Casey Prather

AP Photo

Early season turmoil was a blessing in disguise for Florida

Leave a comment
source:
AP Photo

FINAL FOURShabazz vs. Kemba | The Harrisons | UK vs. UW | UF vs. UConn

ARLINGTON, Texas — Early on this season, there was not a team in the country that was dealing with more question marks on their roster than the Florida Gators.

Scottie Wilbekin, who has since turned into an all-american and the most valuable player on Florida, was suspended for the first five games of the season. It was the second time in an eight month span that Wilbekin was separated from the program for a violation of team rules. Dorian Finney-Smith was suspended for the first two games of the season for violating team rules as well. Chris Walker had to sit out the first 21 games of the season as he waited to get cleared by the NCAA to play. Damontre Harris isn’t even a part of the team.

And all that is before you factor in their injury issues. Kasey Hill has missed seven games this season, four because of an ankle injury in the first month of the season. Casey Prather missed a couple of games in the middle of the season. Eli Carter played in just seven games before he was shut down this season.

That’s a lot of turmoil to dump on a team during the first month of the season, and while it cost them a couple of games early in the year, the games that the Gators played without some of their key pieces in the lineup ended up being one of the keys to their success this season.

Florida’s a team that is built around their ability to defend; they’re No. 1 on KenPom in defensive efficiency, and while they are still top 20 in offensive efficiency, this isn’t a team that is loaded with NBA-caliber scorers. There’s a chance that the only guy on this roster that will end up playing in the NBA (Chris Walker) is currently averaging all of 4.0 minutes per game. Their success is centered around the fact that they are as balanced as any team in the country, that there simply is not a weak link for them on the offensive end of the floor.

And that is the result of players being forced into roles that they were unaccustomed to early in the season.

“It definitely helped me out knowing that I could score and do what I could do because I been doing it early in the season,” Prather said. “I could carry that throughout the season. I think the biggest thing was proving that we could win without a person.”

“It gave some guys more confidence because they had to do more,” Hill added.

FINAL FOURAll Final Four coverage | X-Factors | Why each team can/won’t win | UConn family

Prather is the best example. The 6-foot-6 forward couldn’t get off the bench his first two seasons in Gainesville and was nothing more than an oft-injured role player as a junior, but midway through December he was post all-american caliber numbers. He was top ten in our Player of the Year rankings for half the year as he was averaging more than 17 points at one point during the season. His scoring role decreased throughout the season as Wilbekin became a focal point of their offense and Michael Frazier became a more consistent shooter, but that didn’t change the fact that he had the confidence to be a threat offensively.

“I would like to have four to six guys in double figures,” head coach Billy Donovan said Friday, “because you don’t know what a team is going to try to take away from you. When a team takes certain things away from you, you still have to be able to have other guys step up in different situations and provide offense.”

It’s not just Prather, either.

Hill had two of his best games of the season while Wilbekin was suspended, scoring 15 points in a win over North Florida and notching 14 points, six assists and five steals as the Gators beat Arkansas-Little Rock. He didn’t score in double figures again this season until the opening round of the NCAA tournament, as he finished with 10 points and was the sparkplug for a pivotal run that allowed Florida to pull away after Albany tied the game in the second half.

“All we need is five guys and we’re going to compete,” Finney-Smith said. “Give us any five off our team and I feel like we’re going to win.”

No. 14 Kentucky played much better than final score indicates

AP Photo
7 Comments

source:

No. 3 Florida went into Rupp Arena and knocked off No. 14 Kentucky on Friday night, 69-59.

Casey Prather finished with 24 points and four steals while Scottie Wilbekin went for 23 points and two assists without a turnover while hitting big shot after big shot in the second half. Simply looking at a box score would lead one to believe that this was a dominating performance from the Gators. That’s generally the case when the road team wins by double-digits.

But what a box score won’t tell you is that Kentucky outplayed Florida for a good 30 minutes, and that after 34 minutes of basketball, the Wildcats were tied with Florida at 53.

Kentucky pounded the ball inside in the first half, riding the low-post game of Julius Randle — and some hot shooting from James Young — to a 31-28 halftime lead. In the second half, Florida started doubling every post touch on the catch, forcing Kentucky’s perimeter to make plays to beat them, and they did. The ball moved around the perimeter and Kentucky hit enough of their open looks to build a lead that grew as big as seven midway through the half.

