Catching sports gamblers & NCAA Basketball handicapper's attention, the University of Florida has begun its search to replace the most successful basketball coach in school history, Billy Donovan.
No Kidding: Billy The Kid Will Be Missed
I don't think there's any argument that Duke's Mike Krzyzewski is the best current college basketball coach on the planet, maybe best basketball coach period. Coach K won his fifth national championship last month and probably goes down on a two-man Mount Rushmore with UCLA's John Wooden, whose 10 national titles will never be touched. If you don't want to be sexist, I suppose you have to also open up that Mount Rushmore (if expanding past two) to UConn women's coach Geno Auriemma, who won his 10th national title last month as well as former Tennessee women's coach Pat Summitt. But we'll stick to the men's game here.
Kentucky's John Calipari, Michigan State's Tom Izzo, and North Carolina's Roy Williams are all fabulous college head coaches as well, but I would have put Donovan No. 2 behind Coach K. Why? Before Donovan arrived in Gainesville in 1996 as a fresh-faced 30-year-old, the Florida men's basketball program reached the NCAA Tournament five times. Donovan led Florida to repeat national titles (2006, '07), four Final Fours and six SEC titles. At a football school! No offense to Krzyzewski or Calipari, but Duke and Kentucky fans and boosters don't much care about their football programs. Basketball drives the bus there. In February, Donovan also became the second-youngest men's college coach to reach the 500-win plateau.
So there's no sugarcoating this loss for the Gators. Some who cover the program say this is more devastating to the basketball program than Steve Spurrier leaving the football program was. I agree 100 percent. Florida football sells itself -- Urban Meyer proved that. Florida basketball needs to be sold a bit to recruits. Think about all the other SEC football powerhouses and what their basketball programs are like currently.
I wrote recently here at SBR about Donovan's potential replacements. I've grown more confident over the past 24 hours that it will either be Dayton's Archie Miller or Xavier's Chris Mack -- both were on my list of NCAA Basketball picks with Miller the favorite.
Looking Toward Next Season
What we do know is that Florida will open the 2015-16 season on Nov. 13 at the Naval Academy during the four-team Veterans Classic. The new coach has some work to do because last season UF was 16-17 and missed the postseason for the first time since 1998 -- Donovan's second season.
The Gators' two best players last season were junior forward Dorian Finney-Smith and junior guard Michael Frazier III. Finney-Smith led the Gators in scoring (13.1 points), rebounding (6.2) and 3-point shooting percentage (.426) while hitting .472 from the field overall that was the best among regular starters. He was named All-SEC second team. Finney-Smith decided to return to Gainesville after a talk with Donovan. You have to wonder how Finney-Smith feels about that decision now. Frazier averaged 12.1 points and 4.1 rebounds and was a very good 3-point and free-throw shooter but missed a handful of games due to injury. He did declare for the draft, which was a mistake. He will be lucky to be picked.
Also gone from last year's team are junior guard Eli Carter (8.8 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 2.0 apg), a transfer from Rutgers who has opted to transfer again; senior forward Jon Horford (6.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg); and sophomore forward Chris Walker (4.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg), a former highly touted recruit who never panned out yet opted for the NBA draft.
So the base of next year's team should be returnees Kasey Hill, Brandone Francis, Chris Chiozza and Devin Robinson. In addition, South Florida transfer John Egbunu will be eligible after sitting out last season. The 6-foot-11 center averaged 7.4 points and 6.2 rebounds with the Bulls as a freshman in 2013-14. Also, Florida has a recruiting class that's ranked No. 9 by ESPN of Noah Dickerson, KeVaughn Allen, Kevarrius Hayes and Keith Stone. All are rated as four-star recruits, with Dickerson the highest as the No. 9 power forward in the country.
So there's some talent there, although it's always possible a player or two leaves or asks to because Donovan has. Is this a national title team? No, and the Gators are +4400 long shots on NCAA Basketball odds to cut down the nets next April in Houston. But it could be an NCAA Tournament team and potentially the third-best in the SEC behind Kentucky and LSU (which is bringing in a stellar recruiting class led by No. 1 overall player Ben Simmons).