Can Florida, fresh off one of the best seasons in school history, conjure up the kind of magic that leads to a repeat journey to the hottest haven in hoopsville on the first weekend of April? Before sharing our prediction for the 2014-15 season, we scrutinize everything that affects their NCAAB odds.
The Florida Gators had made three straight Elite Eight appearances without getting to the Final Four. At last, coach Billy Donovan's team was able to complete the journey to college basketball's biggest event this past spring. What's in store for this season?
How The Team Has Changed
The past college basketball season offered a lesson on senior leadership. The Gators were together and cohesive. They had some growing problems early in the year, but that's normal for any college basketball team. It would be alarming if a team didn't need to have some difficult experiences and some true trials of brotherhood during a season. This is especially true at the start of the journey, and is actually necessary for cementing the bonds that exist between, and among, players. If the locker room has no issues during a season, there's probably no real energy on the team. Florida had to find out who and what it was, and identify the way it wanted to play. The Gators took a pair of regular season losses by the time the middle of December arrived. They did not seem to be a Final Four team, but as December ended and moved to conference play, Florida did not trip. The Gators went to the Final Four with a winning streak that moved into the 30s. Florida didn't win the title, but it had a historic season.
Now, many of the players who built that season are no longer eligible. Seniors Casey Prather, Scottie Wilbekin, Patric Young, and Will Yeguete are all gone. The Gators will be a lot younger this season.
Kasey Hill, who backed up and helped Wilbekin at the point last season, now gets the keys to the car as the starting point guard. Michael Frazier is still around to shoot threes. Dorian Finney-Smith can shoot, but he'll need to do more on the boards. Chris Walker will try to defend, rebound, and block shots as he possibly leaves college after his sophomore season. Transfer Jon Horford from Michigan gives Florida an athletic defender who can also compete for rebounds.
What To Expect
The Gators won't be as good as last season, but they can still be very good, enough to get through at least one game and probably two in the NCAA tournament. Their leftovers are pretty good. Hill, Frazier, and Finney-Smith will be able to spread the court and get the Gators a lot of the shots they want. The big key will be the extent to which Walker can become an effective offensive player and give Billy Donovan 15 points, 10 rebounds, and five blocked shots per night. If Walker is a disruptive and intimidating big man, the Gators would have the kind of player who could give them some inside force to go along with their perimeter shooting arsenal. It's still an exciting time to be a Florida fan. The Gators' only real competition in the SEC this upcoming season will come from the Kentucky Wildcats. Florida has established itself as a national destination program, like Kentucky. The Gators should be able to advance a little bit in March.
The Florida program is so good right now that even when it falls short of the ultimate goal, it still does a lot of work, and makes something of its predicament. For our College Basketball picks, we say that Florida will win its first game of the NCAA tournament, and it will manage to win in the second game as well.
Free NCAAB Pick: 27-10 Record, Sweet 16 Appearance