How soon until a return to greatness: A Florida Gator basketball preview for 2011-2012

It’s been a while since I’ve written a Gator basketball preview.  There’s good reason for that.  To be perfectly blunt, over the past few years, the University of Florida’s basketball program has been relatively irrelevant.  By comparison, from 2005-2007, the school outfitted one of the most dominant teams college basketball had ever seen.

It’s not our fault Billy Donovan spoiled us.

After Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer, Al Horford and company left Gainesville for the NBA, the program suffered, or at least failed to live up to the lofty expectations it had just set.

The year after winning their second of two national championships, Florida finished 8-8 in conference play.  Although they made the NIT’s Final Four, it was a far cry from their previous accomplishments.  The 2008-9 team followed that season with another NIT appearance.

In 2010, Florida made it back to the tournament that matters, but lost a first-round, overtime heartbreaker to BYU.  Last year, they lost to Butler in the round of eight (a game they should have won) but more importantly, they won the SEC again.

Finally, progress was being made.

2011-12 should see continuation of that progress.  Billy the Kid has reloaded and it looks like Florida’s inching closer to returning to championship form.  For the first time in five years, they opened the pre-season ranked in the top ten.

Enter incoming freshman Bradley Beal and Rutgers transfer Mike Rosario to add some well-needed scoring.  Combine that with returning guards Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker and big men Erik Murphy and Patric Young, and the Gators are as balanced as they’ve been in years.

When I heard the Florida hoopsters were coming to Tampa, I was eager to see if this younger generation of Gators could live up to their top ten billing.  Even though their opponent that evening was Wright State, I still wanted to get a feel whether my alma mater was on the right track.  God knows their football team isn’t.

The newly refurbished Ice Palace was relatively empty Monday night.  Attendance was listed at 6,331 and we all know what that means.  Fans could sit wherever they liked.

At first glance, these new-look Gators appeared young and skinny, but in outstanding shape, just as one would expect from the Florida program.

I was excited to see Beal, an aggressive young guard/swingman the likes Florida hasn’t seen in some time.  I had heard Ray Allen comparisons but let’s not bring up the NBA, shall we?

Beal did not disappoint, nor did the more experienced Boynton.  The junior guard got off to a hot start, hitting two early three-pointers.  Beal soon followed with a nice, baseline jam after juking his defender right-then-left, and then hit a three-pointer of his own.  This bodes well for Florida.  When clicking, the new B&B boys should be tough to defend.

Rosario adds some punch to the lineup and should see consistent play.  He’ll average around double digits on the season, but along with Walker, that leaves four perimeter players who will compete for major playing time.  Donovan will have to manage those minutes effectively.

Early on, Donovan has stressed the importance of getting the ball in to his big men, Young and Murphy.  We’ll see if the guards are disciplined enough to do so, and whether the two big men, who each stand about 6’9”, will be able to score consistently when that happens.  They’re currently averaging eleven points per game.  Donovan would undoubtedly like to see that number increase as interior scoring will be crucial come conference play.

Florida has its share of weaknesses.  They’re talented, but young and undersized.  Brewer, Horford and Noah ran 6’8”, 6’10” and 7’0” across the front line.  At this point, Young and Murphy, who combined 3-9 shooting on the night, are nowhere near as polished or dangerous.  And before you think those comparisons are unfair, remember those three were sophomores when they won they first national championship.

This team runs even smaller when Rosario (6’3”), Boynton (6’1”), Beal (6’3”) and Walker (a Flutiesque 5’8”) are all on the floor at the same time.  They could quickly become a Villanova if they’re not careful.  They’ll have trouble against beefier teams on a cold-shooting night.

But this Monday was all about Boynton and Beal, who finished the night with 22 points each on a combined, and rather efficient, 13-for-22 shooting.

From what I could tell, it’s only a matter of time before Beal is running this team.  Much of the offense already runs through him, and rightfully so.

For the Florida faithful, it has to be good to see that Coach Donovan has once again recruited some talent to Gainesville.  His newest team will have to forge its own identity.  Once they do so, time will tell whether that will be good enough to bring the program back to the excellence to which it’s accustomed.

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20 Replies to “How soon until a return to greatness: A Florida Gator basketball preview for 2011-2012”

  1. I’m glad Donovan stayed. He is building a first rate program. I hope Muschamp is around long enough to develope the football team also. GO GATORS!

  2. Aer…

    Billy’s day trip to Orlando and back was a wild time for Gator fans. I remember it as if were yesterday.

    Muschamp on the other hand, well, I’m not too sure there aren’t too many Gator fans these days that wouldn’t mind seeing him land a one-way ticket.

    Okay, we’ll be patient.

    By the way, how was your visit to the Swamp? Saw a wild one, huh?

  3. 86 points and some nervous moments my friend, but my wife and I had a great time. A writer for the Tribune wrote “it was a weird game and a weird crowd. He must of saw me in my Gator flip flops and shades:)

  4. I don’t think it was on TV here locally.

    When I got in the car to drive to work that afternoon, I hear Mick say the score was 22-7 Paladins.

    Needless to say, I was glad I wasn’t watching.

    We’ll see what happens next week.

  5. What’s wrong with this younger generation of Gator fans?

    Speaking of, I got G. Love tix. Going on Jan 20th at the Variety Playhouse.

