Questions follow end of Gators' record-setting run
Published: Sunday, April 6, 2014 at 8:54 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, April 6, 2014 at 9:14 p.m.
ARLINGTON, Texas — It was a difficult way for it to end, given what top-ranked Florida accomplished throughout the 2013-14 season.
“There's never an easy exit to this tournament,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said before UF's eventual 63-53 loss to Connecticut on Saturday night.
But it doesn't take away from some of what Florida achieved during its 36-3 season. The Gators broke a number of school records in reaching the Final Four for the fifth time in school history, including most wins in a season (36), longest winning streak (30), set another mark with 32 consecutive home wins and had the highest winning percentage (.923). They also became the first SEC team to go 18-0 in the regular season before rolling through the league tournament.
Individually, Florida sophomore guard Michael Frazier II set a school record with 118 3-pointers, while seniors Patric Young, Will Yeguete, Scottie Wilbekin and Casey Prather finished their careers with a school-best 120 wins.
“Looking back at the year, going into it, we didn't know what was going to happen with the injuries and the suspensions and all that stuff,” Young said. “But we stuck together through it and had a lot of great memories.”
Now that Florida has set a benchmark for success, reaching four Final Fours in 18 years under Donovan, the question turns to whether next year's Gators will be able to sustain it.
Florida loses four senior starters who were instrumental to a team that held opponents to 57.8 points per game. Young was the SEC defensive player of the year and Wilbekin was a two-time All-SEC defender. From a defensive standpoint, all four seniors will be difficult to replace.
Like the start of the 2013-14 season, Florida is entering the 2014-15 season with some uncertainty. Freshman McDonald's All-American forward Chris Walker has not committed on whether he will return for his sophomore year or enter the NBA draft. The 6-foot-10 Walker showed flashes of his athletic potential in a Sweet 16 win over UCLA, finishing with seven points, three rebounds and a blocked shot in just six minutes off the bench.
If Walker returns, he would benefit greatly from a full offseason of strength and conditioning and getting on the same page with his teammates. All were issues that kept Walker from making a bigger impact as a freshman, due to being unable to step foot on campus until December because of academic and NCAA issues.
Another wildcard is 6-10 center Damontre Harris, a South Carolina transfer who left UF in December due to disciplinary issues, but begged Donovan for one more shot. Harris returned to UF in January, but despite being eligible to play, Donovan stuck to his season-long suspension which essentially wiped out his junior year.
Harris finished second in the SEC in blocks in his last full season at South Carolina (2.1 per game in 2011-12). He would give UF its first true shot-blocking threat since Joakim Noah if he keeps his head on straight as a senior.
Frazier, UF's lone returning starter, shot an SEC-best 44.7 percent from 3-point range but will need to work on rounding out his offensive game heading into his junior season. In his first full season as a starter as a sophomore, Frazier scored 37 points on March 4 against South Carolina, the most for a Gator player since Noah in 2006. But Frazier was blanketed on the perimeter against UConn and held to only three points.
Freshman Kasey Hill will likely replace Wilbekin at point guard, while SEC sixth man of the year Dorian Finney-Smith should step into one of the starting forward positions. Finney-Smith had issues finishing around the rim and shot just 29.3 percent from 3-point range. But the 6-foot-8 forward also led UF in rebounding at 6.7 per game.
Junior guard Eli Carter, a Rutgers transfer, and sophomore guard Dillon Graham both will be coming off medical redshirts. Carter sat out the season with a broken foot while Graham had season-ending hip surgery. Both will add depth to UF's backcourt.
Another transfer, former Duke forward Alex Murphy, will be eligible to play in mid-December unless he receives an NCAA waiver to start earlier. Murphy isn't as good a shooter as his brother, former Gator forward Erik Murphy, but he's a point-forward capable of driving to the basket and creating for his teammates.
Florida brings in an incoming 2014 freshman class that Rivals.com ranks sixth in the nation. The signing class included 6-4 shooting guard Brandone Francis (Arlington Country Day, Jacksonville), 5-10 point guard Chris Chiozza (White Station, Memphis, Tenn.) and 6-7 forward Devin Robinson (Christchurch School, Christchurch, Va.)
It adds up to a less experienced team that has a chance to be more athletic. But Florida will still need to commit to the details and hustle plays to duplicate the success of its recent seasons. Since 2011, Florida has appeared in four Elite Eights and one Final Four.
“This team was so special, something I'm never going to forget for all of my life,” Young said. “We accomplished a lot just by loving each other and being really committed to playing with one another. So I'm just really going to cherish everything we had this year and it's going to be something I'll never forget.”
Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.