Florida ‘Selfishness, Delusion’ Leads to Miserable Season

Posted by David Changas on March 13th, 2015

Florida dropped its quarterfinal matchup against No. 1 Kentucky in the SEC Tournament this afternoon in Nashville, and after the game, Gators head coach Billy Donovan did not mince words about what went wrong for his team. “I think it was a team that was maybe a little bit more wrapped up in themselves. Didn’t quite understand the level of sacrifice needed to beat a really good team. As a head coach, I think I really fell short in getting them to see how important it is for us to play as a team. And I think it was still a very, very humbling learning experience. It was a great experience, that I think and, I use the word maybe delusional or not in reality. These guys have never been in reality the entire year.” Harsh words to be sure, but given this year’s disappointment in Gainesville, it is hard to argue with them. Donovan, who just completed his 19th season at the school, will not lead the Gators into postseason play for the first time since 1996-97.

Billy Donovan did not mince words when talking about the Gators' struggles (AP/Phelan Ebenhack).

Billy Donovan did not mince words when talking about the Gators’ struggles (AP/Phelan Ebenhack).

The issues Donovan raised in his postgame commentary manifested themselves in the team’s season-long play, and things never really got any better. The Gators, coming off of a four-year run that included three Elite Eights and a Final Four, finished the season at 16-18 overall and were 6-7 in games decided by five points or fewer. The preseason top 10 team never scratched the surface of its potential, with its best win of the entire year a one-point home win over Arkansas. The early ranking was clearly not warranted, but neither was the woeful body of work that the Gators put together either. Donovan admitted earlier this week that he had overscheduled, and Florida might at least have had a winning record and a trip to the NIT ahead if he had not done so. Still, given the individual talent on the roster, most everyone agrees that much more was achievable.

In analyzing what went wrong for Florida, you can start with two sophomores who have yet to live up to their high school hype: guard Kasey Hill and forward Chris Walker. Hill was the 10th-ranked player in the class of 2013 but has not developed mostly due to an inability to shoot the ball effectively. He finished fourth in the SEC this season with 4.5 assists per game, but he also averaged 2.1 turnovers per contest. More importantly, he was a non-factor from three-point range, making only 8-of-29 attempts on the season. Contrast those numbers with the play of last year’s team leader, Scottie Wilbekin, who kept defenses honest with his ability to knock down the outside shot (39%), and you see why Florida struggled so much on the offensive end. As disappointing as Hill has been, Walker has been even more of a letdown. He was the sixth-ranked player in the same class but has not come close to becoming an impact player. Both of his seasons have gotten off to rocky starts — he was ineligible during the first semester as a freshman; he experienced a three-game improper benefits suspension as a sophomore. On the season, Walker averaged 4.8 points and 3.5 rebounds in just under 15 minutes per game. Against Kentucky today, he was a complete non-factor, playing only seven minutes and scoring two points.

The problems that the Gators have experienced this season, of course, do not end with Hill and Walker as the team fought through injuries and suspensions as well. They lost junior guard Devon Walker, who was projected to be a key backup, to a knee injury last summer; and two of their most productive players, Jon Horford and Dorian Finney-Smith, were suspended for one and three games, respectively. Given Donovan’s tone after today’s loss, it is not hard to figure that he views those suspensions as a contributor to the team’s struggles. Donovan has not lost hope, though, as he’s come to the realization that he can’t always have talented and committed players like he had the last four seasons or with the oh-fours before them. “I think that’s part of coaching, it’s part of growing and learning,” he said. What lies in store for Florida basketball remains to be seen, but given his nearly two-decade track record in Gainesville, it’s a safe bet that this year’s results will not be duplicated anytime soon.

David Changas (166 Posts)

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