VETTEL: Gator Hoops at Ten

When the season began ten games back there were nothing but questions surrounding the Florida Gator Basketball team. Well after sitting courtside to broadcast all ten contests on television, I can tell you what we've learned.

Not much.

Well, that might not be entirely true; but we certainly haven't learned enough to have a good feel for how this team will fare when SEC action begins after the first of the year. The Gators have posted a 9-1 record, which is certainly a good sign. However the weakness of the Florida schedule makes it difficult to know how much to read into their play. Still, the ten games are what we have to go on, so let's give it a shot.

Positives

This team has plenty of skill. The freshmen have a good feel for how to play the game and seem to have meshed well with the four returning players. The Gators are an excellent shooting team (54% FG, 42% 3-pt.) that should be able to score against most teams. The Gators are also excellent passers as evidenced by 19 assists per game. That number also indicates that this team is following the example of its predecessors in being unselfish.

Individually you have to start with Nick Calathes who is the closest thing to Mike Miller that I've seen in seven years. Calathes not only leads the Gators in scoring (15.6), he tops the teams in assist (60) and steals (15). Calathes improving as a rebounder (3.6) and shoots the ball well in all categories. His former Lake Howell High School teammate Chandler Parsons gives the Gators a unique player. Parsons shoots like a two-guard but is an unusually tall for a small forward. He's third on the team in scoring (11.1) and rebounding (4.6) and should become a significant player as he gains strength.

Marreese Speights has not played like the lottery pick he was foolishly labeled as prior to the start of the season, but he has played well. Speights is producing on offense (14.3) and defense (8.0 rebounds, 19 blocks) but has the ability to do even more. Soon he'll be facing stronger, more athletic big men game in and game out and he'll have to respond to those challenges for the Gators to be competitive.

Dan Werner (6.7/6.7) has been contributing points and rebounds while Jai Lucas and Walter Hodge combine for 20 points and five assists a night. Alex Tyus (6.7/3.0) and Adam Allen (7.9/1.7) have shown potential but must be more consistent, especially on the glass. Jonathan Mitchell has played well a couple of times, but needs to do more every night.

Negatives

Florida's opponents are a combined 29-and-47 with only one of them, Florida State looking like a post-season team. North Dakota State was a solid win and while Rutgers was disappointing. As a result this team has not been challenged enough in the first ten games. The Gators' average halftime score is 45-27; and that's no way to find out how you will handle adversity.

We don't know, for example how the new look Gators will handle a tight game in the final four minutes. Who will they turn to for the big shot? Will he make it? Can Florida stand up to a more physical team and compete with them possession to possession for 40 minutes? Will they?

The one time the Gators faced a physical backcourt was against FSU and the Gators backed down, tried to avoid contact and settled for taking way too many three point shots. It'll be instructive to see how they respond the next time they are in that situation.

Looking Ahead

The rest of the pre-conference schedule will be a good bit tougher than what Florida has seen so far. The next five games feature teams with a combined 20-17 record; which is far better than the mark their previous opponents have managed. Florida will face a solid Georgia Southern team its next time out, and while Ohio State is just 3-4 the Buckeyes will certainly provide a significant challenge on December 22.

Billy Donovan had not choice but to schedule this team for a number of easy wins in order to evaluate his team and build some confidence. There's no doubt the schedule has been weaker than expected with Rutgers not really competing and Vermont losing three guys they expected to be starters. Still the Gators should head into SEC play with 12-14 wins. An 8-8 SEC record would secure a tenth straight 20-win season and NCAA bid, but it's far from a sure thing.

Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Larry Vettel


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