HOOPS: Tough Season To Predict

For the past seven years it became pretty easy to know what to expect from the Gator basketball team. Billy Donovan had consistent teams that always returned enough key pieces to make them a virtual lock for a 20-win season and NCAA Tournament bid.

That could have been the case this year had either Anthony Roberson or Matt Walsh decided to play his senior season. But neither did and Florida opens the season Wednesday night with far more questions than any recent Gator team.

What We Do Know

Florida will be a more athletic team in the press and half court defense. The development of Joakim Noah to go with Al Horford and Corey Brewer gives the chance for Florida to be extremely athletic in the front court. That should let them press a little bit more and be a better defensive team. They were much improved defensively a year ago and that progress should continue.

However, we also know the Gators will not be a deep team. When your backup guards are both freshmen and you essentially don't have a backup small forward you have depth issues. Fatigue shouldn't matter early but foul trouble certainly can and most likely will. I think starters Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey will be okay but the Gators need an awful lot from Walter Hodge. Anything they get from David Huertas is pretty much a bonus.

We know Florida's front court is plenty deep so if it's called tightly in the paint, UF is better equipped to deal with that. Once Adrian Moss is full go, he'll join Chris Richard giving Florida two strong big bodies coming off the bench. A healthy Moss means rookie Jimmy Sutton will play sparingly. If Florida's lone senior remains injury-plagued Sutton will have to contribute more minutes than he seems ready for.

There's Much We Don't Know

When your five starters combined for 25 points a game the previous season, you have one big question. Who is going to score? While the obvious answer is that all five of them should put more points on the board this year, the real question involved who will take the crucial sots? Can they make enough from long range to keep the paint open for Noah and Horford? Was Corey Brewer's strong finish (55 points in final five games) a harbinger of things to come? Can Lee Humphrey return to his sharp shooting of his first season (.470 FG, .439 from "3") instead of his less impressive numbers from last year (.400 FG, .370 from "3")? Even if he does, Walsh's 14.6 is not going to happen.

While much is expected from sophomore big man Al Horford, he scored only 41 points in his final 13 games last year (3.1 pg) and did not score in the two NCAA games. It's asking a lot for Horford to increase his scoring by eight points a game which is what it would take to replace David Lee's 13.6 from a year ago.

Another unknown is whether or not Florida can go more than seven deep. Can David Huertas, Jimmie Sutton and/or Brett Swanson give the Gators quality play from the end of the bench? A better question might be, can Derwin Kitchen get eligible for enrollment next semester? If so, how quickly can the talented Jacksonville Raines star earn playing time?

What To Look For This Week

The Gators play St Peter's Wednesday and then either Oakland or Albany the next. It'll be the first legit outside competition for Billy Donovan's completely remodeled roster. And it offers Florida the chance to add two bonus games in New York City next week if they win them both.

St Peter's poses an interesting challenge in that the Peacocks have the two-time NCAA scoring champ in Keydren Clark. The 5-10 senior guard averaged 25.8 last season and has a chance to become only the third player in Division I history to lead the nation in scoring three straight years. The others are Oscar Robertson and Pistol Pete Maravich.

Oakland shocked the Mid-Continent Conference last year when they took a 10-18 record into the tournament and then won the thing. Most of those players however are gone. Albany, however, is the favorite in the America East Conference.

The one thing all three of these teams appear to have is excellent guard play. And that's just what Florida needs to develop. How Green, Humphrey and Hodge fair in the first two games will be a good indicator of where this team is and how the pre-conference schedule might play out. A loss in either game could seriously injure the team's collective psyche.

Another thing I am going to watch carefully is how they handle the final five seconds on the shot clock to see which players want the ball and which ones seem to shy away.

But no matter what happens this week, this Florida basketball team will be a work in progress all the way to March more so than any of Donovan's previous nine Gator squads.


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