March is finally here and the SEC Regular Season Championship is on the line as Alabama heads to Gainesville to essentially decide the title.
How big is this game? So big that ESPN is sending its A-Team of announcers in Dan Shulman and Dick Vitale to the O'Connel Center for Tuesday's clash.
From a Florida perspective, its probably the biggest game since the back to back national championships in 2006 and 2007. The Gators have struggled in recent years since those title runs, making the NCAA tournament but not having that deep run into March that was routine a few years ago.
From an Alabama perspective, this is the Tide's biggest regular season game probably since 2005 when Kentucky rallied from a double digit deficit behind Jarred Sparks to beat the Tide and take a possible SEC Title from them. (I don't think Mark Gottfried and the program ever recovered from that game. They lost on a tip in 3 days later at LSU and the season ended in a loss to Bruce Pearl's UWM team)
The last time Alabama played Florida for what amounted to an SEC Championship game in 2002, this happened inside Coleman Coliseum in front of me and 15,383 other fans.
February 23rd, 2002. God bless you Antoine Pettway!
As for this game, Alabama will be a significant underdog. Florida is big and strong, well coached and just a very good team. Alabama would have a hard time beating them in Tuscaloosa, let alone Gainesville. (Not for sure on this, but i think the last time the Tide won in Gainesville was on an Eric Washington 3 pointer at the buzzer in 1995.) But the chance to control their own destiny is all Anthony Grant's Rocket 8 squad can ask for at this point.
Keys to Victory for 'Bama:
1. Break even on Rebounding
2. Get stops, attack in transition and convert
3. Hit the open shots and get off to a good start
The Gators aren't unbeatable, they lost to South Carolina at home and needed a Tennessee meltdown to beat the Vols in Gainesville. But Alabama will have to play really well to win. The Tide looks like a tired team and Trevor Releford looks like he finally hit that freshman wall. Even though Alabama leads the all time series 73-59, the Gators have won 15 of the last 18 (thanks Mark Gottfried) with many of the games extremely close losses. It will be ineresting to see how the Tide handles the pressure of the game, it may be better to be on the road because its an us vs them mentality instead of playing to the home crowd.
Everything is stacked against the Tide, but its been that way all year. Tomorrow is no different. I'll say Gators by 10, but I'm hoping Coach Grant can pull off the huge W, Roll Tide!