2008-2009 Record: 25-11, 9-7 SEC (5th)
Key Losses: Nick Calathes (17.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 6.2 apg), Walter Hodge (8.9 ppg, 2.3 apg)
Key Returners: Alex Tyus (12.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg), Erving Walker (10.1 ppg, 2.4 apg), Chandler Parsons (9.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg)
Newcomers: Kenny Boynton, Vernon Macklin, Erik Murphy, Nimrod Tishman
The biggest change for the Gators this off season was the loss of point guard Nick Calathes to Greece. Calathes will be difficult to replace, not only because of the amount of points he produced (17.2 ppg and 6.4 apg is a huge chunk of offense) but because of how instrumental he was in Billy Donovan's offense. Everything ran through Calathes, especially the Gator's transition game as Calathes was as good as anyone in the country leading the break.
But even with the loss of their starting back court (Walter Hodge is gone too), the Gators will still be able to field a talented roster full of potential. The issue will be whether or not that potential will manifest itself in wins. It starts with the Gators front court, which is overloaded with length and athleticism. Alex Tyus is probably their best returner up front, coming off of a season where he averaged 12.5 ppg and 6.2 rpg. But Tyus has not always seemed happy playing in Florida (he came very close to transferring out of Gainesville around the NBA Draft). Tyus' game is all about energy, as he is a slender 6'8". He is never going to out muscle someone in the post, but he is bouncy and very aggressive going to the offensive glass.
The two guys that are going to make or break this season for Florida are Chandler Parsons and Vernon Macklin. Parsons, who was a top 20 recruit in 2007, has all the makings to be a star. As a 6'8", athletic small forward with the ability to hit the three, he has the tools to make scouts drool. But Parsons has yet to be able to put together a consistent offensive performance over the course of his first two seasons. Macklin, who was a McDonalds all-american in high school before struggling through two seasons at Georgetown, is another guy who has yet to live up to his potential. Macklin is a big, strong body with excellent athleticism, but he struggled to get time at Georgetown. Macklin's doesn't have the polish on his offensive game to succeed in an offense like the one the Hoyas run. As a result, he never really was able to build his confidence or the confidence of John Thompson III. I expect him to have a much better year playing in a more open and fast-paced system in Florida.
Dan Werner and Adam Allen will both play an important role for Donovan. They are, for the most part, the same player - a strong 6'8" forward that can play either the 3 or the 4 with the ability to knock down perimeter jumpers. They will both be needed to help spread the floor as Florida is not a great perimeter shooting team. Werner is the lone holdover from Florida's 2006 title team and who has started 71 of the last 72 games. The other two Gator big men that could see time this season are sophomore Kenny Kadji and freshman Erik Murphy.
While the front court is full of x-factors, the kid that will be the star of this team is freshman guard Kenny Boynton. Boynton might be the best scorer in the incoming freshman class (he averaged over 30 ppg in high school) and will be counted on to help fill the scoring void left by Calathes. Listed at just 6'2", Boynton has been focusing this summer on his ability to play the point as well. Boynton's back court mate will be Erving Walker. Walker is just 5'8", but he is quick with the ball. He also showed an excellent shooting touch last year as he was forced to play off the ball much of the season. Coming into last season with a lot of hype as a distributor, Walker seemed to be more effective as a scorer and a shooter (although much of that had to do with the fact that Calathes dominated the ball). Regardless, with two talented guards that are able to move between the point and the two, Florida's back court looks pretty solid.
While Walker and Boynton are talented, the Florida bench does not have a ton of depth. Sophomore Ray Shipman will see a lot of time at the two, but he is much more of a three than a guard (think Paul Harris from Syracuse) as he is at his best when he is defending and attacking the rim, either off the dribble or for a board. The x-factor for this team could be Israeli freshman Nimrod Tishman. Tishman is a big point guard (listed at 6'5") that has drawn rave reviews after his performance at the U-18 World Championship (18.6 ppg 4.6 rpg, 2.4 apg, 53.3% 3's). Draft Express even compared him to Calathes given his size. Tishman, however, was rated just a three star recruit, so how much of an impact he truly has will be seen. Most importantly, he is another body in a back court that would otherwise go just three deep.
Outlook: The SEC is going to be much better than it was last season, when Florida went just 9-7 in the eastern division and failed to make the NCAA's. The Gators also lost their best player to pro ball in Greece. That said, this line-up has a ton of talent and potential. If Parsons and Macklin develop into above-average players at this level, Boynton turns out to be as good as advertised, and guys like Walker, Werner, and Tyus continue to improve, Florida could make some noise in the SEC. I'd expect 10 league wins and a tournament trip from this group.