Thanks to suspensions and the academic ineligibility of signee Chris Walker, the Florida Gators are attempting to navigate their non-conference schedule with just eight scholarship players. Billy Donovan’s team was able to do enough to hold off North Florida on Friday afternoon, but taking care of the Ospreys in Gainesville and winning at Wisconsin are two entirely different matters.
After jumping out to a 16-4 lead the Gators were unable to hold onto the advantage, with Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker proving to be the catalyst the home team needed. Ultimately the Badgers would win by a final score of 59-53, with Florida fighting hard but not having the full stable needed to win a game of this magnitude. Wisconsin led by as many as 11 in the second half before Florida, led by Michael Frazier II’s 20 points off the bench, was able to scrap its way into position to have a shot at the win.
But a Traevon Jackson jumper in the game’s final minute proved to be the dagger the Badgers needed to defend the Kohl Center, and with options such as Dekker (16 points), Jackson (13 and four assists) and Ben Brust (11 and nine rebounds) Wisconsin will factor into the Big Ten race. Yet while it looks to be business as usual in Madison, the personnel issues Florida’s currently dealing with could have a negative impact long-term as well.
Freshman point guard Kasey Hill struggled, accounting for four points (2-for-11 FG) and four assists before fouling out with 3:25 to go. While it certainly can be argued that early-season struggles will benefit Hill as the season wears on, the fact of the matter is that Florida needs a disciplined (and that’s key) Wilbekin on the roster as well. And considering how banged up the available players are, the same can be said for suspended forwards Dorian Finney-Smith and Damontre Harris.
There are two questions to be answered at this stage: how long will those suspensions last, and will the suspended players avoid upsetting on-court chemistry when they return? The answers will go a long way in determining whether or not Florida is the biggest threat to Kentucky in the SEC, because at this point it’s difficult to say that they are.