No. 18: Florida Gators

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Midnight Madness is Friday. So we’re kicking off our college basketball coverage with our men’s preseason Top 25. Look for five teams posted a day, all this week.

2010-11 record: 29-8 (13-3), 1st in SEC East
Lost in NCAA tournament Regional Final

Coach: Billy Donovan, 360-147, 16th year (395-167 overall)

Last NCAA miss: 2009

2011-12 roster [click here]
2011-12 schedule [click here]
2010-11 team stats [click here]

The good: The driving forces behind the Gators’ resurgent season — guards Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton – are back for more. Yes, both rarely pass up an open shot, but it worked for them last season, especially when SEC play rolled around. Hey, anything that helps you finish ahead of Kentucky is worth doing again.

And now they add impact freshman Brad Beal, perhaps the best shooter and overall guard among the 2011 class. It’s unlikely he’ll become their No. 1 scoring option, but he could end up as the team’s leading scorer simply by collecting kick-out passes off Walker and Boynton drives. Not that he needs help to score.

Then there’s sophomore Patric Young, who may be Florida’s most explosive athlete and top overall prospect. The 6-9 forward was a stud for Team USA’s U-19 squad this summer and seemed to peak late last season, as evidence by his eight-point, four-rebound, two-block effort vs. UCLA in the Sweet 16. Good thing too because …

The bad: No Alex Tyus. No Chandler Parsons. No Vernon Macklin. That was the Gators’ starting frontcourt. They were the ones grabbing missed shots by Walker and Boynton or playing defense down low, something that falls largely on Young – and little used forwards Erik Murphy and Cody Larson.

(Not that either of them were able to work on improving their games last summer.)

Making matters more difficult is that Parsons, the SEC player of the year, also was the Gators’ most versatile player, meaning two players may have to fill his shoes unless Beal or transfer Mike Rosario is ready to dish, rebound and score.

The unknown: Who gets the shots? That’ll be the big question all season in Gainesville.

Walker, Boyton and Rosario are all shoot-first guards, though none are so selfish as to sink their teams. Walker and Boynton actually scored quite efficiently last season, while Rosario always had to chuck shots because Rutgers didn’t have any other scoring options.

But none of them are taller than 6-3, which means Donovan will be playing a lot of small ball – Beal’s also listed at 6-3 – or won’t be using his best players when short lineups won’t work.

Donovan’s praised sophomore Corey Prather, a 6-6 sophomore, who could be an option alongside Young. But if Young misses any time to injury or continues to be plagued by foul trouble, the Gators will find themselves going small and facing tall odds.

Counting down the preseason Top 25

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