  6. Don’t really follow Gators basketball, so I’m glad I know what/who I’m looking for when I happen to catch one of their games!

  7. Chap…

    Those back-to-back championships were a magical time in Gainesville.

    With Vernon Maxwell’s scoring totals expunged, I’m pretty sure Neil Walk is still the all-time leading scorer in Florida Gator history. No disrespect to Walk, but it’s about time that’s changed.

    I’ll go out on a line and say that Bradley Beal has a solid chance to become their all-time leading scorer.

    With the NBA in flux these days, it’s a little easier to assume college kids will think twice before jumping for a quick paycheck.

  8. Excellent post Chump! I don’t think the Gators will be down for long. I’m keeping a close eye on them now that a local product is on the squad, that being Bradley Beal!

    Billy Donovan is an excellent recruiter and is a wonderful X & O guy, so I expect the Florida to be solid all year.

  9. Sir Factoidial…

    First of all, happy Thanksgiving, brother.

    Now, re: the Gators, will this smaller team, Billy D has already gone back to pressing aggressively.

    I remember when he first started coaching there, he was cut straight from the Pitino/Kentucky cloth. The Gators were throwing full-court presses at their opponents all game.

    He’s mixing it in nicely now, which is how he might be able to get all four guards significant playing time.

    I look forward to a competitive season.

  10. Chris

    There’s some talent on that Gators’ team and if Billy Donovan cant get them to play with some real potency then not only will they be a threat in the SEC but also quite possibly come time for the NCAA Tournament .

    Not only that but their schedule looks good with some games where they can really show their prowess .

    Have a safe and peaceful Thanksgiving if I don’t respond soon ! Headin’ down south to Ft L’dale and Miami to hit up the ol’ crew for the weekend .

    tophatal …….

  11. Al…

    I like the team he’s put together. They’re still lacking in size but scoring from the perimeter this season should not be a problem. That showed in their loss to Ohio State.

    Have a safe trip and plenty of turkey, sir.

    Shout at ya’ soon.

  12. Chris

    Billy Donovan can coach and that’s something no one can deny ! He could take the lineup of the Victoria’s Secret Lingerie models and make them a credible force within women’s basketball . Now that’s something I’d like to see Ambrosiano or Bundchen down to their almost bare essentials playing basketball.

    Have you heard the latest rumors swirling around Urban Meyer making a return to college football and the possibility of his coaching again ? As he’s from Ashtabula it’s none other than Ohio State that’s said to be interested .

    See link provided .

    Urban Meyer denies he has accepted the Ohio State job

    Urban Meyer is again denying reports that he has agreed to become the next coach of Ohio State.

    “I have not been offered any job nor is there a deal in place. I plan on spending Thanksgiving with my family and will not comment on this any further,” the statement from Meyer said.

    WKMG in Orlando is reporting that Urban Meyer will sign a seven-year, $40 million deal with Ohio State.


    Part of transcript from USA Today .

    That’s a nice chunk of “cheddar” if those figures are to be believed as that’d definitely make him amongst the highest paid coaches in college football .

    I intend to stay safe you know how those native Miami and L’dale folks are don’t you ?

    tophatal ……..

  13. Yo Pep,
    Nice to read your commentary. Having seen a glimpse of this young team, I would agree with your overall assessment. I think we will have trouble with the beefier teams, however, I do belive this team can compete as did the champions of yesteryear if they learn what each others’ roles are and play unselfish team ball. Understanding the size challenge could impact consistency if our bigs get into foul trouble. However, with confidence and a game plan that everyone is on board with, we should do well. I guess you could say that for almost any team 🙂
    As for Will, my jury is still out, and in large part because of Charlie. Time will tell, but if the strategy for playing an immobile Brantley was deemed more important or more effective than using other options, then I’m severly disappointed in their committment to success. John may have been better if healthy, but unhealthy he wasn’t much better than what either frosh QB could’ve been.

  14. Al…

    I’ve heard the rumors about Meyer for sure. Like I said, I’ll have my rather biased thoughts up on it soon.

    I guess what it takes to keep a coach in this day and age is have him go to Orlando for the day, take a different gig, realize he doesn’t like it, then get penalized for doing so, as if staying at a top ten college basketball program is solitude.

  15. I figured talking a little Gator hoops would bring the money man out of the woodwork.

    Happy Turkey Day, my brother.

    Now, on to Gators athletics…

    I do see Billy playing a lot of small ball this year, going back to his pressing, Kentucky roots. At least that way, he’ll be able to rotate those guards and get them enough minutes.

    I’d like to see Patric become more of a presence in the paint. He’s still not going aggressively enough to the hole.

    And despite his height, Murph’s not really all that much of a big man.

    As for football? Wait until you read my upcoming Meyer post.

  16. Gators stood with OSU for a half, but the talent of Sullinger was too much for Young to handle. I like their chances to finish second in the SEC ahead of Vandy and behind Kentucky. They do have the scoring punch now at guard to make a deep run in the tournament.

  17. DHS…

    History has shown us how strong guard play can carry a team. Balanced scoring also does the same.

    The thing I like about Beal so far is that he thinks drive first, shoot second.

    If the Gators guards get hot, they’re a tough cover. If they shoot for the sake of shooting, they’re clearly beatable.

    We’ll see how the team matures throughout the season.

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