Vaught's Views: Conley likes both Florida and UK

February 02, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

Before the season started, college basketball analyst Larry Conley thought Florida was the Southeastern Conference's best team.

His reasoning was that Florida had the most talented overall returning team and could be even better than coach Billy Donovan's earlier Final Four team.

"Of course, I also said Florida last year and was totally wrong. I might be wrong again," said Conley back in November. "Tubby (Smith) has to make a decision about whether he's better going big or small. I think the smaller lineup will be better, but Kentucky just has more unknowns going into the season than Florida."

Kentucky went 16-0 in SEC regular-season play last year after Conley picked the Gators No. 1. Now he's slightly backed off his preseason prediction going into Kentucky's game Tuesday at Florida.


The Wildcats are 14-3 overall and 4-2 in SEC play while Florida is 13-5 and 4-3. Both lost to Louisville in December. However, while Kentucky won at Mississippi State, Florida lost at home to the Bulldogs. On Saturday, both went down on the road as UK lost 66-60 to Vanderbilt and Florida fell 65-63 to Tennessee, a team it beat by 38 points earlier this season.

"I still like Florida. I still like Kentucky. Florida has shown me that they are getting better on defense than they were last year," Conley said.

But can Florida beat Kentucky?

"I am not going to say that. I will say they are two of best in the (SEC) East," Conley said.

He knew the Cats would miss Bogans and Estill

Conley, a former player at UK and starter on Rupp's Runts in 1966 when UK lost in the Final Four, expected Kentucky's non-conference schedule to help the Wildcats in league play. He also knew the Cats would miss Keith Bogans and Marquis Estill this year more than many imagined and had almost no chance to match last year's magical run through conference opponents.

"Tubby knew what he had last year and seldom do you get all the pieces to fall in place like that," Conley said. "It's still too bad Bogans got hurt in the NCAA Tournament because if he's well I'll always think they would have been in the Final Four."

Conley knows everyone thought Tuesday's Kentucky-Florida winner would be league favorite before conference play started. Now Conley, and everyone else, knows better.

"I think maybe if I could change my pick about who might win the league, I might go with South Carolina based on the way they've been playing," Conley said, even though South Carolina lost at Mississippi Saturday. "I do know that Kentucky, Florida and South Carolina are the three best teams in the East.

"I know Mississippi State (18-1, 7-1 SEC) is clearly the best team in the West, but there is a possibility they could still lose three or four games. I still believe the league champion will have three, or maybe even four or five losses. Everybody has a lot of tough games left."

While Conley won't pick a UK-Florida winner, it's clear he still leans to the Gators. He thinks Florida sophomore guard Anthony Roberson makes the Gators special when he's playing the way Donovan wants. He also likes Christian Drejer because of his versatility.

"I just think Florida is starting to come together. They are pretty solid and Kentucky is a big, big game for them. It's their chance to make a statement that they have not gone away," Conley said. "Kentucky struggled with a Mississippi team (last week) that I didn't think was capable of staying with them.

"Florida wants to run and win with offense, Kentucky wants to play defense and keep the score lower. It's almost a must game for both teams and one that should be a lot of fun."

Or at least it will be for the team that wins while the team that loses may well have to start thinking about what might have been this year.

Central Kentucky News Articles