The problems that have bedeviled basketball programs at Florida and Kentucky are strikingly similar, but the results have been vastly different. The Gators saw their head coach forced to resign at the start of the season and are facing the prospect of possible sanctions by the National Collegiate Athletic Association. They are 6-14, have lost nine straight games, and Florida fans are not exactly enamored with interim coach Don DeVoe.
However, Kentucky (12-10, 8-5) is playing brilliantly despite having its program already handcuffed by the NCAA for three years. And new coach Rick Pitino has transformed the Wildcats from a group of rag-tag leftovers to an imposing force in the Southeastern Conference.
"Right now, as I watch the films, if I could've hoped that this team would be playing this way next year, I would've been delighted," Pitino said. "I wanted to make if entertaining for the players and the fans and just get by this year. We're just getting so much better as a team, it's great to see it this year."
Pitino's style, which features an uptempo game and an order to shoot three-pointers first and ask questions later, has captured the hearts of Wildcats fans.
"I used the threes as a form of entertainment in the beginning of the year," Pitino said. "I wanted everybody to get excited about the style of fastbreak basketball and really didn't expect this type of season. But then we suddenly started getting better. I said, 'Wait a minute, the entertainment is great - we can still be in entertainment.
But we've got a chance to win. Next year is this year."' Sadly, the Gators have to hope the same holds true for them.
Despite the possibility of joining Kentucky as NCAA felons, Florida figured to have an outstanding record this season. But the defections of seniors Livingston Chatman and Dwayne Schintzius have left the Gators with a young and inexperienced team that predictably folds down the stretch.
"We don't wait for it to happen, we just have lapses," forward Stacey Poole said. "I think it's the younger guys who are having these lapses. And as time goes on we're going to mature and we won't have any more lapses. We're going to play better. We're going to pull out some wins instead of waiting to see what's going to happen at the end."
Talent Poole: With every game, Poole's confidence as a scorer has risen. The redshirt freshman made his presence felt by scoring 20 points in a big loss to Ole Miss, and followed that up with impressive games against Georgia, Georgetown and Kentucky.
"Stacey's playing great offensively," guard Renaldo Garcia said. "(Monday) night he was really on and I was looking for him. I hit him a few times and he really responded well."