Florida Basketball: Final 2013-14 Grades for Gators After Final Four Loss
The Florida Gators picked a terrible time for their worst game of the 2013-14 season, falling 63-53 to the Connecticut Huskies in their national semifinal meeting at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Florida's stalwart defense was the most porous it's been all year, allowing UConn to make 61 percent of its two-point shots. Offensively, the balanced Gator offense produced very little ball movement, recording a Final Four record-low three assists on 19 baskets.
This defeat will leave a sour taste in the mouth of Florida fans, but it's hard to ignore the dominant performance that UF put on for five months. The team climbed into The Associated Press Top 10 in January and never left as it amassed an epic 30-game winning streak.
So, now that the book is closed on UF's campaign, what kind of grades have the Gators earned? We'll break down Florida's performance in conference and nonconference action, consider the bench as a whole and the starters individually.
It's not news that Florida's whole was greater than the sum of its parts, but by how much?
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Florida vs. the SEC
There was simply no contest.
Counting the SEC tournament, Florida played 21 conference games and won them all. Only six of those wins were two-possession games, decided by six points or less.
The Gators scored 1.13 points per possession in conference play according to StatSheet.com. Opponents mustered only 0.92. Both figures led the league, as might be expected.
Tennessee could muster only 41 points in its first shot at Florida. Texas A&M was held to an anemic 36. Conversely, Arkansas put up 82, a figure that should have been plenty against a lineup that featured DeVon Walker and Jacob Kurtz for 33 minutes. The Gators scored 84 in pulling out an overtime victory at the usually fearsome Bud Walton Arena.
No matter how good the team, one member steamrolling the rest of its league is a bad look for any conference. A major conference like the SEC is having an epically bad year when one of its schools goes on this kind of rampage.
Florida vs. the Nation
When the only two teams to beat you all season join you at the Final Four, it's been a good year. When one beat you on a flukish second-chance buzzer-beater when you dress only six scholarship players and your point guard's been dragged off the court with an ankle injury, that loss can be forgiven.
However, the Gators got their chance for revenge at the national semifinals and choked on it. UConn didn't need a Shabazz Napier dagger this time, holding UF to a 92.4 offensive rating, its second-worst offensive efficiency of the season according to Ken Pomeroy's numbers. The loss was also the Gators' fourth-worst defensive performance of the year, as they allowed the Huskies 1.1 points per possession.
Florida began rehabilitating its reputation following the UConn loss, and it did so in some style, knocking off Kansas and Memphis in its next two games.
Those three games, plus a trip to Wisconsin in the season's second game and the annual meeting with Florida State, constituted a quintet of non-league opponents that so many major-conference contenders wouldn't even attempt to schedule.
The fact that the Kansas, Memphis and Florida State wins came by a combined nine points seemed an indictment at the time. What it ultimately told us was that while this Florida team lacked a dominant scorer—a fact that UConn laid bare at the Final Four—the Gators defense was a powerful enough engine to drive this bus a long way.
Depth wasn't a strength of this Florida team, especially early on. As alluded to earlier, Gator coach Billy Donovan had injuries (Eli Carter and Kasey Hill), suspensions (Scottie Wilbekin, Dorian Finney-Smith and Damontre Harris) and NCAA investigations (Chris Walker) decimating his roster early in the season.
Walk-on Jacob Kurtz and sophomore DeVon Walker, who had played only 100 minutes last season and was planning to transfer over the summer, were major parts of the rotation early on. They were solid but usually against the weaker opponents.
As pieces filtered back in, Donovan's ideal rotation became more crystallized, but he never quite got what he needed from his reserves.
Freshman Hill and Virginia Tech transfer Finney-Smith were the only regular contributors, and both will need to become stars next season for UF to remain among the nation's elite. Neither was terribly consistent, however.
Finney-Smith scored 10 or more points in six of his final 12 games but put up five or fewer in the other six. He made a combined five of 29 shots on those off nights. Hill dished 23 assists in his eight postseason games, but 10 of those came against UCLA in the Sweet 16.
And then there was Chris Walker. The 2013 McDonald's All-American slam dunk champion played a grand total of 87 minutes and averaged less than two points per game. Other than six rebounds against LSU and a seven-point, three-board effort against UCLA, Walker's contributions were largely negligible.
Expected to be a one-and-done talent, Walker may now have to return to salvage any hope of being drafted by the NBA.
F Will Yeguete
With all the attrition Florida dealt with over the course of the season, it's surprising that anyone suited up to start all 39 games. That the durable body in question belonged to senior forward Will Yeguete is downright stunning.
Yeguete lost games to an ankle injury as a sophomore and a knee injury as a junior. Rehab on the knee was so difficult that he was ready to redshirt this season, according to a report from ESPN's Dana O'Neil.
A career four-point, five-rebound-per-game player, Yeguete has never been a major statistical influence on a game. He reached double figures in points and rebounds three times each this season. What he has been is the kind of player who epitomizes the gutsy, overachieving nature of this year's Florida team.
“For me as a coach, I’ve always tried to talk to Will about how much I appreciate [him], because he really impacts winning," Donovan said to O'Neil. "He’s not a headline guy, but he really does a lot for our team."
A linchpin of the Florida defense, Yeguete is one of the more underappreciated players in college basketball this season and all because he's not much concerned about his numbers.
F/C Patric Young
Patric Young's 11.0 points and 6.2 rebounds per game this season don't exactly scream "former McDonald's All-American," not least because most McDonald's selections are considered failures if they make it to a senior season.
