Youth Must Be Served

We are now 17 games into the 2010-11 basketball season and we pretty much know what we need to know about the Gator basketball team. Billy Donovan's squad has posted a 13-4 record overall with a 2-1 mark in the SEC. The Gators have shown they are capable of beating very good teams and equally capable of losing to rather mediocre ones.

Florida has played relatively consistent defense throughout the season with a few notable exceptions including an awful five minute stretch of the South Carolina game. The Gators are a good team on the boards, but lately that hasn't been the case as much either. But we know there are three keys to every Gator game this season and every game moving forward.

Turnovers ----- Shot Selection ----- Free Throw Shooting

If the Gators perform well in all three areas they win. If they are strong in one or two they have a battle on their hands. If they go 0-for-3, they have no chance. That's pretty much it.

Most Florida partisans are surprised and disappointed that this team seems to be very much like the last three Florida squads that have combined for one NCAA game and no wins. The Gators were expected to be stronger this year with a very talented freshman class providing quality depth for the returning starting five. And there's the problem.

Patric Young was the best player on the floor for the Gators against the Gamecocks, and the freshman big man got his 12 points and five rebounds in just 19 minutes on the court. That should be the last time Young gets less than 20 minutes out there. Scottie Wilbekin played 12 minutes while Casey Prather and Will Yeguete spent a combined 10 minutes on their feet.

Gator coach Billy Donovan is like most college head coaches in this regard. When the going gets tough, the bench gets shorter and shorter. While that's understandable, it's also counter productive. There is no debate that Florida's backcourt of Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton wore down as last season went into the latter stages and the Gators are setting themselves up for a similar fade this time around.

In three SEC games Walker (34.3), Boynton (35) and Chandler Parsons (35.7) are getting precious little rest. Those numbers are simply unsustainable. If the Gators are going to be SEC contenders and be a team with the energy and depth to make a post-season run they simply must give more playing time to the guys on its bench. Prather in particular has to spell both Parsons at the "3" and give Boynton and/or Walker a breather. Erik Murphy and Patric Young need more opportunities to show what they can do and help veterans Alex Tyus and Vernon Macklin be more effective and productive. I don't think the starting lineup should change, but I am convinced all five starters' minutes need to be cut back somewhat.

Florida basketball is in a down cycle, and if that's the price to pay for winning two straight NCAA Titles, it's a price that is well worth paying. But this year had all the promise of being a different season than the last three. And it still can be, as long as youth is served and the Gator bench gets to play a major role in the 13 remaining SEC games. And of course, it will help if the Gators limit turnovers, make free throws and have improved shot selection.

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