SEC Transition Basketball: Florida GatorsPosted by Brian Joyce on September 10th, 2012
Let’s finish these off this week with the last few of what we’re calling it Transition Basketball, an offseason look at each of the 14 SEC basketball programs. Today’s update: Florida.
State of the Program
Billy Donovan has elevated the Florida program to the status of perennial contender and national powerhouse. Once again last season, his stockpile of talent and aggressive non-conference scheduling paid off. Despite early season losses to Ohio State and Syracuse, the Gators’ high-powered offense tested themselves on the road in some of the most hostile environments but demonstrated improvement throughout the experience. In the end, it was worth it. Though struggling on the defensive end of the court for most of the year, the Gators marched all the way to the Elite Eight, only a couple of made baskets away from another Final Four. But this should almost be expected by now, as Donovan took Florida to the Elite Eight just one year before and won championships in the back-to-back years of 2006 and 2007.
The scary part is that Donovan has the firepower to make a similar run again this season. Improvement is evident in returning players Kenny Boynton, who is back with his 15.9 points per game at guard, and forward/center Patric Young who brings his 10.2 points and 6.4 rebounds per game back to the low post. Boynton improved his overall field goal percentage from 38.5 percent in 2010-11 to 44.0 percent last year, and his shooting from beyond the arc by seven percent last season. Smooth shooting wing Erik Murphy averaged over 10 points per game last season on 42.1 percent shooting from outside, providing additional stability on the offensive end for the Gators. Will Yeguete returns from injury to improve on his 6.3 rebounds per game. Mike Rosario could make the leap this year from role player to a more significant part of the Florida offense. The transfer from Rutgers averaged over 16 points per game in each of his first two seasons for the Scarlet Knights, but dipped to just 6.6 points per game in his first year with the Gators. He could be called upon to do more in his senior year. It might also be a case of addition by subtraction for Florida as senior guard Erving Walker had never seen a shot he wasn’t willing to take. His 39.4 percent field goal shooting and 2.1 turnovers per game hurt the Gators just as often as he helped.
Billy Donovan is absolutely killing it on the recruiting trail for 2013, so much so that his wife is keeping him stocked up with homemade cakes to celebrate. With two five-star recruits already lined up and two top tier transfers eligible, the following season promises to be a good one for the Gators. But we’re not here to talk about 2013-14. We’re talking about this season, and Donovan has four quality recruits ready to suit it up in 2012. His most notable recruit for the upcoming year is 6’0″ point guard Braxton Ogbueze, from Charlotte, North Carolina. Ogbueze’s bio on the Florida roster page says he “has the ability to create off the dribble and finish at the hoop… Possesses a reliable jump shot and a knack for finding open teammates.” Ogbueze was highly recruited with offers from schools such as Baylor, Kansas, and Texas, among many others.
To replace losses in the backcourt, Donovan recruited heavily at the guard position. In addition to Ogbueze, Florida welcomes four star guard Michael Frazier, 6’5″ shooting guard Dillon Graham, and forward DeVon Walker. Armed with several returners at the forward and center positions, Donovan is extremely confident with his frontcourt, but hopes the backcourt takes shape soon after the losses of Walker and NBA draft pick Bradley Beal. “I think anytime you take a point guard off a team that has been a starter for three years, there’s a different element, dynamic you have to deal with as you go into the following season.” Ogbueze, and possibly Frazier, could work their way into playing time off the bench to back up Boynton, Rosario, and junior point guard Scotty Wilbekin.
Mike Rosario has done it before. He averaged 16.2 points per game in his freshman season at Rutgers and 16.7 in his sophomore year. But fighting for minutes in a crowded backcourt and saddled with hip and back injuries throughout the year, Rosario simply couldn’t get it going last season for the Gators. He would never score as many points as he did in the season opener against Jacksonville State, where he he opened up the year with five three pointers and 19 points. In fact, he only scored in double figures once after February 5. While he took fewer shots, played less minutes, and was involved in fewer possessions than his days at Rutgers, he was far a more efficient player. His offensive rating was up (106.2 from 94.4), his effective field goal percentage was up (52.6% from 45.8%), his assist rate was up (13.8 from 10.0), and his turnover rate was down (16.7 from 17.2).
Erving Walker is gone. So is Bradley Beal. That means somebody is going to have to replace some of the 26.9 points per game that those two guys produced. Though Rosario scored fewer points (about 10 points per game less) last season than what he was accustomed to, he had become a better and more efficient player. Rosario knows how to score, and he will get the opportunity this season as a more central part of the Gators offense.
Three Questions With The Bull Gator
We caught THE Bull Gator of thebullgator.com and held him down long enough to talk about the upcoming Florida Gators basketball season. I restrained the urge to chat about my alma mater, the University of South Florida Bulls, to keep the conversation going about his passion and the topic at hand, Billy Donovan and the Gators. TBG began The Bull Gator site in 2008 and has been writing and talking about Florida ever since. Check out his site here for all the Florida news and opinions you can handle or follow TBG on Twitter @TheBullGator. And as if he didn’t have enough credibility as it is, he hangs out with a guy named One Eyed Willy. I know, that’s pretty legit.
Rush the Court: Some (including myself) have made the claim that Erving Walker’s departure could be a case of addition by subtraction for Florida’s offense. Is there any truth to that, and if so, who will benefit the most from his departure?
The Bull Gator: I wouldn’t go as far as to say addition by subtraction, but I do think the Gators could benefit from having a pass-first, shoot-second point guard. Walker was a great passer at times, but could also go stretches where he wanted the shoot. There’s nothing wrong with his style of play at all and it definitely led to some big wins for the Gators, but I’d be interested to see how the offense would run with a traditional distributor. Now keep in mind that we’re talking about a player that’s the school’s all-time assists leader. This isn’t a knock on Walker at all, I just wonder what a pure creator would do with the offense. The players that would benefit the most would be Kenny Boynton and Patric Young. If they’re the scorers and someone’s number one goal is to get them the ball, their averages could definitely rise.
RTC: Florida had difficulties on the defensive end and consistently winning the battle of the boards last season. Are those the most crucial areas for Florida to improve to be amongst the nation’s elite teams next season?
TBG: I’d say that 1A and 1B is taking smart shots. In the years that followed the championship seasons, the Gators have, at times, struggled when it comes to rebounding, but they’ve also had the label of trying to win too much with the three. Billy Donovan has had some great three-point shooters and teams as a whole that could knock down the deep shot. That said, when they got down, they would go through stretches where there wasn’t a three-point attempt they didn’t like. Donovan likes distance shooters, but he needs to get them back on track to playing smart basketball…not for 30 minutes or even 35, but for the entire 40.
RTC: Donovan has once again scheduled one of the most difficult non-conference schedules in the country for his Gators. Which non-conference opponent will test Florida the most and which game are you the most excited about?
TBG: The one that excites everyone the most has to be Georgetown for obvious reasons, but the test I think is Florida State. They may not be the toughest opponent the Gators face, but the timing of the game is critical. The game is in Tallahassee and comes just six days after the Gators host Marquette. It also symbolizes a split of sorts in the schedule. SEC play doesn’t start immediately following that game, but there is 10 days between it and the Gators’ trip to Arizona. If it’s a letdown game, the Gators could carry that into the break and come out of it with their heads down. A big win propels them into the time off with the confidence to come out strong during the second half of the schedule.
Twitter Style 2012-13 Outlook
Despite the loss of two talented guards, UF will be back on top. Look for the Gators to fight it out with Mizzou and UK for SEC supremacy.
Brian Joyce is a writer for the SEC microsite and regular contributor for Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about SEC basketball @bjoyce_hoops.