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Saturday, May 21, 2022

Thank God for Chandler Parsons.

His 75-foot heave changed the tone of a pretty poor Christmas break for the Florida men’s basketball team.

UF was on a pretty good high at the end of fall classes, ranked No. 10 in the country and ready for a top-10 showdown with Syracuse in a matchup of the early season’s top two surprises.

The Gators fell short against the Orange, but even Florida’s first loss was encouraging. The Gators looked like they belonged, and if they shored up just a few key areas — shooting and boxing out especially — they could be a major force in March.

And this is coming from a guy who wasn’t really sold on Florida before the season. I predicted the team to go 6-10 in Southeastern Conference play and miss the NCAA Tournament for the third-straight year.

After seeing UF play Syracuse in Tampa, I immediately admitted I had pegged the team wrong. There was no way in my mind the Gators weren’t worthy of playing in the Big Dance.

Florida proceeded to drop its next two against Richmond and South Alabama (making me wonder if I really know anything). Losing to the Spiders down in Sunrise was a little understandable. While RPI isn’t the end-all, be-all barometer of a team’s talent — it often matters who you play more than your wins and losses — Richmond currently checks in at No. 26 and also has a win over Mississippi State.

But South Alabama? At home? The Jaguars have an RPI of 154. They’re not good, and they’re not a team Florida should be losing to in a year it hopes to return to the NCAA Tournament.

“Do we have weaknesses, like any other team? Sure,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “We have weaknesses all over the place. You try to camouflage them. You have a better effort of camouflaging them when you have guys that are willing to physically make the effort.

“[The players] are focused on the things that really go in and impact winning. They’re trying to do those things.”

I do think Florida will hear its name on Selection Sunday, but Donovan points out the reason why a snub this year might be the most painful of all — he finally has his guys doing what he wants. He has a group of guys in  great shape willing to play defense, but backcourt depth and poor shooting still loom as potential roadblocks on UF’s journey.

With Ray Shipman battling injury, starting guards Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker are averaging more than 32 minutes per game, and neither are connecting on even 30 percent of their shots from beyond the arc. Boynton leads the team in scoring at 13.6 points per game, but the freshman is shooting just 36.3 percent from the field and 25.5 percent from three-point range.

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No matter how great UF plays defense, it will need to find some offense if it wants to return to its early season form. Florida scored just 53 points in the loss to Richmond and only 48 during regulation against N.C. State.

“Every SEC team is excited to start this time of year,” Donovan said. “[The players] understand — especially the old guys — what this league is like and how challenging it is.”

Hopefully they also understand they better start hitting some shots, or the blues are going to continue all the way until March.

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