There is a reason you play exhibition games before the basketball regular season begins and that is because they create teaching moments. For seventh ranked Florida, Thursday night’s 79-70 win over Division II Barry College will provide a learning lab for the next seven days as the Gators prepare for their season opener with William and Mary on November 14.
Conditioning was somewhat of a problem as the Gators played the game at less than full strength with only eight scholarship players plus reliable senior walk-on Jacob Kurtz available. When the games begin for real next week, it will be another two games before Chris Walker is available. He served the first of his three-game suspension against Barry and won’t play until November 21 when Louisiana-Monroe comes to town. Alex Murphy, the transfer from Duke, won’t be eligible to play until December 14 when the Gators play host to Jacksonville. Brandone Francis is academically ineligible to play this year and DeVon Walker will miss the season rehabbing a torn ACL.
But, even playing shorthanded, the Gators should have fared better. There were lapses on the defensive end, some lead feet when it came to chasing down rebounds, an inability to convert Barry turnovers into points and too much reliance on the 3-point shot. The Gators hit five of their first six 3-balls but that turned out to be fool’s gold as they became enamored with launching the long ball far too early in the shot clock rather than work the ball for a better shot.Billy Donovan. It’s the fact that so many of the 3-ball attempts were uncontested. There were far too many wide open looks.
Offensively, the Gators only shot 41.8% on 28-67 shooting but they were 16-30 on 2-point shots. After starting the game hot from the 3-point line, things cooled off considerably. Florida finished the game 12-37 (32.4%) and was only 5-18 in the second half. Michael Frazier, who hit three of his first four 3-pointers in a 15-point first half, missed eight consecutive 3-pointers and went scoreless in the second half.
Perhaps the greatest concern for Donovan was the rebounding. Barry, with only one starter taller than 6-6, out-rebounded the Gators 42-39 and 13 rebounds came on the offensive end, many because the Gators missed block out assignments or else were slow to track down the ball.
There were bright spots, however.
Eli Carter, who got a medical redshirt last year because his broken leg was slow to heal, came through with a team high 21 points, hitting 5-9 from the 3-point line. On the negative side, Carter turned the ball over three times and had only one assist. Carter scored 799 points in a little more than a season and a half at Rutgers.
Dorian Finney-Smith, last year’s Sixth Man of the Year in the SEC, had a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Finney-Smith hit 3-5 of his 3-point shots and also contributed two blocked shots and a steal while playing four of the five positions on the floor.
Sophomore point guard Kasey Hill scored seven points and had eight assists but he turned the ball over three times and was only 1-3 from the foul line.
Jon Horford looked awkward at times on the offensive end, but he contributed 10 rebounds to go with his five points plus he had three assists, one blocked shot and two steals.
Coming off the bench, Kurtz helped out with six points and two rebounds in 17 minutes.
Freshman point guard Chris Chiozza looked very good in press defense while contributing four points, three assists and no turnovers. He had a spectacular alley oop pass to fellow freshman Devin Robinson late in the game and then followed that up with a steal that he converted into a layup. Robinson missed his first eight shots before hitting a 3-ball and then scoring on the dunk on the pass from Chiozza.
Probably the best thing to come out of the game was the tape. Donovan and his staff will dissect it overnight and then go into an immediate teaching mode. This is a talented group that can be every bit as good as the preseason #7 ranking but they aren’t there yet. The Gators still have some conditioning work to do and they still have to figure out the kind of effort Donovan demands on the defensive end of the floor.
There is little doubt the Gators are going to be able to put the ball in the basket. With Carter there to balance the floor, the Gators can stretch defenses when Frazier is on the other wing. Hill has the quickness to get into the lane and Finney-Smith’s versatility will be critical. If Finney-Smith can consistently knock down 3-point shots while playing the high post or even during stretches when he’s at center, the offense will open up for everyone.
But, like last season, the Gators are going to be shorthanded for awhile and until they have all the pieces in place, there are going to be some dicey moments.