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December 26, 2006

Gators show why they are defending champs

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The College Basketball Wire

Get the inside scoop on your favorite team:

Don't anoint Greg Oden as a savior just yet.

That was perhaps the biggest lesson we learned from last week's games, as Florida (11-2) rolled to an 86-60 rout over No. 3 Ohio State (10-2) on Saturday in Gainesville, Fla.

Oden, who had looked dominating since making his debut more than three weeks ago, got into early foul trouble. He was held to seven points and six boards – both season-lows – against the defending national champions.

Unranked Tennessee (10-2) emerged as one of the nation's hottest teams, edging Oklahoma State 79-77 and Texas 111-105. The Vols have now won six in a row since losing their last two games in NIT Season Tip-Off.

Then-No.8 Wichita State (8-2) surprised many by losing to New Mexico (71-68) and Southern California (60-56) in Las Vegas.

We take an in-depth look at Florida, Tennessee and Wichita State and what their performances meant last week in this version of A Look Back

All Eyes On ...
No. 5 Florida (11-2)
The Good: The Gators looked like a national championship-caliber team against the Buckeyes, dominating one of the nation's most talented teams in the second half. Florida didn't even need a healthy Al Horford. Point guard Taurean Green came through on the big stage again, scoring a game-high 24 points and hitting 4-of-7 3-pointers. Corey Brewer also looks healthy after a bout with mononucleosis. Brewer scored 15 points, grabbed six rebounds and dished out five assists in an 88-67 rout of Stetson earlier in the week.
The Bad: Florida was outplayed at the start of the second half. The Buckeyes ripped off a 9-0 run, thanks to several big plays from Greg Oden. If the Gators come out of halftime like that in March the results could prove costly.
The Ugly: None.
Tennessee (10-2)
The Good: The magic and momentum surrounding Bruce Pearl and the Vols is back. The defending SEC East champs are riding a six-game winning streak. Their last four wins have come against NCAA Tournament-quality programs: Memphis, Western Kentucky, Oklahoma State and Texas. The Vols relied on their intense man-to-man defense to edge the Cowboys, then showed how much offense they can generate against the Longhorns. Guard Chris Lofton has entered the debate for national player of the year thanks to five games of 30 or more points, including a career-high 35 points against Texas. Freshman center Duke Crews is giving the Vols a real interior presence, averaging 16.5 points and 8.5 rebounds in the last two games.
The Bad: The Vols fell behind to Texas by 15 at the half and trailed Oklahoma State by six after the first 20 minutes. Better opponents - like Ohio State (which hosts Tennessee on Jan. 13 - won't relinquish such leads.
The Ugly: The health of versatile forward Dane Bradshaw remains a concern. MRI's on both of Bradshaw's shoulders came back negative last week, but it's obvious the senior is playing in pain and it's affecting his shot. He went a combined 4-of-15 from the field against Oklahoma State and Texas. Bradshaw is one of the team's most valuable players and he must get healthy for the Vols to grab good seed in the NCAA Tournament.
No. 8 Wichita State (9-2)
The Good: If the Shockers had gotten a couple more breaks this past weekend they'd still be undefeated. Neither of their losses should damage their RPI. They were beaten narrowly by one of the Mountain West's top teams and a middle-of-the-pack Pac-10 squad. They can also take solace in the fact that small forward P.J. Couisnard (12.3 ppg), one of their best players, missed the New Mexico game due to a sickness.
The Bad: Sound defense, one of Wichita State's longtime trademarks under coach Mark Turgeon, was strangely absent in Las Vegas. The Shockers gave up too many easy baskets and too many good looks from beyond the arc. New Mexico shot 43 percent from the field and hit nine 3-pointers. USC shot 51 percent from the field.
The Ugly: Unlike Butler, Wichita State probably just squashed any chance of landing a good seed in the NCAA Tournament. Their non-conference résumé doesn't look so stellar anymore.
Player Spotlight
  • If the SEC had an award for most improved player, Alabama's Alonzo Gee would be the leading candidate. Gee, whose scoring average has increased from 8.7 points to 16.7 points a game since last season, played his best game of the season in a 99-49 rout of Coppin State. Gee scored 26 points and went 12-of-14 from the field. Gee punctuated his performance with a spectacular 360 degree dunk to finish one fast break.
  • Kansas' Mario Chalmers was the star of the Jayhawks' 84-66 rout of Boston College. Chalmers scored a season-high 22 points, made five steals and added four assists.
  • Freshman Spotlight
  • Kansas State's Bill Walker has only played four games, but it's already clear he's one of the nation's best freshman. Walker scored 19 points to spark the Wildcats past USC 68-55. He finished with 13 points and eight rebounds in a 72-56 win over New Mexico in Las Vegas. The Wildcats (10-3) are 4-0 since Walker joined the team.
  • Cincinnati has found a replacement for Devan Downey, the flashy point guard who transferred to South Carolina this past offseason. Deonta Vaughn scored 25 points and dished out nine assists in the Bearcats' 80-71 win over N.C. State. Vaughn, who racked up 33 points against Wofford in his fourth game, is averaging 16.3 points and 4.5 assists a game.
  • Andrew Skwara is the national college basketball writer for Rivals.com. Click here to send him a question or comment for his Mailbag.

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