For a guy who should have walked in as freshman royalty, Young has had no qualms about lasting long enough to be considered an old fogey. He did more fighting and scrapping than any player on the roster, frequently putting his sculpted body on the line for the team.
If you need proof, check out his flying dive to keep a ball in bounds against Tennessee.
Young was one of the few Gators to produce efficiently against UConn in the Final Four, scoring 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting.
He was not interested in seeing his career end, and now that it has, we can reflect on a quote he gave to a USA Today reporter (h/t Eric Prisbell) about what his four-year odyssey taught him: "The most important thing I learned was that I am not as good as I think I am. That was probably the most important lesson I learned as a freshman."
Those words should be tattooed on every McDonald's All-American for as long as the game remains in business.
F Casey Prather
Those who thought Casey Prather came out of nowhere to become Florida's leading scorer weren't quite paying enough attention to his junior season.
Prather had four double-figure scoring games in SEC play during the 2012-13 season en route to 6.5 points and 4.4 rebounds in 17.5 minutes per game. His shooting and rebounding percentages were actually slightly better during his junior campaign than this season.
While the overall numbers weren't explosive during that junior year, they were much better than the 1.6 PPG Prather had averaged over his first two seasons. A player who had scored a grand total of 16 points in SEC play as a freshman and sophomore equaled or topped that mark 12 times this year.
Prather was named a John R. Wooden Award finalist and a member of that award's All-American team, despite the fact that his season didn't end nearly as well as it began. Over his final 13 games, Prather put up only 10.3 points and 4.2 rebounds, recording six of his nine single-digit scoring games.
Still, Prather was a key defensive contributor all season, and at least one teammate will tell you that the quiet offensive nights didn't matter to Prather this year—a far cry from the pressure he placed on himself as an underclassman.
Patric Young told the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun, “He just always would get so nervous and so anxious when he would come into games to not turn the ball over, to not mess up, and that would really cause him to do that.”
Loosening the pressure on himself helped Prather tighten his game.
G Scottie Wilbekin
The story has become part of Florida legend by now. An unheralded local kid enrolls in college at age 17, spends two years as a dynamic defensive force off the bench before becoming a starter as a junior. He endures multiple suspensions, the disciplinary backlash reaching the point that his coach encourages him to transfer.
Not only did Scottie Wilbekin not transfer, he rejoined his team this season and sparked the Gators to a 32-2 record after missing the season's first five games. He was named the SEC Player of the Year and a third-team All-American in the process.
“Our team was in complete shambles and disarray when we came back to school in August,” coach Billy Donovan said to the Dallas Morning News. “To see what those kids have done in terms of trying to come together as a team, that stuff to me is really what it’s all about, more so than just the end result of winning.”
While Wilbekin's shooting was often maddening—he made only 41.5 percent of his two-point shots on the season—he tightened it up considerably in the NCAA tournament. He knocked down 15 of 27 twos (55.6 percent) in UF's four regional games, frequently coming up with key baskets that looked like they had no business splashing down.
Without all of Wilbekin's summer turmoil, it's anyone's guess as to whether these Gators would have been as good as they were.
“Some of the issues that happened during the summer were part of what brought us together,” Wilbekin said to the DMN. “The type of games that we’ve been in and the grind of practice, it’s really a combination of all those things. It’s a joy to play with these guys.”
G Michael Frazier II
Michael Frazier was pretty reliable for a guy who was nearly his team's entire perimeter offense.
Frazier knocked down 118 of Florida's 256 three-pointers this season, 46.1 percent of the total. He drilled five or more triples in nine games, including a school-record 11 in one game at South Carolina. He hit 47.7 percent of his attempts in the postseason, including five of eight against UCLA in the Sweet 16.
While his three-point percentage took a slight step back this season (44.7 from 46.8 as a freshman), Frazier established himself as a more effective all-around scorer. His two-point percentage increased from 35.7 to 50.6 as a sophomore.
With Wilbekin running the show, Prather getting to the basket at will and Young punishing his foes in the post, it was easy for Frazier to get lost in the shuffle this season. After all, after Frazier immolated his Gamecocks for 37 points, South Carolina coach Frank Martin told The Associated Press, "Somehow, some way, we didn't express to our players that Michael Frazier can shoot the basketball."
Next season, Frazier will be the first name on the opponent's scouting report. He'll need new help to find as many good looks as he did this year. If he has more disappearing acts like he had in the Final Four loss to UConn—he made the game's first basket, then was never heard from again—the Gators will have some rough offensive evenings next season.
This season qualifies as one of Billy Donovan's finest coaching jobs, as his other Final Four teams were all led by multiple future pros. Among this season's Gators, the most likely NBA player may be the nearly invisible Chris Walker.
"Our margin for error is not very big," said Donovan, as reported by Ron Higgins of The Times-Picayune (New Orleans). "I love our team, love our kids, but we're not an overly talented team. We're just not."
Where the Gators excelled this season was in outworking their opponents on the defensive end, led by an experienced group of seniors who all endured their own personal hardships to make it that far in their careers.
"They've been through it," Finney-Smith said to CBS Sports. "We followed in their footsteps. They jumped on it. All through the year, they came out with the right mindset in practice, on and off the court."
Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings summed up the Gators thusly to Higgins: "The name on the front of their jersey is the only thing they are playing for. Nobody is playing for the name on the back of their jersey."
For all the happy platitudes, however, the fact remains that the Gators needed that one dominant player who could strap the team to his back. UConn had Shabazz Napier for most of the season, then DeAndre Daniels stepped in during March. Florida got good performances from Wilbekin and Frazier, but everyone came up two games short.
For more from Scott on college basketball, including links to his podcast, check out The Back Iron.