This offseason could have gone from a bad one to a disastrous one for Billy Donovan.
The heralded coach was expecting to approach 2009-10 as a favorite to take the SEC crown, but he saw his phenom point guard opt for the pro league—in Greece.
Losing Nick Calathes was a devastating blow for the Gators. The junior-to-be would have easily been the most talented player in the SEC to return, as his ability to not only handle the ball but also manage the team's intangibles couldn't be overstated.
Let the stats talk for themselves. Calathes was consensus First Team All-SEC, ranked seventh in the league with 17.2 ppg, had the highest field-goal percentage amongst conference guards with a 48.2 percent mark, led the conference with 6.42 assists per game, ranked second with 1.89 steals per game, and finished fourth with a 1.94 assist-to-turnover ratio.
As bad as the loss of Calathes was, it could have been worse. Over the summer, it was announced that the team's only other big-time all-conference player had decided to transfer. Florida's NCAA Tournament chances hung in the balance of Alex Tyus' decision to follow through with this decision.
Luckily for the Gators, he chose not to and returned to school. The reasons for this random drama were never released, but Tyus is returning for his junior season.
Donovan is hailed as possibly the best coach in the Southeastern Conference, but dissenters claim he has consistently underachieved sans the two National Championships, where he simply got lucky with the players on the roster.
This year provides him a chance to quiet those claims. If Florida can manage to make the NCAA Tournament, especially if it wins its first game, the Gators certainly wouldn't have underachieved.
Here's the breakdown of this year's Florida freshmen.
(No. 15 overall - No. 4 SG - five stars - 6'2" - 185 lbs.)
Boynton is one of the biggest scoring threats out of this year's freshman class and is fiercely competitive. His scoring potential alone will earn him a starting spot from the beginning, and this kid could be all-conference in no time.
The Gators need someone to step into Calathes' shoes at the point, and Boynton may or may not be able to do so. His passing isn't stellar, and his basketball intelligence needs some work. His height could factor into his effectiveness at the collegiate level as well, as he is a bit short.
(No. 12 PF - four stars - 6'9" - 210 lbs.)
Heart is a good word for Murphy, who has a great work ethic and a desire to compete. Murphy is strong on the inside offensively under the basket but has little range or defensive presence. His rebounding could use work as well, along with his ball-handling.
To be truly effective on this level, Murphy needs to master the skills necessary to find himself a bit further away from the basket.
The entire state of Florida effectively recruits itself, no less the most prestigious athletic university in the state. Florida is already filled with more stars than the night sky.
Alex Tyus: 6'8", 220-lb. Junior PF
(12.5ppg - 6.2rpg - 59.1% FG - 222 reb)
Tyus is tremendously talented, though not very versatile. He ranks second in the league for field-goal percentage shooting and is an absolute glass cleaner. With the loss of Calathes, Tyus will be called on to score more, and the ball will be in good hands. Will start.
Erving Walker: 5'8", 171-lb. Sophomore SG
(10.1ppg - 1.5rpg - 41.9% 3PT - 36 stl)
Walker was one of the most underrated freshmen in 2008-09, as his three-point shooting alone should garner him a lot of attention this year. Knocking down over 40 percent of your shots from outside is no easy task, much less when you've attempted 167 of them. The returning All-SEC Freshman is a great all-around player and should start this season.
Chandler Parsons: 6'9", 215lb Junior PF
(9.2ppg - 5.7rpg - 1.28 A/TO - 46.0% FG)
Parsons is a bit rough around the edges, as his overall shooting touch could improve and his decision-making is sometimes suspect. However, he can be relied on to not turn the ball over and is a talented rebounder. Parsons is a solid role player and should start this year.
Dan Werner: 6'8", 230-lb. Senior PF
(8.9ppg - 4.9rpg - 1.45 A/TO - 35.7% 3PT)
Werner is one of the biggest mismatches in the SEC. His pure size suggests an opposing big man should be guarding him, but his ability to shoot from outside, strong ball-handling, and speed make that a bad idea. Werner is a dynamic offensive and defensive on-ball threat and will likely start this year.
Kenny Kadji: 6'10", 248-lb. Sophomore C
(4.4ppg - 2.7rpg - 24 blk - 48.4% FG)
Kadji is a former five-star who is inarguably talented, but is also one of the most prolific turnovers-in-waiting in the league. The sophomore's assist-to-turnover ratio was 0.14 last season, and that has to be corrected if he expects to see more playing time. Kadji is a formidable low-block defender and has upside.
Ray Shipman: 6'5", 210-lb. Sophomore SF
(3.8ppg - 2.1rpg - 27 stl - 49.0% FG)
Shipman is, and always will be, a moderately talented role player. His range is very limited, but he has a nice stroke within that range. His effort at the charity stripe is admirable, and he provides a net gain when on the court both offensively and defensively.
The Gators have a solid core of talent but have little depth. Making the NCAA Tournament would be an accomplishment for Donovan's squad this year.
Cupcakes: Stetson (H), Georgia Southern (H), Troy (H), Florida A&M (H), Jacksonville (A), South Alabama (H), Presbyterian (H)
Real Games: Richmond (N), American (H), N.C. State (A)
Marquee Matchups: Florida State (H), Michigan State (N), Syracuse (N), Xavier (H)
Opposite Division: LSU (H), Arkansas (A), Alabama (A), Mississippi St. (H), Auburn (H), Ole Miss (A)
Predicted Result: 20-10, 10-6; NCAA Tournament
Analysis: After Florida's embarrassingly weak schedule in 2008-09, this is impressive. Florida should have a tough time with this schedule, and this RPI will likely carry them into the NCAAs.
Points: 63.63 percent (8th—SEC Avg: 73.81 percent)
Rebounds: 73.80 percent (7th—SEC Avg: 75.80 percent)
Billy Donovan is facing a challenging season and a perfect opportunity to silence his doubters. With a tough schedule ahead of them, the Gators have the potential to make some noise if their key players can stay healthy and Boynton takes quickly to the collegiate game.