Louisville Will Speak Volumes About Gators

Billy Donovan's Basketball Team showed some vulnerability in its loss to the Miami Hurricanes last week. Saturday, those very Gators must show its adaptability in making the changes needed to contend with a top-flight opponent. When Louisville and Rick Pitino visit the O'Connell Center the Gators will have to show it's able to adapt to quicker, larger backcourt players than they have seen so far.

They will have to show they can adapt to more physical play from those same guards. And they will have to prove to a skeptical college basketball world that these Gators can be contenders throughout the campaign.

The Miami loss knocked the Gators out of both national polls for the first time in over five years. Combine that fact with the failure to advance beyond the second round for three straight NCAA Tournaments and it has the Gator program at more or less of a crossroads. Where is this program headed and how quickly will it get there?

It's funny, but it is a tribute to the phenomenal job Billy Donovan has done that this debate even takes place. Florida is one of 13 teams in the entire country that has qualified for the past six NCAA Tournaments and one of just two in the SEC. (Kentucky, of course) Still, greed is good and Gator fans are greedy for more high level success. With only FSU remaining as a legit challenge in the pre-conference schedule, a strong performance Saturday takes on added importance.

The guys to watch for Louisville are Francisco Garcia and Taquan Dean. They combined for 35 points, nine rebounds and eight steals in last year's 73-65 Cardinals victory. The Gator backcourt of Matt Walsh and Anthony Roberson, by comparison combined for just 11 points on 3-for-15 shooting. A draw in the backcourt makes Florida the favorite.

Another thing to watch will be the utilization of the Gator bench. Florida's reserves played sparingly in the second half of the Miami game and it will be interesting to see if Donovan trusts the subs to get the job done if the Louisville game is, as expected close throughout. I think it's a given Taurean Green will play significant minutes, so the question really focuses on the opportunities for guys like Al Horford, Chris Richard, Mohamed Abukar, Lee Humphrey and Joakim Noah.

Meticulous Meyer Nears Completion Of Staff

Urban Meyer is a detail guy from the word go, and it is that attention to detail which is making the completion of his coaching staff excruciatingly slow for Gator fans. But it's the best way to do it. While nothing is 100 percent confirmed at the writing of this column, it appears that Utah assistant John Hevesy, Bobby Gonzales and Dan Mullen will join up with holdover Mike Locksley to form the core of the offensive staff. Notre Dame Assistant Greg Mattison, Utah DB Coach Chuck Heater and Charlie Strong look like good bets for the defense, leaving two more slots.

One assistant will be added to each side of the ball. On offense either a second line coach that would include tight ends or a second receivers coach. It may still be possible for Dwayne Dixon to fit in here. Defensively a linebackers' coach makes the most sense, but someone to handle safeties could be brought in since Meyer has split the DB coaching in the past.

Either way I think it's important to note the new Gator Head Coach was able to squeeze in a day of recruiting in between his hiring, the College Football Awards Show in Orlando and the Heisman Trophy Ceremony in New York. By now Meyer must know linebacker is the greatest weakness on this club in terms of total numbers eve if Channing Crowder does return. Offensive line and corner would be next on my list, followed by the defensive line.

Florida, by my count should have room for a full recruiting class of 25 players. If the numbers are right, the Gators will be in their best position in several years in terms of class and positional balance.

A Couple From The E-Mail Bag

JW in Tallahassee writes: "We often heard about Ron Zook being a "player's coach" whatever that means. Some seem to feel, especially after comments from a couple of players that RZ might have been running a loose ship when coming to discipline. What are your thoughts on that and do you think quite a few players will therefore not buy into the Urban Meyer philosophy and be leaving?"

First, JW defining a "player's coach" is tough to do with any kind of universal agreement. To me it indicates someone who is more friend than boss, more likely to go to bat for you than to punish you. Yes, I think Zook had several lapses in terms of discipline including the non-disciplining of the players who violated his directive and started up the frat gate incident which became such a tempest around here. Players who have messed up in the past should clearly understand there will be stiffer penalties for similar offenses in the future. Will some quit as a result? Maybe a couple, but not many.

A Utah Gator Wrote: "About a year ago after reading that Dr. Machen had left the Utah for Florida I was watching the Gators play their bowl game and grumbling about Zook and his "try not to lose" approach to football. My father-in-law says, "well, if your school fires Zook who are they gonna go for?" And without hesitation, I said Urban Meyer. He has a pretty simple formula. Take the best players and coaches you can get and then prepare them better than your opponents prepare theirs."

Well, I had the same reaction with the Presidential switch from the standpoint that Meyer just became a candidate for the next UF opening regardless. As I learned more about him (Meyer) and his methods and his results I became more and more of a fan.

I wouldn't call his approach simple, however. He has a unique, complicated offense which others coaches have praised as being very difficult to prepare for in a week. Defensively they seem to be straightforward and aggressive. I look forward to seeing both units in action this spring and beyond.

Have a good one folks… see you next week

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