The Florida Gators and Kentucky Wildcats are far and away the best two teams that the Southeastern Conference has to offer this year. Florida has not lost since the beginning of December when Connecticut’s Shabazz Napier made an off-balance buzzer beater to beat the Gators. They went through SEC play perfectly with 18 wins to zero losses. Billy Donovan’s team has proved to be balanced and consistent for you do not get to win 24 straight games without those things. Right now they sit at 31 wins and only two losses with a top seed locked up in next week’s NCAA tournament.
On the other hand, it has been much more of a roller coaster ride for Kentucky this season. Coming in with the best recruiting class ever assembled it was expected for the Wildcats to be on the short list of National Title contenders This has not been the case though because freshmen are freshmen and with that comes inconsistency. John Calipari has still managed to guide his team through this treacherous season to a record of 24 wins and nine losses. Although this may not be what the Big Blue Nation had hoped for in October, they certainly are capable of making a run in the big tournament next week and an SEC championship could be the catalyst to do just that.
Today will be the third time these schools face off this season and Florida has won the first two meetings. The first game was in Lexington on February 15th and the Gators overcame a three point, half time deficit to beat the Wildcats by 10. In that game senior Casey Prather paced Florida scoring 24 points.
In their other meeting on March 8th, Florida stormed out to a 21 point half time lead in front of their home crowd. Kentucky did rally to get within six in the second half, but Florida put its foot back on the gas and ended up winning by 19. That was to close out the regular season and it seems to have gotten a positive response from the Kentucky team.
This time the circumstances are different as each team as a chance to cut down the Georgia Dome nets and watch Selection Sunday as a champion. Four times these programs have faced off in the SEC tournament final before with the last one being in 2011. Kentucky holds a three to one edge in those games and will do their best to extend that today.
Florida’s balance and experience is unique in college basketball. They have five players averaging at least nine points, but no one who is averaging 15. Among these are three seniors Casey Prather, Scottie Wilbekin, and Patric Young. With a core of unselfish seniors it is easy to see how the Gators have gotten so formidable and now are the favorites to win the National Championship in Dallas.
Meanwhile, the youthful Kentucky team is led in scoring by four freshmen. They are Julius Randle, James Young, Aaron Harrison, and Andrew Harrison. Calipari has been consistently hard on these guys all year in order to get them ready for the games that really matter. Kentucky has been the prototype for schools taking the “one and done” players and have done so exceptionally. They went on to win the 2012 National Championship with two freshman at the helm in Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
This may not be a great year for the SEC, but these two teams are more than capable of doing damage nationally and today they will have the chance to put that on display. Florida will attempt to go perfect in every one of its SEC games this year, while Kentucky looks to get a great confidence boosting win going into the NCAAs.