Perhaps most impressive was the Wildcats defense. The final numbers aren’t all that impressive — Florida shot 44.0% from the floor, got to the line 28 times and only committed five turnovers — but that was a combination of Wilbekin hitting tough shots and Prather getting easy buckets in transition. When Kentucky was able to get their defense set, Florida struggled. The Wildcats gave the Gators a number of different looks (straight man-to-man, switching man-to-man, a 2-3 zone) and, for the most part, it was really effective.

The issue with Kentucky all season long has been their defense, and for 30 minutes on Saturday night, the Wildcats played terrific on that end of the floor.

With 11 minutes left, Kentucky held a 45-38 lead.

Florida would outscore them down the stretch 31-14.

What happened?

  • Patric Young turned into Tim Duncan down the stretch. If he’s hitting running hooks and left-handed jump-hooks from 12 feet out, there’s not much you can do.
  • Kentucky gave up too much penetration, which resulted in Florida camping out at the charity stripe. The Gators were 15-for-17 from the line during that span, with only three of those free throws the result of intentional fouling.
  • Two back-breaking offensive rebounds. One was by Will Yeguete, who found Michael Frazier for a three to put Florida up 60-55 and deflate both the crowd and the Wildcats. The other was by Casey Prather, who skied over everyone on Kentucky to get a Grown Man’s Rebound with just 1:23 left.
  • Poor offensive execution down the stretch. Florida dug in their heels defensively, and Kentucky couldn’t score late.

Florida is a very, very good basketball team.

Kentucky outplayed them for 30 minutes.

It’s weird handing out moral victories to a program like Kentucky in February, but when you’re dealing with a team of freshmen, any sign of growth is a good thing. That’s just how it is for this team right now. Kentucky is getting better. We saw it tonight.

Two defensive rebounds.

Six minutes of execution offensively.

That’s how close they were to beating the best team in the country on Saturday.

That’s a far cry from the team that was smacked around by LSU a couple of weeks back, isn’t it?

Second-half adjustments result in No. 3 Florida’s 17th straight win

gators
1 Comment

For much of the first half of Saturday’s game between No. 3 Florida and No. 14 Kentucky the Wildcats held the lead, with Julius Randle scoring ten points and Kentucky shooting 50% from the field. The Wildcats may have led by just three points at the half but it was clear that Billy Donovan would need to make adjustments on the defensive end while getting more efficient offense from his team.

Those changes occurred, with Scottie Wilbekin and Patric Young leading the way, and as a result the Gators left Rupp Arena with a 69-59 victory. The Gators, 23-2 overall and 12-0 in the SEC, have now won 17 straight games.

Defensively the Gators began double-teaming the post on the catch, with a second big man being the one shifting over in most instances. As a result Randle’s looks at the basket became limited, as he attempted just two shots in the second half with all three of his points coming at the foul line. And without that ability to score points in the post much of the offense fell on the shoulders of Andrew Harrison and James Young, who combined to score 22 of Kentucky’s 28 second half points.

But with the absence of offensive balance Kentucky was less effective offensively, and this gave Florida the edge it needed to take control of the game. Wilbekin, Young and Casey Prather combined to score 38 of Florida’s 41 second-half points, with Wilbekin scoring 18 of his 23 points in the game’s final 20 minutes. The senior point guard was excellent in running the show for Florida, making sound decisions whether it involved how to properly use ball screens or making sure the ball kept moving offensively.

As for Prather (24 points, with some key transition baskets getting him going) and Young (ten points) they proved to be too much for Kentucky’s young front court, and as a team Florida outscored Kentucky 34-22 in the paint. In the second half Florida shot 60% from the field and 15-for-17 from the foul line, scoring 1.5 points per possession. The Gators got the job done on both ends of the floor, and as a result they’re now three games ahead of the pack in the SEC.

That’s fine, and winning an SEC title is a goal for Florida. But if anything can be gleaned from their second half performance it’s that the Gators should be considered one of the favorites to win the national title. Syracuse remains undefeated, as does Wichita State, and there are other teams that have a case as well. But given the experience and talent of Donovan’s rotation, there’s little doubt that Florida will be in that discussion.

College Basketball Player of the Year Power Rankings

Connecticut v Memphis
Leave a comment

source:

1. Doug McDermott, Creighton: At this point in the season, I probably don’t need to do much more than simply write McDermott’s name here. Everyone else is battling for second-place. It doesn’t matter how you break it down: McDermott is the second-leading scorer in the country; he’s the highest-usage weapon in the nation’s most efficient offense; he’s a two-time first-team all-american playing on a top 25 team that just upset the No. 4 team in the country. Whether you’re a casual fan, a numbers geek or an old-school, eye-test type, McDermott is the easy vote for Player of the Year. How often does that happen?

