Florida Basketball Playing "D" in First Week: Now for Some Real Teams

Malik GradyContributor INovember 23, 2009

TAMPA, FL - MARCH 12:  Head coach Billy Donovan of the Florida Gators calls to his team against the Arkansas Razorbacks  during the first round of the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament at the St. Pete Times Forum March 12, 2009 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

First of all, UF's depth chart—while the team is 10 deep theoretically, the players in bold have gotten the majority of the minutes so far:

PG: SO 5'8" Erving Walker, FR 6'5" Nimrod Tishman

SG: FR 6'3" Kenny Boynton, SO 6'4" Ray Shipman

SF: SR 6'7" Dan Werner, JR 6'9" Chandler Parsons

PF: JR 6'8" Alex Tyus, FR 6'9" Erik Murphy

C: JR 6'10" Vernon Macklin, SO 6'10" Kenny Kadji

The Gators were able to win at least 24 games each of the past two seasons, but key defeats down the stretch each year (they began each season 18-3 and then stumbled) kept them from the NCAA Tournament.

After losing four juniors after their second straight championship, UF has also managed to lose juniors early each of the last two years and is only now at a point where they have contributing upperclassmen on the roster again.

This team has the talent to make it to the real postseason, but little margin for error...just like the last two (see a theme developing?).

The brightest spot for this year's team is freshman guard Kenny Boynton, who is a tremendously efficient scorer but also shows great enthusiasm defensively. At a generous 6'3", his NBA position would be point guard, but as a collegiate performer, he has ideal size for the shooting guard position in the pressing system that Billy Donovan employs.

I will be impressed but not surprised if Boynton becomes only the second Gator in their history to average at least 20 points per game in a season.

His counterpart in the backcourt, Erving Walker, is another player most at home in a full-court game, especially defensively, where his 5'8" stature isn't nearly the liability it becomes in a half-court affair.

Offensively, he is a threat as long as he doesn't attempt too many shots in the paint. When he gets in the lane he is best as a distributor rather than getting his shot blocked, although he's shown some ability at drawing fouls. Thankfully he is a quick ballhandler, willing passer, and shooter to 25 feet.

The returning starters at forward—Dan Werner and Alex Tyus—are both actually adjusting to new positions made possible with the addition of transfer center Vernon Macklin, a 6'10", 240-pounder. Both are easing into the season, with Tyus showing good work on the boards and trying to integrate the jumper he's worked so hard on.

If UF gets 10 points, seven rebounds, and a block from Macklin all year in only 20 minutes per game, they'll be ecstatic, but don't count on it.

Off the bench, 6'9", 215-pound Chandler Parsons has been a versatile, confident threat off the bench, playing the 2, 3, AND 4, handling the ball, distributing (with varying success), crashing the boards, and even hitting some threes.

6'4" Ray Shipman has brought defense and slashing in limited minutes, while young big men Erik Murphy and Kenny Kadji have gotten into each game but haven't been able to earn extended minutes in the early going.

Kadji's length and Murphy's skill will likely show themselves positively as the season progresses, however, and I'd expect to see lots of minutes for both of them against a predictably physically impressive team like Michigan State on Nov. 27 and even FSU on Nov. 24.

The greatest difference this year so far compared to the last two, however, is the commitment to defense that the Gators have shown. Certainly the opposition has been nothing to write home to date, but the number of charges they've attempted to take as well as the minutes and effectiveness of both their half-court man-to-man defense and the press have been noticeable.

Instead of nightly displays of both Tyus and Werner getting overpowered and shot over at the 5 and 4, each of them looks to be able to match up defensively much better (most evident in Tyus' blocked shots). They may even (gasp) force matchup problems of their own offensively, with Werner posting up some swingmen and Tyus taking some power players out on the floor.

The only player who looks to be an obvious mismatch in the half-court is the aforementioned Walker because of his height, but he is a pest in a full-court defense. That underscores another problem for the team, however—the backup point guard position.

After losing Nick Calathes early, Donovan missed out on a startling number of prospects at the position, most notably Alabama guard Eric Bledsoe, currently starting for the top-five-ranked Kentucky Wildcats.

At the moment, Walker is backed up by Boynton, who is handling about five minutes there per game so far with few ill effects. How he fares bringing the ball up the court and running the offense against quality opponents remains to be seen, though Parsons and Werner will likely assist him with ball-handling duties in that area.

The Gators also have 6'5" freshman Nimrod Tishman at the position, added late during the summer, and his development into someone Donovan feels comfortable putting on the court could be a welcome gift as well.

Florida will get tests this week with the ACC's Florida State on Nov. 23 and the Big Ten's Michigan State on Nov. 27 and then face the Big East's Syracuse Dec. 10 and the Atlantic 10's Xavier on Feb. 13 during the SEC schedule.

In the SEC, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ole Miss seem demonstrably above the Gators, which will leave the Gators to fight among Vanderbilt, South Carolina, and whatever other teams emerge from the West for the best of the rest...