Dorian Finney-Smith was supposed to be an integral part of Florida’s offense this season. The ex-Virginia Tech addition was highly-pursued when he announced his transfer, and the mix of his shooting touch and size helped conjure visions that Finney-Smith would be the next Gator stretch-4 to propel the offense. However, through the first few months of the season, that promise didn’t materialize — during the month of February, a span of six contests, Finney-Smith missed 18 three-pointers before finally converting one attempt (on February 22nd).
Since that three-point make, which came in a win over Ole Miss, Finney-Smith’s game has been ascendant. The forward made 44 percent of his threes through the SEC tournament, and his ability to stretch a defense with his shooting as well as off the bounce has provided coach Billy Donovan with several offensive options. Florida isn’t known for its size — Patric Young and Will Yeguete are the only other Gators who stand taller than 6-foot-8 — so an effective Finney-Smith not only boosts the team’s scoring, he provides a height infusion. When he is connecting from deep, UF’s halfcourt spacing is much improved, with not only helps Young in the post, but also the Gators’ backcourt on dribble drives.
In the NCAA tournament, Finney-Smith has been the consummate role player; Florida doesn’t often dip into the bench — Kasey Hill and Finney-Smith are essentially the only Gators who see significant minutes — and the forward will need to continue contributing offensively to propel the Gators’ title run. His perimeter attempts haven’t been dropping, but he is making his twos — 56 percent from within the arc — and the ten points Finney-Smith dropped last night against UCLA helped fuel the team’s 1.13 points per possession.
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.
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.
The big news of the day for Florida was that stud freshman Chris Walker would be playing his first game as a collegian on Tuesday night.
And he did enough to pique the interest of Florida fans, throwing down a couple of alley-oops while grabbing two boards and blocking two shots in limited minutes off the bench in a 68-58 win for the No. 3 Gators.
It was promising, but the bigger news may actually have been the play of Patric Young, who finished with 13 points and six boards while showing off an array of moves in the post. He scored over both shoulders, he hit jump hooks with both hands, and overall, he looked like a real threat on the block, which adds yet another weapon to Florida’s arsenal.
You see, the strength of this Florida team is their defense. They have a pair of ball-hawking point guards and a slew of big, athletic wings — Casey Prather, Will Yeguete, Dorian Finney-Smith. That versatility allows them to be able to press, run a couple of different zone, and play either straight man-to-man or a switching man-to-man. The athleticism of their front court players allows them to play ball-screens in a number of different ways. And regardless of what defense they’re in, they play it well.
That’s a nightmare scenario for a coach trying to prepare for them and a major reason why the Gators had allowed an averaged of 42.7 points in their last three games entering Tuesday.
But Florida doesn’t have a ton of great scoring options. Prather is a slasher that gets his buckets from five feet and in. Michael Frazier can shoot the cover off the ball. Scottie Wilbekin is one of the more underrated players in the country. Kasey Hill can create off the bounce. Those are all nice pieces, but there is nothing there that scares you.
And Young’s low post game isn’t going to scare many people, especially considering this performance came against a Missouri team that isn’t exactly known for their interior.
But that’s missing the point: knowing that Young will be able to take advantage of a mismatch inside makes Florida that much more dangerous offensively. Florida doesn’t have a go-to guy offensively, but they also don’t have a weakness. They have a roster full of players that know, understand and execute their roles. That’s not a bad thing.
It was far from a pretty game for Florida. They allowed the Seminoles to claw their way back into the game and tie it at 66 in the final minute, after leading 63-55 with 2:44 remaining. They shot just 38% from the field (23-61) and 63% from the line (15-24) — four of those misses from the line came in the final 2:18 that allowed Florida State back into the game. Scottie Wilbekin and Dorian Finney-Smith, who were both suspended earlier in the season, combined to shoot 4-25 from the field.
But, the Gators did enough to win, and this is a win that will prove to be a pretty good one later this season as Florida State has looked like a strong team in the early going with a convincing win over Virginia Commonwealth and overtime loss to Michigan.
