Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @EJacobyRTC on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.
The #12 Florida Gators have high expectations this season, as usual, with a loaded starting lineup that features two returning SEC stars and a bevy of other talented scorers. But Billy Donovan’s team lost much of its backcourt production from last season in Erving Walker and Bradley Beal, the second- and third-leading scorers on last year’s team who also accounted for over 40% of the squad’s total assists. Those 2011-12 Gators ranked sixth in the nation in overall offensive efficiency and came just a few plays away from reaching a Final Four. Yet does this season’s version of Florida have an even higher ceiling? Conventional wisdom would say no given the loss of its two perimeter leaders, but a strong recruiting class joins a healthier team this year, most notably a much improved senior forward Erik Murphy. Wednesday night’s 74-56 victory over defensive stalwart Wisconsin, featuring a perfect shooting night from Murphy, provided a glimpse of UF’s offensive upside that few teams in the country can match.
The Gators attempted and made the most three-point shots in all of Division I last season (9.6 makes per game), a crucial element to the team’s conversion of 1.15 points per possession, good for fifth in the country. While Walker and Beal’s 132 three-point makes are gone, don’t be so sure that Florida will fall off in the long-range shooting department. Preseason all-SEC senior guard Kenny Boynton and the aforementioned Murphy return 169 makes of their own, sparkplug sixth man Mike Rosario hit over one trey per game last year as well, and a loaded recruiting class of shooters joins the fold. Braxton Ogbueze headlines the freshman class as a heady point guard, while fellow newcomers Michael Frazier II, Devon Walker, and Dillon Graham all specialize as three-point bombers. Graham models his game after J.J. Redick, Walker has unlimited range from outside, and UF assistant coach Mike McCall noted this preseason of Frazier, “Every time [the ball] leaves his hand, you think it’s going in.” The Gators are already scoring at a more consistent rate this year with a 1.18 points per possession ratio. While only two games is an extremely small sample size, Wednesday’s game came against Bo Ryan’s Badgers; a masterful defensive team that finished seventh in total defensive efficiency last season.