Apr 4, 2014, 5:36 PM EDT
ARLINGTON, Texas — Early on this season, there was not a team in the country that was dealing with more question marks on their roster than the Florida Gators.
Scottie Wilbekin, who has since turned into an all-american and the most valuable player on Florida, was suspended for the first five games of the season. It was the second time in an eight month span that Wilbekin was separated from the program for a violation of team rules. Dorian Finney-Smith was suspended for the first two games of the season for violating team rules as well. Chris Walker had to sit out the first 21 games of the season as he waited to get cleared by the NCAA to play. Damontre Harris isn’t even a part of the team.
And all that is before you factor in their injury issues. Kasey Hill has missed seven games this season, four because of an ankle injury in the first month of the season. Casey Prather missed a couple of games in the middle of the season. Eli Carter played in just seven games before he was shut down this season.
That’s a lot of turmoil to dump on a team during the first month of the season, and while it cost them a couple of games early in the year, the games that the Gators played without some of their key pieces in the lineup ended up being one of the keys to their success this season.
Florida’s a team that is built around their ability to defend; they’re No. 1 on KenPom in defensive efficiency, and while they are still top 20 in offensive efficiency, this isn’t a team that is loaded with NBA-caliber scorers. There’s a chance that the only guy on this roster that will end up playing in the NBA (Chris Walker) is currently averaging all of 4.0 minutes per game. Their success is centered around the fact that they are as balanced as any team in the country, that there simply is not a weak link for them on the offensive end of the floor.
And that is the result of players being forced into roles that they were unaccustomed to early in the season.
“It definitely helped me out knowing that I could score and do what I could do because I been doing it early in the season,” Prather said. “I could carry that throughout the season. I think the biggest thing was proving that we could win without a person.”
“It gave some guys more confidence because they had to do more,” Hill added.
Prather is the best example. The 6-foot-6 forward couldn’t get off the bench his first two seasons in Gainesville and was nothing more than an oft-injured role player as a junior, but midway through December he was post all-american caliber numbers. He was top ten in our Player of the Year rankings for half the year as he was averaging more than 17 points at one point during the season. His scoring role decreased throughout the season as Wilbekin became a focal point of their offense and Michael Frazier became a more consistent shooter, but that didn’t change the fact that he had the confidence to be a threat offensively.
“I would like to have four to six guys in double figures,” head coach Billy Donovan said Friday, “because you don’t know what a team is going to try to take away from you. When a team takes certain things away from you, you still have to be able to have other guys step up in different situations and provide offense.”
It’s not just Prather, either.
Hill had two of his best games of the season while Wilbekin was suspended, scoring 15 points in a win over North Florida and notching 14 points, six assists and five steals as the Gators beat Arkansas-Little Rock. He didn’t score in double figures again this season until the opening round of the NCAA tournament, as he finished with 10 points and was the sparkplug for a pivotal run that allowed Florida to pull away after Albany tied the game in the second half.
“All we need is five guys and we’re going to compete,” Finney-Smith said. “Give us any five off our team and I feel like we’re going to win.”
Aug 27, 2015, 9:45 PM EDT
The 6-foot-6 Canadian averaged 9.1 points and 3.0 rebounds per game last season.
Aug 27, 2015, 9:27 PM EDT
Georgetown, Georgia Tech and Saint Joseph’s failed to make the cut for the New Jersey native.
Aug 27, 2015, 7:43 PM EDT
Early favorite Maryland and reigning champion Wisconsin both open league play at home.
Aug 27, 2015, 4:44 PM EDT
Williams’ arraignment on first degree suspicion of forgery charges was postponed until September 2.
Aug 27, 2015, 3:35 PM EDT
Gabriel is a five-star prospect with offers from Kentucky and Duke.
Aug 27, 2015, 2:04 PM EDT
Dambrot is the head coach at Akron.
Aug 27, 2015, 12:15 PM EDT
Westbrook wasn’t a top 25 prospect in high school. He was a top three player in the NBA last year.
Aug 27, 2015, 10:50 AM EDT
It’s the first preseason all-american team that we’ve seen this summer.
Aug 27, 2015, 9:41 AM EDT
Zeller handed out a warning. Michael McRobbie was a bit more upset.
Aug 26, 2015, 10:38 PM EDT
Frank Jackson will take an official visit to one of the four schools this weekend.
Aug 26, 2015, 9:31 PM EDT
Bryn Forbes scored 18 points to lead a balanced scoring attack for the Spartans.
Aug 26, 2015, 7:35 PM EDT
Michael McRobbie’s address came two days after Emmitt Holt and Thomas Bryant were cited for illegal possession of alcohol.
Aug 26, 2015, 5:41 PM EDT
Seton Hall AD said his coaches haven’t had to deal with negative recruiting re: cost of attendance stipends, but he’s ready to act if so.
Aug 26, 2015, 3:23 PM EDT
Lauren Hill raised more than $1.8 million for pediatric cancer research before she passed away.
Aug 26, 2015, 12:06 PM EDT
Get a look at potential No. 1 pick Ben Simmons.
Aug 26, 2015, 11:45 AM EDT
He’s still the second-highest paid Pitino in the coaching world.
Aug 26, 2015, 10:51 AM EDT
A battle between Kentucky and Kansas headlines this event.
Aug 26, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT
There’s really nothing more important than that for a 10-year old boy.
Aug 25, 2015, 10:30 PM EDT
Class of 2016 point guard Jaylen Fisher had some great highlights this summer.
Aug 25, 2015, 9:30 PM EDT
Jakob Poeltl is a potential top-10 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, but he has to improve his 44 percent free-throw shooting.
- Cody Zeller, Indiana president speak out against recent athlete legal issues 0
- Five-star 2016 combo guard cuts list to four 0
- Xavier, Mount St. Joseph to launch the ‘Lauren Hill Tip-Off Classic’ 0
- Tai Wynyard: ‘I will be coming to UK in December’ 0
- Tom Izzo, 30 second shot clocks, and why zone presses will be more popular this year 1
- Kentucky lands a commitment from four-star 2016 forward 0
- Everything you need to know about the College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon 0
- Bill Self says Cheick Diallo could wait ‘at least another month’ for eligibility ruling (12)
- Winona State coach Mike Leaf resigned after player accused him of making drunken sexual advances (6)
- Tulsa gets 2016 commitment from former Wichita State guard (2)
- Here’s what the new Illinois basketball court will look like (PHOTO) (2)
- Buffalo dismisses Justin Moss, reigning MAC Player of the Year, from team (2)