Now that I've had a good 36 hours or so to get over the rivalry-oriented stuff I can look at Kentucky again with total objectivity. I re-watched the UF-UK game and realized this team has improved approximately 100% since the start of conference play. They do lots of things really well, primarily on the defensive side of the ball. Despite my criticisms of Gillispie's exclusive man coverage (did I see a couple of zone looks from UK in that game?) it does seem to be working. Kentucky has been holding the score down, and the Gators only made it to 80 points due to OT and FTs.
Turnovers are obviously still a big problem. Ramel Bradley only had three of them in this game but even though 15 is an improvement over the average of 17, it's hard to win when you give the other team so many opportunities. I believe the turnover problem will remain as an inherent flaw in this team but will be mitigated as these kids get more comfortable in Gillispie's system (and there's evidence of that happening already.) I think the average could drop a bit more, maybe down to 12-13 a game.
Offensively, the team's biggest challenge is learning how to feed the ball to Patterson. On the occasions they were successful in that endeavor, Patterson had opportunities against Florida but was again intimidated by a bigger defender who was blocking his shots. This kid is really a superb player and is simply going through a bit of a freshman slump. He also needs to learn that you can't just go straight to the rim like he did in high school. I'm betting that some of his slump is due to sharp scouting by the opposing coaches. Florida correctly deduced how to frustrate the big guy. Patterson is too good not to figure this out, and will probably do so in the next few games. He'll be a holy terror when he does.
Perry Stevenson didn't have one of his better games but he was really good against Vandy. He seems to play a role similar to UF's Dan Werner -- kind of a key cog that comes up with rebounds, denies the pass to the post, that sort of thing, although Werner has been doing it more consistently. Stevenson needs to keep providing his team with second chances on offense and sealing off the low post on defense.
Joe Crawford had a bad shooting night, and I do think Florida defended him really well; but how many of those treys went down and rimmed back out? He was just a couple of shots away from winning the game for UK.
This team would blow GW, UAB and San Diego out of the water. They won't have that opportunity this year, of course, but they're vastly improved from just a few months ago.
Obviously, Meeks and Jasper being out this whole time has really hurt the 'Cats. They need those guys ready to contribute. This will be a more complete team in all areas of offense and defense when they return. The pressure on Patrick Patterson will be vastly reduced as both are legitimate threats from beyond the arc, which is going to make things a lot tougher for defenders. As it stands, opponents simply need to guard P-Pat, Bradley and Crawford because the other guys on the floor can't score.
I see a team that is figuring things out and moving puzzle pieces around. They are NOT a bad team and they're not getting worse. They are getting better. They've come up against some really good competition and they didn't win those games, but there are a lot of logical reasons for that.
One more thing. These guys don't pack it in. They fight tooth and nail to the buzzer. As a fan, you've always got to appreciate that.
Winning the SEC tourney is not an unrealistic goal, in my opinion. It would seem from afar that Tennessee is a lock to win it, but Kentucky will probably be a better team by that point and you never know when the Vols will slump.
Anyway, this all comes from (as you know) the mouth of a Gator so I don't suffer from the "my own team has more warts than any other" syndrome that affects fans who are talking about their own team. I really think you're on to something with this group and Gillispie is definitely on the right track.