Nothing but net with Nick


Story by Nick Erickson, Managing Editor

Anytime there is a switch at the top of college basketball polls, people want to talk. So let’s talk.

After two close losses in one week, Syracuse fell from its place atop the hoops world and made room for the 25-2 Florida Gators, who are now ranked No. 1 for the first time since Al Horford, Corey Brewer and Joakim Noah led the squad to back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007.

And let me be the first tell you, these Gators are good. In my opinion, they’ve been the best team in the country for the past month.

All of you from Wisconsin reading this might be thinking, “but didn’t the Badgers handle Florida pretty well when they played in Madison?”

While the answer to that question might be yes, Florida was missing what is in my opinion a sleeper for the National Player of the Year award in Scotty Wilbekin.

Wilbekin was serving a suspension when Bo Ryan’s Badgers outlasted the Gators in early November, and since his return, he has been the senior leader that has become the X-factor for the nation’s new No. 1.

Sure, his numbers don’t match up with Doug McDermott or Jabari Parker. He’s averaging 13.8 points per game while dishing out 3.8 assists and grabbing 2.7 board a night, but I don’t believe there has been a player in the country who has meant more to his team than Wilbekin.

My casing point is the Kentucky game at Rupp Arena on Feb. 15. He had a season-high 23 points and completely took over in the second half as the Gators escaped a tough road environment against a team many thought in the preseason was going to be at the top of the polls at this point in the year.

And let’s not forget about two of Florida’s other star players in Patric Young and Casey Prather. Physically, Young might be the most muscular player in college hoops. If you can freshen your memory banks, think back to DeJuan Blair from Pittsburgh and how he was able to take over games by physically dominating people down low. That’s Young.

Also, Young goes after every loose ball, and the play he had to save it late in the Kentucky game defined his passion for the game. If you have an upperclassman like that on your squad, you’re in good hands.

Prather is the team’s leading scorer at 15.4 points a night, and he can get to bucket just as well as any player in the country not named Jabari Parker.

I also really like Michael Frazier III coming off the bench for the Rowdy Reptiles. Let’s not forget he single-handedly kept the Gators in the game in Madison with 20 points. He provides the energy that is essential to any team making a run in March.

The bottom line is this: head coach Billy Donovan knows how to win in the tournament and peak his players at the right time. In ‘06 and ‘07, he hoisted a national championship trophy above his head.

If his veteran group of guys can continue playing his style of grind-it-out basketball, he might be hoisting another one. Is the rest of the country simply Gator bait? As of right now, I say absolutely.