Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.
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Last Season: 26-11, 10-6 SEC (t-2nd); Lost to Louisville in the Elite 8
Head Coach: Billy Donovan
Key Losses: Erving Walker, Bradley Beal
Newcomers: Braxton Ogbueze, Michael Frazier, DeVon Walker, Dillon Graham
– G: Scottie Wilbekin, Jr.
– G: Kenny Boynton, Sr.
– F: Will Yeguete, Jr.
– F: Erik Murphy, Sr.
– C: Patric Young, Jr.
– Bench: Mike Rosario, Sr.; Casey Prather, Jr.; Braxton Ogbueze, Fr.; Michael Frazier, Fr.; DeVon Walker, Fr.; Dillon Graham, Fr.
Outlook: Last season, Florida was just a couple of possessions from the Final Four. If they don’t blow a 11 point lead in the final eight minutes to Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals, Billy Donovan would have been taking his team to the fourth Final Four of his career. But the Gators lost that game, and in the process they watch as Bradley Beal and Erving Walker played their final games in Florida uniforms.
If Florida wants to match that level of postseason success again this season, it is going to hinge on the play of two of Donovan’s most highly-touted recruits in the last four years — Kenny Boynton and Patric Young.
Boynton entered Florida four years ago as a top ten recruit, a 6-foot-2 combo-guard known for his ability to put up impressive scoring numbers. And through three seasons in Gainesville, Boynton’s backed up that hype, averaging at least 14.0 points every year, capped of by the 15.9 points he averaged as a junior. But Boynton has yet to make the jump from a quality scorer on a good team to an elite player, and part of the reason has been his shot selection and his consistency.
Boynton’s always been a shoot-first player, rarely seeing a three that he didn’t like. With Beal and Walker on the roster, that wasn’t as much of a problem, as he was able to play more off-the-ball and rely on the open looks that were created for him within the flow of the offense. Those initial open looks seemed to be a boon for his confidence, as he all-the-sudden became a dangerous shooter off the dribble. While he struggled a bit with his shot towards the end of the season, Boynton’s efficiency as a junior was through the roof. It’s amazing the difference in effectiveness for a jump-shooter when he has his confidence.
The question this season will be whether or not he reverts back into his old form now that Beal and Walker have been replaced with guys like Scottie Wilbekin, Mike Rosario, Will Yeguete and a group of freshmen guards that are a long way from being a one-and-done talent like Beal. Will he still be knocking down threes at the same rate? Will he still be as reliable with the ball in his hands? More importantly, will he be more a more willing facilitator for his teammates? While he doesn’t do it often, Boynton was underrated as a distributor and decision-maker last year.
The other question mark is going to be Patric Young. Young has always been an overpowering physical presence. He’s big, he’s strong, he has broad shoulders and he’s hyper-athletic. But he’s always been a bit of an underwhelming rebounder and shot-blocker for a guy with his physical tools, and his postgame has always had quite a bit of room for improvement.
Young has lottery-level potential, but he hasn’t yet scratched the surface of what he’s capable of. Some of the blame for that goes to the guards he played with last season. Young’s touches in the paint were few and far between as a sophomore. Will be become more assertive as a junior? Will he ever becoming the dominating presence that we all want him to be in the paint?
Beyond that, the Gators do have some quality role players. Wilbekin is a steadying presence at the point, a guy that doesn’t make all that much happen but that also doesn’t make all that many mistakes. Rosario, like Boynton, is a shoot-first ball-handler that will provide Donovan will a nice complement to Wilbekin and a scoring pop off the bench. Yeguete was one of the most valuable pieces for the Gators last season as a defender and an energy guy, running the point on their press. Murphy is a knock-down shooter at 6-foot-10 and will create space for Young in the paint. And the trio of freshman guards should be able to find a way to contribute.
And while Donovan has some pieces at his disposal, the question I find myself asking is just how well all of those pieces are going to fit together.
Predictions?: Florida is a year away. If we’re being perfectly honest, the more I look at this Florida team, the more I think that we have them ranked too high at 15th. With the freshmen and transfers Donovan has coming in next season, the Gators will be better prepared to compete nationally. I think this is still a tournament team, but this is not a group that should be ranked in the top 15.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.