8 isn't enough

Last season's Elite Eight loss is this seasons's motivation to take next steps


Erving Walker, left, Patric Young, center, and Kenny Boynton return from a Florida squad that fell in the Elite Eight last season.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Sunday, November 6, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 at 1:09 p.m.

Like most of his teammates, Florida sophomore center Patric Young couldn't bring himself to watch the Final Four last season.

Facts

Three things to watch

1. MAN IN THE MIDDLE

Florida sophomore center Patric Young has the body and the talent to become a physical force in the Southeastern Conference. But can Young avoid foul trouble and improve his touch in the post in an expanded role for the Gators this season? Coach Billy Donovan wants the 6-foot-9, 247-pound Young to focus on defense and rebounds. The points, Donovan said, should come for Young in transition and off putbacks if he rebounds and runs the floor well.

2. BACKCOURT CHEMISTRY

With freshman Bradley Beal and junior Mike Rosario joining returning starters Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker, Florida has four players in the backcourt who could potentially average double-figures in scoring. But how they blend together and share the basketball could determine the success of the Gators this season. “There is going to have to be a level of sacrifice,” Donovan said.

3. DEPTH

Donovan has enough talent on the roster to establish a 10-player rotation. The depth and quickness on the roster should allow Florida to run and press more and bring players on and off the bench in waves. If everyone plays at a high level and accepts their roles, it could be reminiscent of the 1999-2000 Gators that ran and pressed their way to the NCAA finals.

UF's 72-69 overtime loss to Butler last March in the Elite Eight was too fresh on his mind.

“We were so very close,” Young said. “We could have had it. It just slipped out of our hands. It's just motivation for us to do it again, to hopefully have another opportunity to make it as far as we did last year.”




Can Florida take that next step? Just getting back to the Elite Eight will be part of the challenge. Florida lost its entire starting frontline, including Southeastern Conference Player of the Year Chandler Parsons, from a team that went 29-8 and won just the third outright SEC title in school history. Parsons, Vernon Macklin and Alex Tyus accounted for 43.5 percent of UF's scoring and 50.6 percent of UF's rebounding last season.

Yet the reason for optimism is because Florida returns eight players. And the Gators add two potential dynamic scoring guards in Rutgers transfer Mike Rosario and incoming freshman McDonald's All-American guard Bradley Beal. Beal, a deep perimeter scorer whose game has been compared to Ray Allen, averaged 32.5 points per game in his senior season in high school. Rosario was ninth in the Big East in scoring his final season at Rutgers, averaging 16.7 ppg.

Beal and Rosario will join returning starters Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton in what many college basketball analysts are considering the best backcourt in the country. Florida's fifth guard, 18-year-old sophomore Scottie Wilbekin, was a finalist in tryouts for the Team USA Under-19 national team.

Walker said he feels Florida is more talented than last season. Young, Beal, Rosario and Boynton are all former McDonald's All-Americans.

“I know this year we've got the amount of talent that we can make it in the same position that we were in last season,” Boynton said. “We just need to finish it off.”

College basketball analysts throughout the country agree. Florida was picked No. 8 in the country in the AP poll, and No. 10 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll. The Gators were picked to finish third in the SEC behind Vanderbilt (No. 7 in AP) and Kentucky (No. 2 in AP).

For Florida coach Billy Donovan, the 2011-12 season will be about baby steps. Donovan said Florida's most pressing issue heading into the season is on-court chemistry.

“This is the first time that everybody has played together,” Donovan said. “If you look at last year's team, everybody pretty much knew with five starters coming back what the starting five was going to be and how people were going to play.

“This is a team that has a lot to develop going forward. Although Erving and Kenny have played a lot together, there's going to be three other guys on the floor they have never really played together and vice versa. Our chemistry on the court has to be something that gets developed very quickly because of the strength of our schedule and how competitive it is early on. That's going to take a lot of work.”

Florida could feature a player rotation that's 10-deep, depending on the development of sophomore forward Will Yeguete and redshirt freshman forward Cody Larson. That depth could help the Gators weather another tough non-conference schedule. The Gators play at No. 3 Ohio State on Nov. 15, then face No. 5 Syracuse on Dec. 2. The Gators will then face No. 16 Arizona at home on Dec. 7 and No. 20 Texas A&M on Dec. 17 at the Orange Bowl Classic in Sunrise.

With added depth in the backcourt, Donovan has hinted he could start as many as three guards this season and play four guards on the floor at the same time. But with a lack of size on the court, Donovan is concerned about potential matchups down the road against bigger, more physical SEC opponents.

“What kind of rebounding team are we going to be this year? We could be a high-octane offensive team that scores a lot of points, but if we don't defend and rebound it's not going to make a difference,” Donovan said. “That is going to be something that is going to be a driving force for our team. They need to understand the importance of that.”

That begins up front with the 247-pound Young and junior forward Erik Murphy. Both are expected to take the two starting frontcourt spots.

“People question our frontcourt but I think we have a really good frontcourt,” Walker said. “I think Patric Young can be possibly the best center in the country with his physical attributes. And then Erik Murphy and Will Yeguete, both of those guys have improved.”

There was significant change in the coaching staff in the offseason, with new assistant coaches John Pelphrey, Norm Roberts and Matt McCall taking over for Larry Shyatt, Rob Lanier and Richard Pitino. Florida also hired a new strength and conditioning coach, Preston Greene, to take over for Matt Herring, who left to take a job with the San Antonio Spurs.

But with most of the players back from last season's 29-8 team, there is still a sense of unfinished business. More than seven months later, the Butler loss still stings.

“That was a feeling that will probably be with us for the rest of our lives for the guys that played in the game,” Walker said. “You can't let it hold you back. We're just going to try to learn from that game, that experience and just try to improve upon it.”

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or brockwk@gvillesun.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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