Michael Frazier Back on Track for Top-Ranked Gators

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 25th, 2014

Florida climbed to number one in the national polls yesterday for the first time since Joakim Noah was doing the Gator chomp in the O-Dome. But for a team that clearly deserves to hold the top spot, the Gators have a somewhat small margin for error, especially in the backcourt. Billy Donovan has had to split the bulk of his perimeter minutes this season between only three players, one of whom (Kasey Hill) missed Saturday’s Ole Miss game with a groin injury. Given their lack of depth, Florida will be hard-pressed to survive off nights from either Scottie Wilbekin or Michael Frazier. That’s why Frazier’s five-three-pointer, 17-point performance against the Rebels was so encouraging.

Michael Frazier isn't the most talked about Gator, but he's vitally important to their postseason chances (tampabay.com).

Michael Frazier isn’t the most talked about Gator, but he’s vitally important to their postseason chances. (tampabay.com)

The sophomore guard had been stuck in a mini-slump, at least as measured by the high standards he has set this season. Casey Prather hasn’t been the only Gator to transform from role player to key offensive option. You can’t exactly say that Frazier was under-the-radar since he made the all-freshman SEC team a year ago, but he has assumed and excelled in a much bigger role this time around — experiencing an increase in minutes per game (17.9 to 29.6), shots per game (3.9 to 8.9) and usage rate (14.5% to 20.4%). Despite a notable increase in defensive attention and offensive opportunities, the three-point specialist has still managed to shoot 42.1 percent from deep. He was rolling along in conference play until a recent blip against Kentucky and Auburn when the starting shooting guard only scored a combined 12 points on 4-of-15 shooting in the two games.

Struggling against Kentucky’s long and athletic defense doesn’t raise a red flag. The Wildcats play good three-point defense (allowing only 29.4 percent from distsance in SEC play) and have players who can disrupt a shooter’s rhythm. But you would have expected Frazier to bounce back in a big way against Auburn and its league-worst three-point defense in the following game. Instead, Frazier notched a below average 3-of-10 shooting night. Was the boost in minutes and responsibility catching up to him? It’d be understandable if it was, but Florida’s aspirations for a national championship can’t afford that. The sophomore is really the Gators’ only consistent, off-ball three-point threat and the best free throw shooter on a team that clearly struggles in that area (68.0%).

Frazier put those admittedly exaggerated concerns to rest in a tough game in Oxford by connecting on 5-of-10 three pointers. That’s worth a collective sigh of relief from Gainesville, but even if his downward trend in play had continued, it’s not likely Frazier would have lost his confidence. The sophomore played on the gold medal-winning U-19 United States team coached by Donovan this past summer. Frazier didn’t shoot the ball well in the Czech Republic (only 32.4%), but his coach thought it was still a very valuable experience for him. “He learned a lot about himself because he went through some adversity,” Donovan said. “It wasn’t like this thing where he came out there and shot the cover off the ball and just non-stop 60 percent three-point shooter. That was anything but the truth. He had to work through some adversity, and I think he handled it in a way that really helped him grow.” Perhaps Frazier is drawing on his time learning and growing as a player in Europe right now. But in truth, his recent two-game mini-slump probably doesn’t qualify as adversity. Off nights happen to every player from time to time. But Florida is a legitimate national title contender with a big old microscope on them, so any hint of a chink in the Gators’ armor is worth exploring. Frazier got back on track on Saturday against Ole Miss, and his play will continue to assume a big role in determining how far the Gators go this season.

Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) (231 Posts)

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