Gators need to win out for shot at SEC glory

The Gators are now coming down the stretch of the conference season, and after losing to Kentucky in Lexington on Tuesday night, some are beginning to doubt Florida’s opportunity to win the league title.

This is the 80th year of Southeastern Conference competition. Officially it is the 79th year because in the 1944 season only Tulane, Georgia Tech, Georgia and LSU actually played regular season games against each other. Florida did not play any games that year because of World War II. Kentucky and Vanderbilt did not play any regular season games against other SEC schools in the conference during the ’44 season but did play in the conference tournament, which Kentucky won.

The first year of SEC competition began in 1933, and by 1972, the 40th year of competition, the Gators had never won a Southeastern Conference championship. Of the 10 SEC Schools in 1972, the Gators overall won/loss record placed them seventh in the overall league standings of SEC games. The Gators winning percentage was .442. Kentucky, on the other hand, had won .844 of all the league games it had played in those 40 years.

This year marks the 40th year from that point in time, and it is interesting to note the changes that have occurred that paint a very different picture. Through the end of last season, Kentucky has now won 77.9 percent of their regular season SEC games. The Gators have nudged their overall percentage up a little to .476, which still places them seventh overall because Arkansas was not in the league at that time and has a better winning percentage .516 in its 20 years of league play.

However when you look at the six teams that were ahead of the Gators in the overall standings in the first 40 years, there has been a dramatic shift in the winning percentages since then.

In 1972 there were six schools with a better overall intraleague competition record than the Gators. They were, in order of success, Kentucky at .844, Tennessee at .593, Vanderbilt at .568, Alabama at .538, Auburn at .526 and LSU at .509.

In the most recent 40-year period and through the end of last year, the standings look like this: Kentucky .747, Alabama .597, Tennessee .544, LSU .501, Florida .500, Vandy .491 and Auburn .407. The Gators have moved up to fifth place overall in the most recent 40-year period of time.

In fact if you look at the percentage increase over this time period, the Gators have had the second-best overall percentage increase of all 10 SEC teams that were in the league in 1972. Alabama has seen their percentage of overall wins and losses increase by .059 and Florida’s percentage increase is .058.

Florida, which had never won a league title until 1989, now has five, and Kentucky, which had 26 titles by 1972, has won 18 additional league championships. The Gators are tied with Alabama for the third-most league titles in these most recent 40 years behind Kentucky and LSU, which is second with seven.

If the Gators are going to win the league this year, they most likely are going to have to win all of their remaining seven games. Kentucky has to go on the road and play Vandy, Mississippi State and the Gators. They also have a home game with Vandy in their final seven. If Kentucky loses at Vanderbilt and the Gators win their next five and are able to beat the Cats in Gainesville, Florida could still win the league title by having swept Vanderbilt.

Florida has four of its final seven games on the road with Vandy, Alabama, Arkansas and Georgia waiting to pounce on the reptiles.

If the Gators can win their next six league games and Kentucky loses just one remaining game in their next six, it will set up a classic SEC showdown in Gainesville on March 4.

These last 40 years have clearly thrust the Florida Gators into the forefront of SEC basketball success, and a dramatic finish to this season would add unprecedented lore to the accomplishments of the Gator basketball program.