2. Shabazz Napier, UConn: Considering the lack of depth UConn has in their front court and the fact that their second and third options offensively (Deandre Daniels and Ryan Boatright) are brutally inconsistency, the Huskies should probably be an NIT team. But they’re not. They have a win over Indiana in the Garden, a win over Florida at home and a win over Memphis in Memphis. Shabazz is the guy to thank for that. As a result, I’ve adjusted my thinking on where he should sit in this rankings.

3. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State: Smart can dominate a game in so many different ways, but what I’ve been most impressed with has been his ability to rebound the ball now that Michael Cobbins is out. In the five games since then, Smart is averaging 9.6 rebounds. If only he could learn to shoot the ball consistently.

4. Deandre Kane, Iowa State: Some of the hype surrounding Deandre Kane has dissipated in the last week as the Cyclone’s star guard has dealt with a sprained ankle and the Cyclones have suffered through three straight losses. The biggest concern? 22 turnovers the last four games.

5. Jabari Parker, Duke: Parker looks like he’s worked his way through the five-game slump he was in, popping off for 23 points in a 35-point win over N.C. State. I’ve dropped him to fifth, however, because after watching a ton of film on Jabari, I’ve become horrified at how bad he can be defensively.

6. Nick Johnson, Arizona: Johnson continues to fly under the radar as “just” the nation’s No. 1 team’s leading scorer, best defender, best perimeter shooter and best playmaker in crunch time. Ho-hum.

7. Tyler Ennis, Syracuse: I’m still shocked that I see Player of the Year lists with C.J. Fair listed above Tyler Ennis. He’s the only point guard on the Syracuse roster, he doesn’t turn the ball over, he forces a ton of turnovers and he’s the go-to guy in the clutch for the nation’s No. 2 team. I think I have him too low.

8. Julius Randle, Kentucky: Randle is still putting up monster numbers, but he’s become less of the focal point for Kentucky offensively as teams have started to collapse on him more and more. Doesn’t help that he got lit up by Jarnell Stokes on Saturday.

9. Casey Prather, Florida: He missed two games because of a knee injury, coming back to score 21 points in a far-too-close win at Auburn. He’s the leading scorer for a team that goes through too many inexplicable scoring droughts.

10. Joel Embiid, Kansas: This is a little bit of forward projecting. Embiid has not earned this spot yet. But if he continues to play the way that he has played in the last few weeks, and Kansas keeps on looking like a top five team, Embiid is going to have to be in this conversation eventually. Might as well toss him in there now.

Others: Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson, Keith Appling, Cameron Bairstow, Sam Dekker, C.J. Fair, Aaron Gordon, Rodney Hood, Kevin Pangos, Lamar Patterson, Adreian Payne, Elfrid Payton, Jayvaughn Pinkston, Russ Smith, Fred Van Vleet, T.J. Warren, Andrew Wiggins, Chaz Williams

Florida forward Casey Prather cleared to return Saturday

prather
Leave a comment

A discussion of the most improved players in college basketball this season has to include the name of Florida senior forward Casey Prather. After averaging 6.2 points and 3.7 rebounds per game as a junior Prather’s raised his production to 17.0 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game, leading the Gators in scoring.

But after experiencing swelling in his left knee following No. 7 Florida’s SEC opening win over South Carolina the 6-foot-7 Prather’s missed the last two games for Billy Donovan’s team. Florida won both games, one of which being a tough overtime victory at Arkansas, and they’ve had to deal with various injuries and suspensions for much of the season. But even with that being the case, Florida needs their leading scorer back on the floor.

According to multiple outlets Prather’s expected to return to game action on Saturday when the Gators host Auburn, although it remains to be seen just how much playing time he receives. “How much he’ll play is really, really hard to say,” Donovan said of Prather on Friday. “I’m doubtful he’s play much. That’s my guess.”

Prather’s health resulted in Virginia Tech transfer Dorian Finney-Smith moving into the starting lineup, and the sophomore took full advantage of the opportunity. In wins over Arkansas and Georgia, Finney-Smith averaged 18.0 points, 10.0 rebounds (15 rebounds against Arkansas) and 3.0 assists per game. If Finney-Smith can continue to produce once Prather gets back to full strength, Florida’s going to be even more difficult for opponents to slow down.

College Basketball Talk’s Player of the Year Power Rankings

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The 2013-2014 season is sure to be a thrilling Player of the Year race, so to keep track of it, we will be posting weekly Player of the Year Power Rankings for your reading goodness.

