When healthy, the Florida Gators are a team that could be headed to the Final Four. But as the Gators (12-2, 1-0 SEC) begin conference play, they’re far from healthy. In fact, things got even worse in the SEC-opening win on Wednesday over South Carolina.
Leading late in the second half, senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin went down with an apparent ankle injury (He suffered a high ankle sprain earlier in the season).
Though Wilbekin is a game-time decision for Saturday’s SEC game at Arkansas (11-3), senior Casey Prather—the team’s leading scorer—is out with a knee bruise. Florida coach Billy Donovan announced Prather’s injury on Thursday. He underwent tests, and he was declared out for at least the game against Arkansas—maybe longer.
Patric Young, a senior and Florida’s emotional leader, has also been suffering from a nagging knee injury, but he says that’s something he will have to deal with throughout his career.
Michael Frazier, the team’s most lethal 3-point threat, has calf issues. He’s expected to play Saturday vs. Arkansas.
Florida could be one of the deepest teams in the country when everyone is healthy (and eligible). Unfortunately, that has yet to happen this season. The Gators still wait for the NCAA Clearinghouse to clear highly regarded freshman Chris Walker, who could provide immediate impact. But until then, someone needs to step up.
Dorian Finney-Smith—that’s who. Finney-Smith, a redshirt sophomore, sat out all of last year after transferring from Virginia Tech after his freshman season. As a freshman, Finney-Smith, also known as DoeDoe, averaged 6.3 points, and 1.9 assists while playing about 29 minutes per game.
Through 12 games this season (he was suspended for the first two), Finney-Smith is averaging 9.9 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.7 assists.
He’s scored double-digit points in five of those 12 games, including a season-high 17 points in his first game as a Gator against Arkansas-Little Rock.
At 6'8", 212 pounds, Finney-Smith has the size to play the 1, 2 or 3. In fact, when both Wilbekin and Kasey Hill were out with ankle injuries earlier in the season, Finney-Smith saw some time as the primary ball-handler.
Many would agree that’s not the ideal situation. Wilbekin is the catalyst—offensively and defensively—and the Gators need him on the floor. But as a third-year player, Finney-Smith has the scoring ability to carry the Gators until players get healthy. He has the size to be effective inside the paint. If he can gain consistency from beyond the arc, Finney-Smith will be the complete package.
In a Florida Times-Union story, Donovan compared this year's injury woes to that of 2001.
“We’re going to go with whatever lineup there is. The lineup that we used the most in [Thursday’s] practice was Kasey Hill, DeVon Walker, Jake Kurtz, Dorian Finney-Smith and Will,” Donovan said. “Now whether or not we start that way, we’ll see how some of those guys are doing health-wise tomorrow.”
There’s no doubt Florida has injury issues right now. But there’s plenty of college basketball left to play. If Florida can get all the pieces healthy and clicking at the same time, it could be a scary situation for teams in the SEC and other teams come March Madness.
But what do you think? Who needs to step up for the Gators?