Gator Hoops Opens at No. 19

Billy Donovan's 13th season with the Gator Basketball team will begin with Florida ranked in the nation's top 20. The Gators took the No. 19 spot in the USA Today pre-season coaches' poll. Tennessee (No. 13) is the only other SEC team to earn a top 25 spot, while LSU, Kentucky and Vanderbilt all received votes.

Florida is coming off a disappointing 24-12 season that saw the Gators' run of NCAA Tournament appearances end at nine.

The Gators return every player from that team with the exception of center Marreese Speights (14.5/8.1) whose ability to score in the low post will certainly be missed. The Gators do return 63 points and 28 rebounds a night, which is a whole lot more than they had coming back a year ago.

This Gator team will be led by Nick Calathes who earned freshman All American honors with his 15.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 6.1 assists. He'll be helped out by Walter Hodge (10.4), Dan Werner (9.1/6.4), Jai Lucas (8.5) and Chandler Parsons (8.1/4.0).

That group will be helped out by a freshman class that is ranked ninth in the nation and tops among SEC schools. Florida will have a taller, more athletic front court with the additions of Kenny Kadji (6-10), Eloy Vargas (6-10) and Allan Chaney (6-8). The backcourt gets a boost with swing man Ray Shipman (6-5) and speedy point guard Erving Walker (5-8). The added length and depth should allow Florida to be a full-court pressing team more than they have been in several years.

For the Gators to return to the NCAA Tournament they have to rebound better than they did a year ago. In 17 games against SEC teams Florida grabbed just one more rebound than their opponents. The Gators also must defend better, especially from three point range. In those same 17 games Gator opponents made 38 percent of their long range shots.

We'll get our first look at Donovan's new squad tonight when the Gators play an exhibition against Warner Southern and again on Thursday when Rollins College comes to town.

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