Tonight’s Florida-Kentucky men’s basketball game is worthy of a long look, and not only because both nationally ranked teams will visit Oxford next week.
The No. 3 Gators and No. 14 Wildcats are a study in contrasts for the way their rosters have been assembled.
Kentucky has nine freshmen on its roster and will most likely start five of them.
Florida has these guys known as “seniors” and will start four of those.
I love NCAA tournament time, when some school you’ve barely heard of sends five seniors out on the court and stuns a team with three or four McDonald’s High School All-Americans.
Experience counts, especially the mental toughness that comes with playing a couple of season’s worth of tough games away from home. But great talent can sometimes transcend everything else at crunch time.
Tonight’s game is in Lexington, Ky., and it will give a big boost to the young Kentucky players to have the home fans behind them. No surprise that the Wildcats are 14-0 at home this season.
Florida has won 16 games in a row, five of those in opposing SEC gyms. Mental toughness.
Kentucky coach John Calipari won an NCAA title in 2012 with a team featuring a batch of freshmen, but Florida’s Billy Donovan won back-to-back titles (2006-07) with more veteran teams.
There’s more than one path to success.
The Wildcats and Gators close the regular season in Gainesville on March 8 and could meet again for the SEC championship.
A fourth meeting, maybe with a national title at stake, may seem far-fetched. But if only two SEC teams make the field, nothing would more befuddle the experts – who keep telling us how weak the league is this season – than for both to make the Final Four.
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John L. Pitts (john.pitts@ journalinc.com) is sports editor of the Daily Journal.