The 2010-11 University of Florida basketball team had its best season since the Gators pulled off the second of their back-to-back national titles in the spring of 2007.
Billy Donovan’s club finished the regular season at 13-3 overall in the SEC, winning the East Division title by three games over Kentucky, although the Wildcats would beat Florida in the SEC Tournament Championship game. UF, to the surprise of some, was given a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and had little trouble in its first two Big Dance games.
In the Sweet 16, however, the Gators were pushed to overtime by No. 3 seed BYU and Jimmer Fredette, the same team that ousted UF in the first round of the previous year’s NCAA Tournament. The eventual win got UF to its first regional final since ’07, but once there, the Gators ran into everyone’s favorite mid-major, Butler, who beat the Gators 74-71 in overtime. Florida, finishing 29-8, had led that game by 11 with less than 10 minutes remaining.
All in all, a successful season.
Heading into this season, the Gators have opened as the No. 10 team in the ESPN/USA Today poll. But I can guarantee you one thing: They will not repeat as SEC East champs.
That’s because the conference has done away with the two-division format for basketball. (Why? Five SEC East teams got NCAA bids last year, while none in West did.) But most rate UF as the third-best team in the SEC entering the year, behind Kentucky, who welcome the nation’s top freshman class, and Vanderbilt, bringing back all five starters from last year’s NCAA Tournament team.
2011 Florida Basketball Key Additions/Losses
Florida brings back two starters from last year in guards Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton, the team’s two leading scorers in 2010-11. But the frontcourt was gutted, losing seniors Vernon Macklin, Chandler Parsons and Alex Tyus. Those three were the next three-highest scorers on the team after Walker and Boynton and were the top three rebounders.
Parsons’ loss will be the biggest, as he was one of the best all-around players in the SEC, hitting clutch shot after clutch shot and even leading UF in assists as well as minutes played per game.
The two big additions to the club are both in the backcourt. The first is Mike Rosario, a junior transfer from Rutgers. He is a former McDonald’s prep all-American, was a freshman all-American for the Scarlet Knights and finished ninth in scoring (16.7) in the Big East as a sophomore (he led Rutgers in scoring as a freshman, too, and his 517 points was a school record for a frosh). Rosario had to sit out last year because of the transfer.
But Gators fans are most excited about incoming McDonald’s all-American Bradley Beal. He was considered the No. 4 overall prospect in this year’s class and No. 2 shooting guard behind Duke’s Austin Rivers. Ironically, Rivers, from the Orlando area, originally verballed to Florida but then switched to the Blue Devils.
Beal was the 2011 Gatorade National Player of the Year, averaging 32.5 points per game, 5.7 rebounds per game, 2.8 assists per game and 2.7 steals at Chaminade Prep in St. Louis last year. Most believe Beal is the best pure shooter in the freshman class. He scored 17 points in just 21 minutes in last April's McDonald's all-American game.
2011-12 Florida Gators Basketball Outlook
This is going to be a running, pressing, fast-paced team that is clearly stacked in the backcourt (Scotty Wilbekin, the top guard reserve last year, also returns). So look for Donovan to use a guard-heavy, up-tempo lineup similar to the one he used earlier in his career at Florida when the Gators made it to the 2000 National Title game.
Many times, the only big man out there in that four-guard set will be either hulking forward/center Patrick Young or 6'10" forward Erik Murphy. Last season, Florida’s 64.1 tempo rating was 290th of 345 Division I teams.
In many ways, Young—the No. 15 ranked player in the Class of 2010—will be the key guy to anchor the defense and grab the rebounds. But is that asking too much of a guy who averaged just 17.8 minutes last season and averaged 3.3 points and 3.7 rebounds a game?
Young (6'9", 247 pounds) was often the first guy off the bench for the Gators and did lead the team in blocked shots. Young spent the summer playing for the USA U-19 team to develop some post moves, but the No. 1 key for him is to stay out of foul trouble. Murphy, meanwhile, isn’t much of a banger but has three-point range. Casey Prather also will be in the forward mix.
2011-12 Florida Basketball Schedule
The Gators should be tested in their non-conference slate, starting with their November 15 game at preseason Big Ten favorite and current No. 3, Ohio State. UF also has games against No. 5 Syracuse, the Big East preseason favorite, No. 16 Arizona, the Pac-12 favorite, No. 19 and future conference foe Texas A&M, a co-Big 12 favorite with Kansas, and an unranked Florida State team—one that many believe is only below North Carolina and Duke in the ACC.
The SEC schedule will look similar to this season. League teams will play a 16-game schedule next season under the old scheduling format for one season, with the West teams playing each other twice, the East teams playing each other twice and the East and West teams playing against each other one time. Thus, that means two regular-season games each against Kentucky and Vandy for Florida.
2011-12 Florida Gators Predictions for College Basketball
Boynton will be in the running for SEC Player of the Year, while Beal will do the same for SEC and national Freshman of the Year.
I would tend to agree that Florida looks like the third-best team in the SEC right now—presuming all of Kentucky’s freshmen are as good as advertised.
UF is +2000 on WagerWeb to win the National Championship, with conference odds not yet released. Villanova thrived for a year or two with a four-guard lineup, so maybe it will work in Gainesville. But I would say the Elite Eight is about the limit for this bunch.
Doc Moseman is the owner of Doc’s Sports picks web site.