A look at the Florida Gators

Scout.com went to its experts at each of the 12 SEC schools to put together preseason scouting reports for all the league teams while also polling our writers to determine their picks to win the division titles. Here is a look at the Florida Gators.

By David Stirt

Fightin’ Gators Magazine


Despite starting the 2007-08 season with tempered expectations after losing the top six players off their back-to-back national championship squads, the Florida Gators managed to roar out to an 18-3 record, leaving a lot of people believing that a 10th straight NCAA Tournament berth was a lock.


Then reality set in.


The rugged Southeastern Conference schedule finally exposed the squad's youth and inexperience in the final six weeks of the season as the Gators limped home with a 3-7 mark in the last 10 regular-season games, lost an opening round SEC Tournament game to Alabama and suddenly were forced to watch as 65 other teams were placed in the NCAA Tournament bracket on selection Sunday last March.


Despite the disappointment of not making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a decade, Florida managed to acquit itself well in the NIT, winning three games and earning a trip to New York before losing in the semifinals to UMass. While the 24-win season matched the sixth-highest victory total in school history, the fact that a couple more SEC wins would have been enough to keep the Gators' NCAA Tournament streak alive meant the season was a mixed bag of success.


Considering last year's squad included no seniors and only one junior among its nine scholarship players, the chance to make a quick rise back into SEC championship contender status this season seemed likely. But that excitement was tempered a bit in the offseason when sophomore center Mareese Speights decided to enter the NBA Draft after a solid season in which he averaged 14.5 points and 8.1 rebounds despite playing only 24 minutes per game.


With Speights returning in the middle, Florida would have been a solid favorite to win the SEC East, contend for the SEC title and possibly play its way into a top 10 national ranking. Without Speights, the Gators still return four starters, nearly 80 percent of their scoring and the bulk of the squad that did produce 24 wins last year despite having three freshmen who played more than 20 minutes per game and another who averaged nearly 13 minutes per contest.


Leading the returnees is SEC Co-Freshman-of-the-Year Nick Calathes, who led the league in assists, setting a new UF record with 221, yet still managed to use his own scoring abilities to lead the Gators with 15.3 points per game. The 6-6 sophomore was one of only two players in the nation to average more than 15 points, 6.0 assists and 5.0 rebounds per game last season. Calathes will be counted on to be the focal point of the offense again this season.


But the sophomore guard should have plenty of offensive firepower around him.


Fellow Winter Park Lake Howell High School teammate Chandler Parsons displayed tremendous offensive skills as a freshman (8.1 points in 21 minutes per game), and the 6-9 forward has added some strength (now at 208 pounds) so he can deal better with the physical inside play offered up in the SEC.


Walter Hodge, the lone senior on the squad, averaged 10.4 points last season (11.2 in SEC play) and will provide the veteran leadership needed in the backcourt. Sophomore Jai Lucas started all 36 games last season and averaged 8.5 points per game while shooting 43.5 percent from three-point range.


The only other upperclassman among the Gators' 13 scholarship players is Dan Werner, a 6-9 junior who will once again be asked to handle the dirty work inside while trying to regain an outside shooting touch that abandoned him for most of last season.


The element that may go the furthest in helping the Gators return to the NCAA Tournament is the competition in practice that will be provided by the addition of five freshmen and Georgetown transfer Vernon Macklin.


The rugged, 6-9, 227-pound Macklin will redshirt this year, but his presence on the practice court should help accelerate the growth of freshmen inside players Kenny Kadji (6-10), Eloy Vargas (6-10) and Allan Chaney (6-8). Unless the Gators plan on using Werner and 6-7 sophomore Alex Tyus in the post on a regular basis, one or two of the freshmen will need to step in and contribute immediately.


Add freshman wingman Ray Shipman (the 2008 Florida Mr. Basketball) and quick New York City point guard Erving Walker, and Billy Donovan should have enough options to return to the all-out, up tempo game on both ends of the court that the Gators parlayed into a pair of national titles.



Predicted Order of Finish (Voted on by SEC Publishers)


SEC East

1. Tennessee

2. Florida

3. Kentucky

4. Vanderbilt

5. South Carolina

6. Georgia


SEC West

1. Alabama

2. LSU

3. Ole Miss

4. Mississippi State

5. Arkansas

6. Auburn


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