Visit the online store for Florida and other editions of the 2012-13 Athlon Sports College Basketball annual.
The first practices of college basketball season begin in mid-October, and Athlon Sports 2012-13 preview annuals are starting to arrive on newsstands all over the country.
To prepare for the start of college basketball season, we will preview one team each weekday, counting down to the first official day of basketball practice on Oct. 15, or for some teams on Oct. 12.
We begin our countdown with No. 20 Florida.
Losing 11-point leads in the second half in the Elite Eight in back-to-back seasons stings. But so does playing in the NIT, where Florida found itself in both 2008 and ’09.
Clearly, the Gators have returned to elite status. But can they take the next step? Can this program, which won back-to-back national titles in the mid-2000s, emerge as a legitimate threat to return to the Final Four?
“We’ll have to create an identity in the backcourt,” veteran coach Billy Donovan says. “We have experience in the frontcourt, but when you lose a top-three pick (Bradley Beal) and starting point guard (Erving Walker) it changes the complexion of your team.”
Two years ago, Florida was a force inside, led by the frontline of Vernon Macklin, Chandler Parsons and Alex Tyus. Last year, the Gators lived by the 3-pointer. Might this year be a combination of both? “We’ve got some experienced pieces coming back,” Donovan says. “I like this team.”
There was speculation that Patric Young might leave for the NBA. But Young, one of the most imposing players in college basketball, is aware that he has to work on his offensive game and believes another season at Florida will serve him well. He was solid as a sophomore — he averaged 10.2 points and shot 61.8 percent from the field — but sometimes struggled with his conditioning as he took on a larger role.
Erik Murphy, a 6-10 face-up power forward, is back for his second season as a starter. Murphy has always been able to shoot 3s (41.7 percent in his career), but he improved his inside game last year and led the team with 37 blocked shots.
Florida needs to keep Will Yeguete, a 6-7 junior, healthy. He isn’t much of a threat on the offensive end of the floor — he scored six points or fewer in 11 of his 12 SEC games — but Yeguete makes a huge difference defensively as the point man on the Gators’ press. He missed the final nine games last season with a stress fracture in his left foot.
One player to watch is Casey Prather, a 6-6 swingman who played his best basketball of the season in the NCAA Tournament. Prather, perhaps the team’s best athlete, scored a career-high 14 points in the 71–45 win over Virginia. His emergence would give the Gators a valuable weapon off the bench.
Cody Larson, a 6-9, 231-pound third-year sophomore, has played sparingly in his time in Gainesville.
Related: SEC coach rankings
Kenny Boynton struggled a bit down the stretch, but his junior season was his most productive as a Gator. His scoring average jumped from 14.2 points per game as a sophomore to 15.9 even though he attempted fewer shots. His 3-point shooting has improved from 29.4 percent as a freshman to 33.1 as a sophomore to 40.7 last season.
Florida expects better overall play from Mike Rosario, a transfer from Rutgers who struggled in his first season in the SEC. Rosario averaged more than 16 points in each of his two seasons at Rutgers but shot less than 40.0 percent from the field. In a limited role last season, he averaged 6.6 points with the Gators. He needs to limit his turnovers and improve his defense.
Scottie Wilbekin, who skipped his final season of high school to enroll at UF two years ago, likely will take over for Walker as the starting point guard. Wilbekin has a great handle and is the best perimeter defender on the team, but he will have to be more assertive on the offensive end of the court as his role increases.
The depth will have to come from a freshman class that includes three guards. Braxton Ogbueze, a 4-star point guard from Charlotte, is the best bet to play major minutes.
Florida has the pieces in place to contend with Kentucky for the top spot in the SEC. The Gators, however, must stay healthy and will need more productivity from two key juniors — Young up front and Wilbekin at the point — and for Boynton to score as efficiently as he did in ’11-12. A lack of size will still be an issue, but Donovan has proven that he can win with a perimeter-oriented attack. Anything short of a return to the Sweet 16 — or beyond — will be a disappointment.