The Florida Gators. Picked to finish SECOND in the Eastern Division of the SEC.
Overcoming a series of major injuries in 2000-2001, the Florida Gators held on to tie for first in the SEC Eastern Division with a conference record of 12-4. After defeating Alabama, they were eliminated from the SEC tournament by Mississippi. In the NCAA tournament, a win over Western Kentucky was followed by a crushing loss to Temple, and a final overall record of 24-7. Starting senior forward Brent Wright (12.7 ppg, 6.2 rebounds) went out with an injury after 20 games. Sophomore guard Justin Hamilton played in only 14 games before going out. Junior guard Teddy Dupay missed seven games. For a team that used only ten players to begin with, these losses produced severe problems. From that team the Gators lose only Wright and one other senior, defensive specialist Major Parker (5.1 ppg), and they bring in only three newcomers, two of them among the highest-rated freshmen in the country. So, once again, Coach Billy Donovan finds himself with high quality material, but not as much depth as many other teams.
All-SEC first teamer Brett Nelson is back for his junior year. Nelson averaged 15.3 ppg, made a dazzling 45.3% of his three-pointers, and led the team in assists (133) and steals (59). As point guard, he directs the offense and had a respectable assists to turnover ratio last year. Once again he should be the best guard in the conference. His running mate is 5'11" senior Teddy Dupay (13.4 ppg, 37.1% on three-pointers). Like Nelson, Dupay hit a high percentage of his free throws (81.7%); he is as tough and competitive as they come. Justin Hamilton, 6'3" junior, may start some games instead of Dupay; he is a good player, who is not the scorer (6.6 ppg, 25.8% three-point shooting) that Dupay is, but he can better defend tall opponents. Another experienced guard is 6'4" junior Ladarius Halton (3.2 ppg), who returned to action last year after setting out a season because of injuries. Halton, a prodigious scorer in high school, has had to adjust to being a role-player at Florida. Swingman Orien Greene, 6'4" sophomore, played 591 minutes last season and averaged 3.4 ppg. He is the player who missed a running layup that would have tied the game just before the buzzer ended the Vanderbilt-Florida meeting in Gainesville. Greene is a good passer; he was second on the team in assists (85) and second in steals, but his shooting (35.4% overall, 25% from three-point territory) never came around.
The Gators have probably the best incoming freshman in the SEC, forward David Lee. Lee, from Chaminade College Prep HS in St. Louis MO, is 6'8" and weighs 215 lbs, and is most suited to the power forward position. However that position is already occupied by a very competent junior, Matt Bonner, who is 6'9" and weighs 235 lbs. Bonner averaged 13.3 points and led the Gators in rebounding (7.7 per game).
He is a good outside shooter (38.1% on three-point efforts). However, Bonner may also be the backup center, and either Lee or Bonner may sometimes drop back to the wing forward position, allowing both to get ample playing time. The man who is likely to get the most time at wing forward is freshman James White, 6'6", 195 lbs, from Hargrave Military Academy. White is on a par with Lee in ability, and is destined to be a star in the SEC. Donovan can also call upon another useful player at forward, slender 6'9" sophomore Bonell Colas (3.0 ppg, 2 rebounds). Also available will be freshman Adrian Moss (6'9", 225 lbs), from Fork Union Military Academy. Moss committed to Southwest Texas State, but decided to leave when the head coach took another position. His status for 2001-2002 was at first uncertain, but it appears that he will be allowed to play.
Another first team SEC selectee returns to play the center position. He is 6'8", 265 lbs senior Udonis Haslem, who will be a fourth-year starter. Haslem was the leading scorer on last year's team (16.8 ppg) second in rebounding (7.5 per game), and first in blocked shots (31). He is the classic "wide body" under the basket who takes up a lot of space and screens out opponents. His only problem is that he fairly often gets into early foul trouble and has to go to the bench for a long period of game time. The Gators have no other centers, which is where Matt Bonner comes back into the picture. With Brett Wright gone, Bonner's size makes him the logical choice to plug the hole. Colas is sometimes listed as a center, but he is too slender to be relied upon much at the position. Incidentally, Donovan had signed a tremendous prospect, 6'11" Kwame Brown, for center, but he entered the NBA draft and was snappped up quickly.
The Gators have several players of near All-American ability (Nelson, Haslem, and potentially Lee and White). Donovan and most of the players have been highly successful in the past and psychological factors are working in the team's favor. The Gators play an aggressive defense that gives the opposition a lot of trouble, and that should continue. They have excellent three-point shooting. They get strong fan support and are hard to beat at home (which didn't keep Vanderbilt from winning there last year).
If Moss is not available, there will be only ten scholarship players on the team. If injuries come again, the Gators will be vulnerable, as they were last year.
Staying healthy. If the Gators don't have another run of serious injuries, they should finish second in the East, and could easily beat out Kentucky for first.