Joel Embiid, Scottie Wilbekin

New Year’s Resolutions: Florida Gators

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Over the course of the holiday week, we at College Basketball Talk will be detailing what we believe will be the New Year’s Resolutions of some of the nation’s most talented, most disappointing, and thoroughly enigmatic teams. What can we say, we’re in a giving mood.

Who else made Resolutions? Click here to find out.

WHAT DOES FLORIDA PROMISE TO DO MORE OF?: Mesh their missing pieces together.

  • Why it will happen: Suspensions and injuries have dominated the headlines this early season for the Gators and now that their backcourt of Scottie Wilbekin and Kasey Hill have both returned, it should stabilize Florida’s team significantly. When you also consider that forward Dorian Finney-Smith missed time due to suspension and freshman forward Chris Walker is just now practicing with the team, and this team has a lot of pieces that they’ll add to an already promising start. It also doesn’t hurt that the new Gators will be meshing with some experienced seniors like Patric Young, Casey Prather and Will Yeguete.
  • Why it won’t happen: Although the Gators are integrating their complete backcourt and also adding Chris Walker, the seniors and current rotation of players have done a tremendous job of adapting — and winning — without them. Casey Prather and Patric Young have gotten it done on both ends of the floor and Billy Donovan has adjusted his coaching tactics with this depleted group to limit three-pointers on offense and even throw some new defenses — like a 1-3-1 against Kansas — into the equation as well.

WHAT DOES FLORIDA SWEAR THEY WILL DO LESS OF?: Rely so heavily on Casey Prather.

  • Why it will happen: A career role player before his breakout senior season, Prather has been the most consistent player in the SEC and is leading the Gators in points (18.5 per game), is one-off the team lead in total rebounds and third in assists. But now that Wilbekin and Hill are returning, it should mean less pressure on Prather to create on his own or for his teammates. When Chris Walker returns it will also give the Gators multiple low-post threats — with Patric Young’s rolling hook — and allow Prather to spot up and be ready to attack off the catch. Simply put: More talent surrounding Prather means less pressure on him.
  • Why it won’t happen: Prather is playing out of his mind, so why would Billy Donovan want to go away from a player shooting 62 percent from the field this season despite only attempting three shots from beyond the arc? Florida is just a better team when the ball is in Prather’s hands because although he’s aggressive, he plays within himself and shoots high-percentage shots and rarely forces things. With the exception of Patric Young, Prather has double the free-throw attempts of any other Gator and is one of the few Florida offensive players and can successfully attack the rim and get to the line. Despite all of the talent returning, Prather is a favorite for SEC Player of the Year and should be Florida’s go-to guy until further notice.

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.