Friday, October 21, 2011

2011-2012 Top 50 Countdown: No. 11 Florida Gators

Over the coming weeks, we will be counting down our Top 50 teams in the country. Teams 26-50 will be posted in groups of five, while we will count backwards from No. 25 to the No. 1 team in the country. You can find a complete schedule of our 2011-2012 Season Preview coverage here. To browse through the rest of the Top 50, click here.

Last Season: 29-8, 13-3 (1st SEC), lost to Butler in the Elite 8

Head Coach: Billy Donovan

Key Losses: Chandler Parsons, Vernon Macklin, Alex Tyus

Newcomers: Brad Beal, Walter Pitchford

Projected Lineup:

- G: Erving Walker, Sr.
- G: Kenny Boynton, Jr.
- G: Bradley Bear, Fr.
- F: Erik Murphy, Jr.
- C: Patric Young, So.
- Bench: Mike Rosario, Jr.; Cody Larson, Fr.; Will Yeguete, So.; Scottie Wilbekin, So.

Outlook: After the way that Florida started the season, I don't think many people would have predicted the way that it ended up. The Gators struggled early on in the year. They were embarrassed on national television by Ohio State in their first game of the season. Then they lost to UCF. Then they dropped a game to Jacksonville at home. With conference play bearing down, the Gators looked like they were doomed to once again disappoint with a talented team. But something clicked on New Year's Eve. Florida went to Cincinnati and knocked off Xavier, sparking a run through the SEC that didn't stop until the Gators were league champions -- by three games, no less, despite playing in the loaded Eastern Division. Florida had their fare share of postseason success as well, making it all the way to the SEC title game and taking a trip to the Elite eight, where they eventually were knocked off by Butler.

In 2010-2011, the Gators strength was their front court. Vernon Macklin and Alex Tyus provided size, athleticism and shot blocking inside while Chandler Parsons, who was the SEC Player of the Year, gave the Gators the kind of versatility and playmaking they needed on the perimeter. All three of those guys are gone, leaving a team that will be overloaded with back court talent next season.

There will be essentially five players in the back court for Florida this year -- senior Erving Walker, juniors Mike Rosario and Kenny Boynton, sophomore Scottie Wilbekin and freshman Bradley Beal. Walker will be the primary ball-handler to start, a role he has never quite appeared suited too. Walker's a natural scoring guard, but part of the reason that Florida experienced so much success in SEC play last season was his ability to embrace the role of being the facilitator offensively. Walker needs to be a playmaker and a distributor as much as he is a scorer, although he has proved that he can be a guy that is relied upon to make big shots in the clutch.

Rosario and Boynton are both very similar players to Walker in that they are volume shooters that need the ball in their hands to be effective. But, like Walker, neither are true point guards. Rosario is a transfer from Rutgers, where he was allowed free reign to shoot whenever and from wherever he liked. And while he will likely be playing the role of the hired gun off of the bench this season, that is still not a quality that you like to see out of one of your star back court players on a team with this much talent. Boynton is similar. He's not quite as good of a ball handler as either of those two, but he has no conscience when it comes to firing away from beyond the arc. He got much more consistent as the season went on, however, and upped his percentages. The other positive about Boynton is that he is a terrific on-ball defender.

Beal and Wilbekin will round out the Florida back court. Wilbekin is young, but he looked promising as a facilitator is his limited minutes as a freshman. Beal, on the other hand, will likely start, as he was one of the most sought after freshman in the country in high school. He's not an overwhelming athlete, but he can still get it to the rim if he needs to. Where Beal should help Florida the most is in the fact that he can score on the perimeter, and he doesn't needed to do. Beal thrives as a catch-and-shoot guy that excels at coming off of a screen.

The front court will be anchored by Patric Young, who is a freak of an athlete. Standing 6'9", 250 lb, the sophomore spent the summer playing with the U19 Team USA in Latvia. Young possesses the kind of size and athleticism that had some using the name "Dwight Howard" as a comparison when he was in high school. That may be a bit much, but if he ever adds touch around the bucket, he's already the kind of physical specimen that can change the game defensively and as a shot blocker. It will be interesting to see how he develops, considering that he is going to be relied on so heavily to carry the Florida front court.

Joining Young will be three players vying for the power forward spot. The most likely to start is probably junior Erik Murphy, a 6'10" big man with range out to the three point line. He's going to have to get tougher in the paint, but having a weapon like Murphy that is capable of spreading the floor will be important for Donovan's club. Will Yegeute, a sophomore, and Cody Larson, a redshirt freshman, are both physical players that will need to bring physicality to a team that doesn't have an overabundance of it.

There are two key issues here for Florida. This first is how they are able to divvy up the shots. There are four guys in their back court that are probably capable of scoring 15 ppg. Will they be able to handle sharing shots and making sure they get the ball to the hot hand? Will anyone else on the team be involved offensively? If Florida is struggling, can they avoid falling into the trap of playing one-on-one streetball?

The other issue is at the four. Does Donovan go with four guards? Can Murphy or Yeguete or Larson emerge as a reliable fifth starter? Depending on how those problems are solved, Florida will be competing with Vanderbilt for the right to call themselves the second best team in the SEC.

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