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From the Pressbox: Notes from Tom Leach (Feb. 4)

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When Florida was losing pre-conference games to the likes of Jacksonville and Central Florida, some observers wrote off those preseason predictions for the Gators to win the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division title.

 But at the midway of their conference schedule, Florida is sitting in the driver's seat.

"This is a team that's hard to figure," longtime Gator radio network play-by-play man Mick Hubert told tomleachky.com. "At 6-2 and leading the East, I guess we've done what people expected, but the way we've gotten here has been a twisting and rocky road. They can be really good at times but they can also go into these long offensive droughts."

Hubert says a big key for the Gators is getting production in the paint from Vernon Macklin and Alex Tyus.

"When they play well, they get Vernon Macklin involved early," Hubert said. "He's made great progress and his offensive game has come along very nicely. When he's able to get into double figures, the Gators are pretty good. The same can be said of Alex Tyus but he's really struggling right now (14 points in the last three games). When those two guys don't have an effect early in the game, the Gators can struggle.  And they've struggled against some zone defenses."

One thing the Gators have learned how to do over the last month is win games ugly.

"They're not a finesse team anymore," Hubert said. "This is a team that's quite comfortable at grinding out games."

Defensively, Kentucky may not see much of the press that has been a staple of Billy Donovan's system over the years.

"The younger guys have been better at pressing," Hubert said. "Their bench is largely all freshmen and they're very athletic. They've got a sense of toughness about them and they defend. They're not a great scoring group so they press more with the younger guys. They're not really pressing and trying to score off it. They're trying to slow teams down. They're not as much of a pressing team as they've been in the past."

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The most consistent aspect of this young Kentucky team has been its ability to take care of the ball, but the Cats committed a season-high 18 turnovers at Ole Miss and they paid a dear price for that.

Ole Miss got up 12 more shots and became the first team this season to shoot a lower percentage from the field and beat the Wildcats. Only South Carolina last season was able to score as few as the 71 points Ole Miss put up and defeat UK.

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Gary Parrish covers college basketball for CBS Sports' website and was courtside Tuesday night to see UK's loss at Ole Miss. Parrish recently picked the Cats as one of his picks for the Final Four and he's not ready to waver on that thought yet.

"I wouldn't change my opinion," Parrish said. "Can they make a Final Four? Of course.  Will they?  Who knows. I think you'd be smart to have Ohio State in there, and at this point Texas is playing like a Final Four team. But I think Kentucky's ceiling is higher than anybody else because they have (future) pros. Sure, they've got problems, but everybody's got problems.

"This Kentucky team is not as talented as last year's Kentucky team but you're not going to have to be great to go to the Final Four. I'm not sure there's one (great team). I understand why Kentucky fans are disappointed, Cal included, but I don't think their problems are that much worse than anybody else in the country."

And Parrish discounts those who are skeptical of John Calipari being able to win a national championship by relying so heavily on freshmen.

"John's way of recruiting has allowed him to win 30 games five straight years," Calipari said.  "John will be, I believe, the first coach in history to win a national championship with a freshman-laden team and then all these questions will go away. I think you get the best players you can get and try to win with them. People say you can't win (a title) with a freshman guard but John would have already done it (with Memphis) if Mario Chalmers (of Kansas) hadn't hit a ridiculous shot (in the 2008 finals)."

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