Top 68 Team Previews: #10 Florida Gators
Kenny Boynton returns to a loaded backcourt. (Icon SMI)
By Mark Cunningham
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Last Season: 29-8 (13-3)
Key Losses: Chandler Parsons, Vernon Macklin, Alex Tyus
Head Coach: Billy Donovan
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Erving Walker 5-8 Sr.
SG: Kenny Boynton 6-2 Jr.
SG: Mike Rosario 6-3 Jr.
PF: Erik Murphy 6-10 Jr.
C: Patric Young 6-9 So.
Key Reserves: Bradley Beal 6-3 Fr. SG, Scottie Wilbekin 6-2 So. PG, Cody Larson 6-9 Fr. PF, Will Yeguete 6-7 So. PF, Casey Prather 6-6 So. SF
Gone from Gainesville are forwards Chandler Parsons, Vernon Macklin and Alex Tyus – three seniors who combined to average 32 points per game en route to Billy Donovan's fourth Elite Eight run. Parsons and Macklin were drafted in the second round of the NBA Draft by Houston and Detroit, respectively. Tyus is now playing overseas in Israel.
Arriving on campus are two players who undoubtedly give Florida the best backcourt in the nation: Bradley Beal and Mike Rosario. The latter name, college basketball fans recognize from 2008-10 at Rutgers. Rosario started all but four games as a Scarlet Knight during his freshman and sophomore seasons. While Rosario was accomplishing personal goals in Piscataway playing under Fred Hill, the team's struggles left much to be desired. Rutgers went 26-38 during the guard's two years on campus.
"The biggest thing that Florida offered me was, ‘We're going to win,'" Rosario said. "That's it: ‘We're going to win.' That's something that I've missed doing."
Who else will help Rosario win? Beal. The 6-foot-3 sharpshooter out of St. Louis has already drawn comparisons to the likes of Ray Allen and Hersey Hawkins. A recipient of the 2011 Gatorade National Player of the Year award, Beal is a leading candidate to take home the Wayman Tisdale Award as the nation's top freshman.
But wait, there are more reasons Rosario ended up in the Sunshine State. And both reasons are guards, which goes to show you just how unselfish Rosario is to trade being the marquee player for team success. Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker are the only returning starters from the squad that ended Jimmer Fredette's collegiate career. At 5-foot-8, Walker may be shorter than most of the men in attendance at the O'Dome. However, it's safe to say that he possesses a little more quickness than the average fan to make up for his small stature.
Boynton also has an explosive first step that he utilizes to get to the bucket with ease and capitalizes at the charity stripe with a team-best 82.3 percent clip. The second-team All-SEC selection also improved his ball handling skills as a sophomore. Backup point guard Scottie Wilbekin also takes care of the ball and provides tough-nose defense, but will have trouble finding playing time in such a crowded backcourt.
Will Donovan start four guards as Villanova's Jay Wright notoriously used with success five years ago with the likes of Randy Foye, Allan Ray, Kyle Lowry and Mike Nardi? The two-time National Champion hasn't given any indication of playing super small, but that doesn't eliminate the possibility. If the NCAA implemented a height limit of 75 inches, the Gators would surely be title favorites.
Unfortunately for Donovan, he will be forced to use forwards and centers. Fortunately, he has Patric Young, a member of last season's SEC All-Freshman Team. Young was used to spell Macklin last year, but will fill a much bigger role in 2011-12. His 31 blocks led all Gators despite playing just 17.8 minutes per game.
The offseason in Gainesville hit an early road block shortly after the Gators bowed out to Butler. Forwards Cody Larson and Erik Murphy were arrested for trying to break into a car in St. Augustine. Just last week, Donovan reinstated the pair after plea deals were reached. Murphy figures to play a more integral role in the Gators' success this season. The 6-foot-10 versatile big man was 12-for-30 behind the arc last season.
Even with a preseason top 10 ranking, Florida is still considered by many to be third in the Southeastern Conference behind Kentucky and Vanderbilt. But that doesn't mean the Gators can't surpass last year's successful March run. There will be a buzz among students in the "Rowdy Reptiles" – a much need buzz after what has turned into a disappointing football campaign. Rosario can afford to score less, yet more efficiently with such a loaded arsenal surrounding him. If Beal makes himself a household name heading into March, expect a repeat run to the Elite Eight at the very least.