While Wilbekin and Finney-Smith are back on the team, having Damontre Harris still suspended is another piece that the Gators are sorely missing. Harris, a transfer from South Carolina, is a 6-foot-10 center who would nicely complement Patric Young on the inside.
The underlying story for the Gators though is the play of Wilbekin and how he goes about taking over the starting point guard duties Kenny Boynton held last season. Wilbekin is a proven player who played significant minutes a year ago and is more than capable of running the show as a senior, but he looked like a player who missed the first five games of the year due to suspension. Shooting 2-13 from the field, missing layups, and taking questionable shots certainly didn’t help the Florida offense. However, he did dish out seven assists to just two turnovers.
Florida is now 6-1 through their first seven games, and ranked No. 15 in the country. To date, they haven’t looked the part as the No. 15 team, but Billy Donovan has also been parading a depleted roster out on the floor most nights. With Wilbekin and Finney-Smith now back, Florida will no doubt get better. We will have a much better idea of just how good Florida is on December 17th as their next three games are against UConn, Kansas, and Memphis — quite a stretch for the Gators.
It took a while, but once No. 11 Florida’s pressure started taking effect, Colgate’s upset bid disappeared, as they lost 86-56 after being tied at the half.
The Gators got another monster performance from Casey Prather, who has been phenomenal early on this season, as he went for 27 points, five boards and five assts. Kasey Hill finished with 14 points, six assists and five steals in the win as well.
But the most notable performance came from one of Billy Donovan’s big men, and it wasn’t Patric Young.
Playing in his first game of the season for the Gators after being suspended for the first two, Dorian Finney-Smith went for 17 points and nine boards, with five coming on the offensive end of the floor while shooting 5-for-10 from the field and 3-of-4 from beyond the arc. It was an impressive performance that didn’t come close to showcasing the full versatility of Finney-Smith’s game.
It’s also all the more important given the relative struggles of Young early on this season. Florida’s muscle-bound center had 10 points, eight boards and two blocks against Colgate, all three of which were season-highs. If the Gators aren’t going to be getting consistent production out of Young, they need to get it from somewhere. Damontre Harris is still suspended, Chris Walker may not get eligible at all this season, and Will Yeguete seems to get injured simply by tying his shoes.
Getting production — and perimeter shooting — out of Finney-Smith is a key for the Gators as the season progresses.
All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.
To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of our preview lists, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.
Basketball has five positions, but the way that the sport has grown, particularly at the collegiate level, has produced hybrid players, unusual roster makeups and far too many teams with players that don’t fit into a typical positional category. Few teams actually field a traditional starting five, which is why CBT decided to make our positional rankings reflect that.
The final installment of our Top 20 player rankings focuses on the big men, and for all the talk of college basketball being a “guard’s game” post presences are a necessity if a team’s going to win a national title. With NBA Draft eligibility rules being what they are, national champions more often than not have at least one elite big man. Some are bruisers who do the majority of their work inside, while others possess the ability to step out on the perimeter and score as well.
Here’s our list of the Top 20 big men in college basketball:
1. Julius Randle (Kentucky): The 6-foot-9 freshman has the build of a pro already, and the talent is there as well. Incredibly difficult to stop around the basket, Randle is also capable of knocking down perimeter shots. Given how difficult it is to match up with Randle, it’ll be interesting to see how John Calipari utilizes the most talented player on his star-studded roster.
2. Doug McDermott (Creighton): The senior forward, who averaged 23.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game last season, will be in the Big East and national Player of the Year discussions in his senior campaign. With range well out beyond the three-point line, McDermott shot 54.8% from the field and 49.0% from three in 2012-13.
3. Mitch McGary (Michigan): McGary’s (7.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg) played his best basketball at the most important time of the year for the Wolverines, who reached the national title game for the first time since 1993. The 6-foot-10 big man averaged 14.3 points and 10.7 boards in the tournament.
