Florida basketball has a lot to live up to following a great 2013-14 season, and here are some key questions for 2014-15.
1. Is Kasey Hill ready to assume the leadership role?
We all know what Scottie Wilbekin meant to the Florida basketball team. Whenever games were close for the 2014 SEC Champion Florida basketball team, Wilbekin was the guy who was called on to deliver the big shot. Now he’s gone.
Sophomore Kasey Hill has a little different kind of game. Wilbekin was fast, but Hill’s game is even faster and more up and down the court. He gets to the rim a lot quicker than anyone else on the floor. The big question for Hill is whether he has improved his jump shot. If he can make the outside shot, he will be that much more of a threat in the half court, as defenders will come out to guard him, and he can then make a move to the basket to score or dish the ball.
2. Will the Gators have a consistent scorer to balance with Michael Frazier III?
Casey Prather and Wilbekin were the guys last year. Prather came into his own a bit as a shooter, and Wilbekin also hit a lot of big-time shots from behind the arc. Someone has to fill that role this year… or should we say a few guys?
Guards Chris Chiozza (FR), Dillon Graham (SO), and Eli Carter (JR) come to mind when it comes to shooting. Chiozza is more of a driver along the lines of Hill, but he does have a better shot. Graham is coming back from double hip surgery but has worked hard to get back into gear, and if he can find his shot, he could be a weapon from deep. Carter is also battling recovery from injury and may not be completely healthy this year, but he should play and he is a solid three-point shooter.
Forwards Alex Murphy (JR) and Devin Robinson (FR) are mold breakers in that they are big bodies but can shoot the ball really well when they are on. Like his older brother Erik Murphy, Alex is tall and difficult for teams to guard outside. The same goes for Robinson, a 5-star prospect who has a lot of tools that are uncommon in big men.
These two guys will be asked to play in the low post and do the dirty work on the defensive end following the departure of the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. Young really never gobbled up stats and rebounds; he just made it difficult for opposing post players to get underneath the basket, so the ball hardly showed up down there. Walker and Horford are better offensive players, so maybe they can make up some of the lost defensive presence on the offensive end, and both are real shot-blockers; when opponents’ shots are taken down low, they will be rejected more often.
Young was athletic, but Walker is a super athletic big man who can jump out of the gym. Horford is a very nice rebounder with long arms, and although he doesn’t have the physique of Young, he plays tough down in the post.
4. Can the Gators get to the same level of defensive intensity as in past years?
The Gators ranked in the top five in the NCAA for the last two years in a ton of defensive categories; the trademark of recent teams at Florida has been the defensive side of the ball. The issue isn’t ability for these 2014-15 Gators, it is about playing together and building cohesion that will allow them to play a more smothering defense.
They likely will be different in that they should press even more than in the past. This is a longer and faster group, with a few guys who can defend the basket deep and allow four others to press. Chris Walker, Dorian Finney-Smith, Jon Horford, and Alex Murphy are all very long players who can be disruptive across the court and can be goal defenders on the break as well.
Hill is fast and furious and has elite quickness. Michael Frazier is about as long as it gets at the shooting guard position. There is a lot of ability in this group to be a big-time defensive squad, but it is going to take time to mesh. There are a lot of new pieces which must be fit together.
5. Is there enough depth to make it until December, when Alex Murphy is scheduled to be available?
Murphy transferred in from Duke and actually played at the beginning of last year. Because of that he is currently scheduled to miss the first semester, but should be able to play sometime in mid-December. UF is going to appeal that in hopes of a November return, but he will likely miss some time, no matter the result of the appeal.
With Murphy out and sophomore John Egbunu having to sit out this season as well as a transfer, the front court isn’t overly rich with bodies. Walker, Horford, Robinson, and Finney-Smith will have to hold down the fort as a foursome until Murphy can play. There will be lots of times where three of these guys will be on the floor at once.
6. How long will it take to get cohesion on offense?
Gator coach Billy Donovan runs as many offensive sets as anyone in the country. With that in mind, the Gators have to get the new guys on the same page. Horford in particular hasn’t been on campus very long. The freshmen also will have to learn quickly.
Walker was slow to pick things up last year, so you have to wonder if that is going to be an issue again this year. Hill, Finney-Smith and Frazier must step up their leadership game in order to get things cranking on offense.
If there is any solace, it is that Murphy has been on campus for a year and Horford is an older, experienced player who has seen a lot of basketball in his time. Every bit of it will be needed.
PLEASE NOTE: This Story Appears in the WINTER 2014 ISSUE OF FIGHTIN GATORS MAGAZINE