Who’d we miss? Who’s ranked too high? We love to overlook your team’s best player and overrate your rival’s superstar.

1. Doug McDermott, Creighton: McDermott is the National Player of the Year right now. You won’t find much debate from anyone on that subject. And while McDermott is awesome around the basket and deadly when he gets his feet set and a look at the rim, what makes him such a great scorer is how he moves without the ball.

I found a perfect example from Creighton’s win over Xavier. In the first frame, once the ball is swung to Austin Chatman on the wing, McDermott (red circle) has two screens set for him. He cut to the block off of Jahenns Manigat’s back-screen or use Ethan Wragge at the top of the key to try and find space for an open three:

source:

McDermott gets a decent look, but Xavier’s Justin Martin closes out hard:

source:

Instead of forcing a three, he swings the ball to Manigat and sets him a ball-screen, popping to the corner afterwards:

source:

The ball eventually winds up in Wragge’s hands on the other side of the floor, and McDermott makes his favorite cut, curling off a screener at the foul line and running right at the rim:

source:

Here’s the full possession:

2. DeAndre Kane, Iowa State: An ankle injury didn’t slow Kane down against Kansas, as the Cyclone point guard finished with 21 points, eight boards, three assists and four steals. Since Boise State dared him to shoot threes on national TV on Christmas day, Kane is 9-for-19 from three. Two straight losses — at Oklahoma and against Kansas, keep that in mind — sullies this a bit, but Kane’s earned this spot. For now, at least.

3. Jabari Parker, Duke: Parker has struggled in the last five games, averaging just 10.5 points and shooting 32.2% from the floor and 14.3% from three during a 3-2 stretch for the Blue Devils. His numbers on the season are still impressive, but he needs to buck this slump and turn Duke back into an ACC contender.

4. Julius Randle, Kentucky: Kentucky got away from pounding the ball into Randle over the course of the last two games — he finished with a combined 15 points on just 17 shots — but the big fella still did his damage on the backboards, finishing with 25 rebounds in wins over Vanderbilt and Mississippi State.

5. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State: The battle for Big 12 Player of the Year may end up being more fun to follow than the National Player of the Year award. Kane and Smart both belong at the top of that conversation, while Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid will certainly stake their claim to the award before the season’s over. Smart’s turnovers and perimeter shooting are still a concern, but it’s worth noting that without Michael Cobbins in the lineup, Smart’s averaged 10.o rebounds in three games. No guard can dominate the game on both ends of the floor the way that Smart is capable of.

6. Nick Johnson, Arizona: There may not be a player in the country that is as underrated as Nick Johnson. He is the No. 1 team’s leading scorer and best perimeter defender. He’s there best outside shooting threat as well, and in a win against UCLA, he also just so happened to be the guy asked to take big shots down the stretch. There isn’t a better off-guard in the country right now, save for maybe a healthy Gary Harris.

7. Tyler Ennis, Syracuse: We’ve been over and over Ennis’ importance to Syracuse on the offensive end of the floor, but he’s a pretty good defender as well. Ennis is averaging 2.8 steals after snagging six against Boston College on Monday night. Not bad at the top of that Syracuse zone.

8. Keith Appling, Michigan State: Adreian Payne could easily be on this list in this spot, but I’m rolling with Appling. His development as a lead guard — 16.4 points, 4.6 assists, 3.5 boards, 48.3% 3’s — and numerous big shots for the Spartans this season make all the difference.

9. Casey Prather, Florida: Prather’s been injury-plagued during his tenure at Florida, which is why it’s concerning that he’ll miss his second consecutive game today with a bone bruise in his knee. Hopefully he can get healthy. 

10. Shabazz Napier, UConn: Napier’s fallen out of favor in some other Player of the Year rankings, but look at these numbers: 16.4 points, 6.4 boards, 6.0 assists, 2.1 steals, 47.3% 3’s. UConn is not as good as we thought they were a month ago, but they’re a tournament team and Napier’s penchant for late-game heroics is the biggest (only?) reason why. He deserves to be on this list.

Others: Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson, Cameron Bairstow, Jordan Clarkson, Aaron Craft, Joel Embiid, C.J. Fair, Aaron Gordon, Rodney Hood, Marcus Paige, Lamar Patterson, Adreian Payne, Elfrid Payton, Russ Smith, Fred Van Vleet, T.J. Warren, Andrew Wiggins, Chaz Williams, Joseph Young