SEC Make or Break: Florida GatorsPosted by Gerald Smith on October 20th, 2011
The Make or Break series will tell us what we need to know about each SEC team by looking at the three most important non-conference games on each team’s schedule. Depending on the outcome, these three games could make OR break that team’s season because of the strengths it shows or weaknesses it could expose. This post features the Florida Gators.
It took a little while to get the offense started on last year’s Florida team: The carburetor was flooded by too much of point guard Erving Walker. Several games into the season, coach Billy Donovan had to pop off the hood and tinker. Soon senior Chandler Parsons provided ignition sparks as the “point forward” and forward Vernon Macklin provided power with offensive rebounding. With Walker and guard Kenny Boynton free to explode from the perimeter, the offense propelled Florida into an Elite Eight appearance. Now that both Parsons and Macklin have graduated, Florida will need to find a new combination of their experienced guards and fresh faces to provide the offensive push. A tough conference schedule awaits the Gators in the SEC East; a fast start in the non-conference schedule will help the Gators race to a nice NCAA Tournament seed.
Three key non-conference games that will make or break the Gators’ season:
- Dec. 2: Syracuse — Ohio State is a big game and an interesting trial run for Florida forward/center Patric Young‘s individual defending skills. But the Gators shouldn’t be favored against Ohio State in just their second game of the season. Basketball analysts and fans will use the game at the Carrier Dome as Florida’s true early-season test. Young will see action against highly-hyped sophomore Fab Melo, while the rest of the Gators will be dealing with forward Rakeem Christmas and guard Scoop Jardine. We will discover if Donovan can shift gears into a four-guard lineup against Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone. Florida freshman Brad Beal, a talented scorer whom some have compared to Ray Allen, could help Florida surprise the Orange (and the rest of the nation).
- Dec. 7: Arizona — Derrick Williams (NBA Draft) and Momo Jones (transfer) may be gone but Arizona coach Sean Miller has a young and talented team to replace them. Boynton and the rest of the Gator backcourt will need to put the brakes on Arizona’s freshman guard Josiah Turner; forcing turnovers from and around Turner will be crucial to slowing down the Wildcats’ offensive pace. Arizona freshman power forward Angelo Chol is a shot-blocking machine with good post moves. Patric Young might need some assistance from the bench — including junior forward/center Erik Murphy — to seize up Chol in the paint. This is more of a “make” than a “break” game: Losing at Arizona in Gainesville might scuff the fenders but the Wildcats should be in or around the Top 25 all season long. The drawback of a loss is that the Gators could be exposed as a team that has difficulty covering talented players in multiple positions.
- Dec. 22: Florida State — This is more of a “break” than “make” game for the Gators. Under coach Leonard Hamilton the Seminoles have led the country in defense for the last two years (0.862 points per possession in 2010-11; 0.845 PPP in 2009-10). While losing forward Chris Singleton and guard Derwin Kitchen, FSU exchanges defensive experience with more offensive potency in forward Bernard James and forward Okaro White. The Gators can’t let the ‘Noles bump them all night long; Beal, Boynton and Walker must be prepared to take advantage when the Seminole pressure overextends. Winning this game shows the Gators have the physical stamina to run with the big blocks of the SEC East.