons, the league tips off the college basketball season this week viewed in a far different light.A hazy, shadowy light some may suggest.Yes, Kentucky is the reigning national champion and Florida reached an NCAA regional final, making the SEC one of three leagues to have two teams in the Elite Eight, but that was 2011-12.In 2012-13, the SEC has taken some punches to the gut through the first two months of the season. Alabama lost to Mercer. Auburn to Winthrop. Mississippi to Indiana State. Mississippi State to Loyola-Illinois and Alabama A&M. South Carolina to Elon. Texas A&M to Southern. Vanderbilt to Marist and Middle Tennessee State.Only two SEC teams are ranked in the Top 25 Kentucky is not one of them, by the way and the league is a combined 3-11 against ranked opponents. Flushing it out even more, the SEC is 3-6 against the Atlantic Coast Conference, 4-13 against the Big East, 2-5 against the Big 12, 2-4 against the Big Ten and 4-5 against the Pac-12.Collectively, the SECs RPI is eighth. That's behind the Mountain West and Atlantic 10.Even Kentucky, with yet another top-ranked freshman class, has already dropped four games, albeit to Duke (No. 1), Louisville (3), Notre Dame (17) and Baylor.The focus on this, both regional and national, has SEC coaches in full-court press defense mode.If we're going to start judging teams on who we are in November or December ... let's just have the NCAA tournament January 1st, South Carolina Coach Frank Martin said Monday. But if the tournament's going to be in March and April, let the season play out and let coaches do their job.UF coach Billy Donovan seconded that notion.A lot of times, based on November and December, your league gets immediately labeled, Donovan said. Clearly, up to this point and time, our league has had some difficult, challenging losses. We all have. But I don't think you take our league and just put it in a box and say, OK, the league is not as good, because I think teams are going to get better.For the 11th-ranked Gators (10-2), whose losses have come on the road against still-unbeaten Arizona and twice-beaten Kansas State, that process enters the next phase with their SEC opener against Georgia (6-7) Wednesday night at the OConnell Center.Without question, losses now become far more costly, as games become more meaningful.It doesnt matter what teams did before, UF junior forward Will Yeguete said. When they get into conference play, thats all that matters.The Gators started last years SEC season by going to Tennessee and getting physically worn down by the Volunteers. That UT team, by the way, lost December games to Oakland, Austin Peay and College of Charleston, yet grew up to go 10-6 in the SEC play, sweeping its two games with Florida in decisive fashion.Its worth noting, also, the Gators defeated the Bulldogs in their first home conference game a year ago, but six weeks later were whipped on the road by a Georgia team that went 15-17 and at 5-11 tied for the second-worst record in the conference.That second game is one the UF coaches will be reminding their players about. It started the Gators on a three-game regular season-ending losing streak.They got us last time, said senior guard Kenny Boynton, who Sunday emerged from the worst shooting slump of his career by nailing eight 3-pointers and equaling his career high with 28 points in a road win at Yale. But its a new year. We have to go out and play a full 40 minutes.UF, along with Kentucky and Missouri, are considered the favorites to contend for the SECs regular season title. But some team (maybe teams) few are talking about -- maybe Arkansas, Ole Miss or Tennessee -- figures to step up and play beyond expectations. That's what makes every game so key.Its part of a process Donovan talks to his team about and encourages them to embrace; even when that process may not be so pleasant.One of the things Ive tried to do with these guys is get them to a place where Ive taken them to the limit physically so they start to develop a mentality of pushing through difficulties, pushing through challenges, said Donovan, who staged some of his most intense practices of the young season during the eight off days over the holidays that preceded the Yale game. As the week went on, we got better and better at it. Were going to need that kind of resiliency this year.Everyone in the SEC will be out to capture it.And with it, some more respect.
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