SEC Season Preview: Florida Gators

Posted by David Changas on November 14th, 2014

The SEC microsite will preview each of the league teams over the next week, concluding today with Florida.

Florida Gators

Strengths. Florida lost four starters from last season’s Final Four team that ran through the SEC with 21 consecutive wins. Still, as long as Billy Donovan is roaming the sidelines in Gainesville, his teams will compete at a high level. And even though the Gators watched as seniors Scottie Wilbekin, Patric Young, Casey Prather and Will Yeguete departed the premises, there is anything but a dearth of talent on the roster. The Gators are led by their only returning starter, guard Michael Frazier II, the team’s third-leading scorer who made 44.7 percent of his three-point attempts last season. They also return Dorian Finney-Smith and Kasey Hill, who were both solid contributors. But the biggest X-factor for Donovan’s team is forward Chris Walker, the enigmatic sophomore who missed 19 games last season with NCAA issues. Walker’s return was a boon for Florida, but he will need to make a massive leap if the Gators look to make another deep run in March.

Billy Donovan will need to be patient with his young team. (

Billy Donovan will need to be patient with his young team. (

Weaknesses. As with many college basketball teams in this era, there are a lot of unknowns with this group. The Gators’ roster is heavy on transfers, and thus there is very little returning experience. Alex Murphy is a Duke castoff, and Jon Horford, whose brother Al starred on the back-to-back national championship teams of the last decade, should start, along with former Rutgers transfer Eli Carter, who saw limited action early last season. If Walker does not develop as quickly as hoped, and the defense, which is a big preseason concern for Donovan, does not improve as the season progresses, the Gators could be in for a bit of a rough ride. And with the strong leadership of those seniors all graduated, someone else will need to step up and take charge on the floor.

Toughest Non-Conference Test. As usual, Florida has a difficult pre-conference schedule — a necessity for a team that does not get many opportunities to play first-rate opponents in the SEC — and the December 5 trip to Allen Fieldhouse to take on Kansas will be a stern test. Around the new year, the Gators also travel to Tallahassee for the annual tilt with Florida State, followed by a home game against defending national champion Connecticut, which knocked Florida out of the 2014 Final Four.

Toughest Conference Stretch. Florida certainly will not run the table again in the SEC, and it must battle with Kentucky twice in the last month of the regular season, but the Gators avoid any particularly grueling stretches during conference play. In fact, assuming Donovan’s team rounds into form by the first of the year, another gaudy SEC record is a realistic possibility.

Projected Starters:

  • G Kasey Hill (6’1″)
  • Eli Carter (6’2″)
  • Michael Frazier II (6’4″)
  • F Dorian Finney-Smith (6’8″)
  • F Chris Walker (6’10”)

Walker is suspended for the team’s first two games, but it is reasonable to expect he eventually will start in place of Horford. Carter was forced to take a medical redshirt after failing in his attempt to come back from a broken leg early last season, and he should provide some stability in the backcourt. Hill should handle the duties at the point and will need to join Frazier as a more consistent perimeter shooter. Finney-Smith, another of Donovan’s transfers, is an emerging star, as the former Hokie was selected earlier this week to the eight-man all-SEC coaches’ first team.

Projected Bench:

  • Chris Chiozza (6’0″)
  • G/F Devon Walker (6’5″)
  • F Devin Robinson  (6’8″)
  • F Alex Murphy (6’10”)
  • C Jon Horford (6’10”)

Murphy transferred from Duke at midseason and will have to sit out the first semester. Chiozza and Robinson are talented freshmen who Donovan has indicated will play significant minutes. The Gators took a hit in the offseason when it was announced that another talented freshman, Brandone Francis, would sit out the year for academic reasons. It is hard to imagine that any of his fellow SEC coaches will feel too sorry for Donovan, though, as he figures out his rotation.

The talented Chris Walker needs to step up for the Gators to succeed. (

The talented Chris Walker needs to step up for the Gators to succeed. (

If Everything Goes Right… No one quite saw what was coming last season. Florida was expected to be very good, but the Gators far exceeded expectations on their way to a remarkable 36-3 record that included a four-month run without a loss (and all three losses coming against eventual Final Four teams). Though this team is ranked in this preseason’s top 10, Donovan clearly does not think this group is there yet. Still, given the incredible success this program has seen over the past decade, we should not rule out a return trip to the Final Four as this team’s ceiling.

If Nothing Goes Right… It is hard to envision a scenario in which nothing goes right for the Gators, but there are a lot of players who, though they have contributed significantly in the past, will have to step into much bigger roles for this team. If Walker disappoints and the team suffers any injuries of significance in the backcourt, things may not go according to plan for Donovan.

David Changas (166 Posts)

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