Heading into his 19th season at Florida, Donovan has been around teams with differing levels success. The bar has been raised by the last four seasons, with Florida making three straight Elite Eights before making the Final Four last season.
Consistent success at any program increases the expectations for each season, and that’s no different than Florida basketball. Donovan just wants to make there are realistic expectations for his team.
“I know what those (Final Four) kind of teams look like -- and we’re not one of those teams,” Billy Donovan said.
Soon after getting that sentence out of his mouth, Donovan was reminded by a reporter that he said the same thing before last season. The veteran coach was quick to point out that he was right -- the Gators went into last season with more questions than Donovan expected to have answers for. The team gelled together and broke through after three straight Elite Eights and made it to the Final Four.
But it wouldn’t have happened without growth.
Scottie Wilbekin returned from a suspension and turned into a leader on and off the court. Dorian Finney-Smith was also suspended at the start of the year and no one quite knew what Damontre Harris was doing.
This year’s team has questions, too. Chris Walker is suspended to start the year and Alex Murphy isn’t eligible to play until the middle of December because of NCAA transfer rules. The Gators don’t expect to have a post presence on the offensive end and have to find different ways to score.
“We evolved into a team and hopefully we can (this year),” Donovan said. “I think they understand that’s not where we are right now. It’s not. Guys from last year know what a really good defensive team looks like and we’re not there yet. The biggest from last year for me, which is great for this year's team, is there's a measuring stick, not in terms of leadership, but in terms of (defense). They have a pretty good idea what that looks like.
“I think the expectations in a lot of ways has been given to them based on what's happened in the past."
The defensive end is where most of Donovan’s concerns are. The Gators were sloppy on that end in an exhibition win over Barry University last week. In three scrimmages, Donovan said the Gators are allowing 82 points per game and 1.15 points per possession while opponents are shooting 48 percent from behind the 3-point line.
The standard that has been set at Florida on the defensive end isn’t being met as the season is set to begin. The good news for the Gators is that can improve throughout the year, just as it did last season. But there’s a long way for it to go this year.
“If that continues, it's hard for me to say we're the seventh-ranked team in the country, and this is not against high-level competition,” Donovan said.
WILLIAM & MARY: Last season, William & Mary went 19-12 and finished the year ranked No. 124 in the RPI. It’s a challenging opener for the Gators on Friday at 6 p.m. (TV: SEC Network), and Billy Donovan is concerned with Marcus Thornton, calling his as good as any guard Florida will face this year.
He averaged 18.7 points last season and creates problems with his 6-4, 190-pound frame.
“He’s really, really good,” Donovan said. “He can really score the ball, he’s got really good size, he’s got deep range, he can play in pick-and-roll, he can play in transition. He’s a special player.”
The Tribe brings a Princeton style offense to Gainesville on Friday, excelling with its passing and cutting. The Gators are preparing for an offense that is active and moves without the ball. William & Mary is efficient from behind the 3-point line and doesn’t stray outside of its scheme.
Forward Omar Prewitt is the only returner that scored in double figures last season (11.4 points), but Thornton will have the focus of the Florida defense.
“It’s going to be a team effort,” Frazier said. “(We) can’t have one guy on the island with him, going to have to be a team effort, going to have to help each other and communicate on defense, help them speed the game up a little bit and just do what we do.”