Team Preview: 2014 Florida Gators
By: Jonathan Salmon
2012-23 Record: 29-8 (14-4 in the SEC)
Coach: Billy Donovan (459-188, 424-168 at Florida)
Florida has not had an easy season so far. Three team suspensions, a bout of mononucleosis and two high ankle sprains on their point guards have slowed their progress. Bill Donovan, however, is up to the challenge. In his time so far with the Gators he has racked up three championships, two of them back-to-back, becoming the first coach since 1991 to achieve this.
When the whole team is together and firing on all cylinders, they can play. They are tough on the press and work well—hell, even flourish—under hectic midcourt play. This comes from their experience, plain and simple: Donovan has held on to eight players from last year, so they all know how he works and they know how the circuit works as well.
Strongside: Michael Frazier and his team both know what he does best, and that is shooting threes. The 6’4’’ guard from Montverde Academy has been hovering around 50 percent from beyond the arc (52.2) and is currently dropping 51.4 percent of his field goals.
Senior forward Casey Prather is already putting up 18.3 ppg, and his whopping 61.3 percent from the floor is actually below his average of 62.2 percent from last year, so it could only get better from here.
In Scottie Wilbekin the team has an experienced senior that can run the show. In his first game back against Jacksonville, the Gators’ transition game was much quicker and more organized. Florida’s offense with Wilbekin back has a flow that was sorely missing in his absence: in their win over JU the team shot 65.4 percent before the break and finished with 19 assisted buckets.
Weakside: The Gators have a nasty habit of giving their opponents opportunities to get back into games. They did it in their first game against North Florida, blowing an 18-point lead in the first half, and again with Florida State, allowing them to tie it up with just 28 seconds on the clock after leading by nine. This could come back to haunt them later when teams are more hungry.
In the matches in which they didn’t open a door, allowing the other team to waltz back into the game, they rode an unnecessarily close score until they pulled away. Before dropping Arkansas-Little Rock by 30 points, they let them hang around at a tied game until the second half.
Other than Frazier, this team has no clue what to do, either offensively or defensively, around the three-point line. In their first two games of the season, their opponents shot a ridiculous 40.9 percent from somewhere over that rainbow. In a tournament that is won and lost from this area, defense around here is crucial.
All Told: It’s hard to get a reading on this team just yet, what with all the missing players and all, but we are slowly starting to see what Florida can do with a full roster. The first game with their number one point guard running the show they obliterated Jacksonville 86-60. When the Gators can create turnovers rather than give them up, they win games. In their triumph against 13-ranked Kansas, Florida forced 24 and gave up just two. If they can keep their whole roster together for a stretch of games, Bill Donovan will easily be able to turn them into an Elite Eight team once again with much potential to reach farther than last year.
Born and raised somewhere in rural or urban Canada, Jon Salmon might have once been a cow herder in the American Midwest until he gave it all up for the glamorous life of writing. Little did he know that the career move would leave him economically destitute. If you see him, toss your dirtiest nickel or a half-eaten sandwich his way. All of his work is written with 1.89 litres of beer and a bag of dill sunflower seeds.