4. Aaron Gordon (Arizona): Gordon’s an elite athlete who finishes above the rim with authority. If Gordon’s able to consistently knock down perimeter looks in addition to his ability to score inside, look out. The key? Gordon needs to embrace being a big man at the college level.
5. Montrezl Harrell (Louisville): Harrell, a role player for last season’s national champions, is expected to play a starring role for the Cardinals as a sophomore. Harrell (5.7, 3.6) is a very physical interior player, and he was dominant at times with the United States Under-19 team in this past summer’s World Championships.
6. Adreian Payne (Michigan State): Payne’s been a tantalizing player for much of his time in East Lansing, and he began to show signs of putting it all together during the latter portion of his junior season. Payne, who averaged 10.5 points and 7.3 boards per game last season, can also knock down perimeter shots when left open. Consistency is the key for Payne.
7. Isaiah Austin (Baylor): The 7-foot-1 Austin may be one of the most skilled players in the country, as he can handle the ball on the perimeter as well as score from just about anywhere on the floor. The question for Austin (13.1 ppg, 8.3 rpg), who’s healthy following offseason shoulder surgery, is whether or not he’s better equipped to handle physical play on a nightly basis in the Big 12.
8. Jarnell Stokes (Tennessee): Pound for pound one of the strongest players in America, Stokes averaged 12.4 points and 9.6 rebounds per game without Jeronne Maymon (knee) available to help him out in the paint. With Maymon healthy, look for Stokes to be even better as a junior.
9. Cory Jefferson (Baylor): Jefferson went from being a role player to being an honorable mention All-Big 12 selection. Currently fifth in school history in blocked shots for a career (117), Jefferson (13.3 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 1.9 bpg) shot 61% from the field as a redshirt junior.
10. Willie Cauley-Stein (Kentucky): Cauley-Stein (8.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.1 bpg) was one of the bright spots in what turned out to be a tough season for the Wildcats. An excellent athlete, the 7-foot big man was an SEC All-Freshman Team selection and he’s expected to play a starring role for Kentucky this season.
TEN MORE NAMES TO KNOW
11. Le’Bryan Nash (Oklahoma State): It can be argued that Nash should be listed with the wings, but his versatility allows the Cowboys to use him in a variety of ways. He’s already a handful off the dribble and on the block, but he needs to be a better shooter.
12. James Michael McAdoo (North Carolina): Anyone’s guess as to how long P.J. Hairston will be out of the lineup, but regardless of the shooter’s status, McAdoo needs to be a key figure for the Tar Heels this season.
13. Alex Kirk (New Mexico): A good argument could have been made for Kirk winning Mountain West Player of the Year last season over teammate Kendall Williams. Kirk posted averages of 12.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game in 2012-13.
14. Jerrelle Benimon (Towson): The reigning CAA Player of the Year was outstanding for the Tigers in 2012-13, posting averages of 17.1 points and 11.2 rebounds per game.
15. Joel Embiid (Kansas): Embiid’s received high praise from many and he’s yet to play a college game. A bit raw offensively, Embiid will likely do the majority of his damage on the defensive end to start the year.
16. Augustine Rubit (South Alabama): Rubit’s a bit underrated nationally, but the fact of the matter is that he was one of the nation’s most productive big men last season. The Sun Belt Player of the Year averaged 19.4 points and 10.5 rebounds.
17. Dwight Powell (Stanford) : Powell’s expected to have a big year for the Cardinal after averaging 14.9 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. Powell earned first team All-Pac-12 honors and was named the league’s Most Improved Player.
18. Juvonte Reddic (VCU): The last line of defense for the Rams, Reddic emerged as the Atlantic 10’s best big man in 2012-13, averaging 14.6 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.
19. Akil Mitchell (Virginia): Tony Bennett’s big man is one of the most underrated players in the ACC. He averaged 13.1 points and 8.9 boards as a junior and should be a major part in Virginia’s push for an ACC title.
20. Ryan Anderson (Boston College): Anderson is a major reason that BC is expected to surprise a lot of people in the ACC. He averaged 14.9 points and 8.0 boards as a sophomore.