Apr 4, 2014, 5:36 PM EST
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.”
Jan 25, 2015, 1:05 AM EST
I feel comfortable saying I’m a better dancer than Josh Pastner. Not by much, though.
Jan 24, 2015, 11:58 PM EST
Get caught up on everything that has happened in college basketball on Saturday.
Northwestern State staff wears special pants for ‘Suits and Sneakers’ game against McNeese State (PHOTO)
Jan 24, 2015, 11:34 PM EST
The pants worn by the coaching staff were one of the highlights in Northwestern State’s 92-68 win over McNeese State.
Jan 24, 2015, 9:31 PM EST
Crawford and his teammates are looking to rebound from the 18-point loss they suffered at Tulsa Wednesday night.
Jan 24, 2015, 9:20 PM EST
Peel finished the game with 17 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks as the Blue Devils picked up their first win in NEC play.
Jan 24, 2015, 8:34 PM EST
Baylor really needed this win, but Oklahoma has now lost three of their last four.
Jan 24, 2015, 7:20 PM EST
The Tribe bounced back from a loss at Delaware earlier in the week to move into a tie for first in the CAA.
Jan 24, 2015, 6:46 PM EST
Texas Tech hit its first five three-pointers and led by as many as 19 points in the first half of their 78-73 win over the Cyclones.
Jan 24, 2015, 5:20 PM EST
Bonkers is the only way to describe this finish.
Jan 24, 2015, 4:52 PM EST
“We are still the best team in the Big 12″ — Kansas, on Saturday.
Ohio’s Maurice Ndour beats the buzzer with a dunk after full-court inbound pass for last-second win (VIDEO)
Jan 24, 2015, 4:27 PM EST
What an unbelievable finish in the MAC.
Jan 24, 2015, 3:14 PM EST
Wilson dunks all over Georgetown’s Paul White.
Jan 24, 2015, 2:17 PM EST
Clemson’s Josh Smith is the early hero of Saturday.
Jan 24, 2015, 1:53 PM EST
White is the leading scorer and rebounder for the Hawkeyes.
Jan 24, 2015, 1:30 PM EST
Northeastern and William & Mary clash on NBCSN.
Jan 24, 2015, 12:15 PM EST
Walk-ons receiving scholarships will never get old.
Jan 24, 2015, 11:30 AM EST
The College of Charleston battles Drexel in a CAA clash on NBCSN.
Jan 24, 2015, 11:15 AM EST
Pitt will officially be without a wing for the rest of the season.
Maryland, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Wichita State will get ‘Hard Knocks’ treatment in new all-access show
Jan 24, 2015, 10:15 AM EST
Four of the top programs in college basketball will allow Showtime to film them extensively for a new all-access show that is supposed to be similar to HBO’s popular football series “Hard Knocks.”
Jan 24, 2015, 9:00 AM EST
A big day of hoops features some more top-25 games between Big 12 opponents.
- Saturday’s Snacks: No. 18 West Virginia, Georgetown win absolute thrillers 0
- No. 11 Kansas makes a statement blowing out No. 17 Texas 1
- Bracket Update: Upcoming stretch could have major impact on Duke’s NCAA seeding 2
- Sister’s illness makes for a bittersweet homecoming for Tulsa head coach Frank Haith 0
- Weekend Preview: Things are heating up in the Big 12, plus Coach K No. 1,000? 0
- You think college basketball is unwatchable this year? Turn on an Indiana game 7
- Chase for 180: Boise State rebounds from 0-3 conference start thanks to Derrick Marks 0
- No. 6 Wisconsin utterly embarrassed No. 25 Iowa for more than one reason (13)
- The Top Ten Players that Coach K has had at Duke (12)
- You think college basketball is unwatchable this year? Turn on an Indiana game (7)
- College Basketball Talk’s Latest Top 25: So where do we rank Duke? (5)
- You Make The Call: Was this a charge on TaShawn Thomas? (VIDEO) (5)