The loss to Kentucky on Sunday was disappointing. There’s no getting around that.
But there are still things to play for other than the regular-season SEC title.
Arguably the most important thing left for Florida is its rating percentage index (RPI). The Gators still don’t have a signature win against a top-25 opponent in the AVCA Coaches Poll, but they do have the ninth-best RPI. Additionally, all four losses this season have been to top-10 teams in RPI.
However, another loss could cast some legitimate doubts about how good this Florida team is and do serious damage in terms of seeding when the NCAA Tournament comes around.
UF’s easy sweep over an Auburn team that’s about as threatening as Mr. Rogers likely won’t change any minds. Florida hit over .350 in the match and forced Auburn into 20 errors and a hitting percentage south of .100. Redshirt junior Holly Carlton and sophomore Thayer Hall combined for 23 kills in the sweep.
The Gators’ performance was what you would expect from a top-15 team in the country against the Tigers, who are winless in SEC play. But it’s not something that leaves a lasting impression.
Which means that the Gators’ last three regular-season matches are crucial. Two of those three matches are against Georgia and Texas A&M. Both teams are in the top 35 in RPI, and the Aggies received votes in the most recent AVCA Coaches Poll.
A win against Georgia, which is third in the SEC standings, on Sunday afternoon on the road in Athens, Georgia, will guarantee that the Gators will finish no lower than second.
That likely won’t be an easy feat considering that the Bulldogs gave Florida a brief scare at home in their last matchup. Georgia took the first set 25-22, thanks to some lackluster defensive play from the Gators. The Bulldogs smashed 16 kills with just one error on 33 attacks.
Georgia’s offense was ice cold the rest of the way, though, as it hit a pathetic .136 in the last three sets of the match. The Bulldogs still managed to register two more kills than Florida did, and the first three sets were still decided by only a combined nine points.
Florida’s suffocating defense after the first set and an offense that was consistently good throughout the match resulted in the team winning three-straight sets en route to a 3-1 (22-25, 25-21, 25-23, 25-17) victory.
Hall and Carlton also had big performances in that match with 29 kills between the two attackers.
Georgia comes into the weekend with wins in its last two matches, but the Bulldogs have to play South Carolina on Friday before playing a rested Florida team.
The Bulldogs are a difficult team to figure out because they have a middling offense (.234, seventh in the conference), allow opponents to convert at a high rate (opponent hitting percentage of .255, 11th SEC) and don’t block well (1.73 blocks per set, last in the SEC).
However, Georgia’s serving game is one of the best in the conference. The Bulldogs record 1.57 aces per set, the second-most in the conference.
Florida isn’t too far behind Georgia in aces (1.39 aces per set) and has only allowed .9 aces per set this season. But the Bulldogs had six against UF last time.
Georgia also does a good job of finding ways to amass as many attacks as possible. Despite their low hitting numbers, the Bulldogs are third in the SEC in both kills per set and assists per set.
But as long as the Gators limit the damage from Georgia’s serves, Florida’s advantages at the net and defensively should be more than enough to lock up second place in the SEC on Sunday.
Follow Brendan Farrell on Twitter @Bfarrell727. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sophomore Thayer Hall leads the team with 369 kills on the season through 26 matches, 144 more kills than the next-best player.