Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Florida: 2008-2009 Team Preview

2007-2008 Team Record: 24-12, 8-8 (4td SEC East)

Key Returnees: Nick Calathes (15.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 6.0 apg), Dan Werner (9.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg), Walter Hodge (10.4 ppg, 2.9 apg)

Key Losses: Marreese Speights (14.8 ppg, 8.5 rpg)

Newcomers: Eloy Vargas, Kenny Kadji, Ray Shipman, Allan Chaney, Erving Walker

The only significant loss for the Gators from last season is first round pick Marreese Speights, who was very talented but did not consistently put forth the effort that Billy Donovan wants from his players. Thanks to back-to-back outstanding recruiting classes (Rivals ranked them as #1 last year, #10 this year), Donovan has completely rebuilt and reloaded this Florida team.

The prize of this year's recruiting class are two 6'10" post players, Eloy Vargas and Kenny Kadji, who should make up for the loss of production from Speights. Kadji, a Cameroon native, is a big bodied (he has put on 40 pounds since he got here) center with nice post moves and a soft touch, although he tends to be too passive. Vargas (from the Dominican Republic) is a little less polished, but with a bigger upset. He is much more athletic and blocks a lot of shots, but needs to get stronger to be effective offensively. The Gator frontcourt is rounded out with sophomores Alex Tyus (great rebounder and energy guy off the bench) and Chandler Parsons, and junior Dan Werner. Parsons and Werner are both combo forwards who are versatile enough to play (and defend) on the perimeter or in the post. Werner was a starter last year, while Parsons was the leading scorer off the bench. Sophomore Adam Allen and freshman Allan Chaney and Ray Shipman should also compete for minutes.

The Gator backcourt will be led by do-it-all sophomore Nick Calathes. Calathes is a 6'6" point guard that can shoot the ball and get to the rim, but is very unselfish and a great playmaker. His size makes the Gators extremely versatile, as he can defend point guards (if they want to go big) and small forwards (if they want to go with a three-guard set). Also returning for Florida is senior (the only one on the roster) Walter Hodge and sophomore Jai Lucas. Hodge and Lucas are very similar players - small, quick guards that can make plays both defensively and offensively. Hodge is probably a better defender, while Lucas is a better shooter.

Outlook: There is no questioning that Florida has a very talented roster. Their biggest issue is that they are so young - only one senior and two juniors (one of those juniors is Georgetown transfer Vernon Macklin, who is not eligible this year) on the roster. If those young guys can mature, Florida has to be considered a contender for the SEC East. If not, then the Gators may miss the tournament for the second straight season.

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