A pair of ESPN college basketball analysts expect another strong showing from Florida in the Southeastern Conference this year.
Long-time ESPN SEC basketball analyst Jimmy Dykes picks Florida to finish second in the SEC behind Kentucky. And former Tennessee coach and first-year ESPN SEC hoops analyst Bruce Pearl predicts Florida will finish third behind Kentucky and Missouri.
Both analysts pick Kentucky to win the league based on overall talent.
“You can’t dismiss the talent (that Kentucky coach) John Calipari puts on the floor again,” Dykes said. “I think that’s how the voting is going to go. I think Florida is right there nipping at their heels because they’ve got players, too and their players are older.”
“Erik Murphy is and old kid. Patric Young is now a junior a veteran, Kenny Boynton is going to have as many minutes in this league as anybody else the SEC is going to put on the floor, and then you are going to have the experience of (Florida coach) Billy Donovan.”
Dykes said that improved defense will be the key for the Gators this season, but thinks Florida will be better defensively with Scottie Wilbekin at point guard.
“Under Billy Donovan, they are always going to be one of the best offensive teams out there,” Dykes said. “His offensive mind is not going to allow his team not to, he’s an innovator, he’s terrific with his ball screen action, getting the ball inside and continues to find creative ways to do it.
“It’s kind of unusual to say when you lose a three-year starter at the point guard spot you might be able to upgrade it, but I think that’s what they might be doing with Scottie Wilbekin. As good as (Erving Walker) was, he was only 5-foot-7 and that limited some of the things they could do with him on both ends of the floor … by the end of the season Florida fans might look back and think the point guard play was actually better, more consistent and allowed Florida to go to another level defensively with Wilbekin on the floor.”
Dykes has been impressed with Wilbekin’s tenacity on defense since watching him come into the league as a freshman.
“Even in his first year there, he would lock into some of the elite players in that SEC and not back down, wouldn’t necessarily shut his guy down but he wouldn’t back down,” Dykes said. “He always brought two fists to the fight. I like his size, his toughness, I just think your defensive needs to be built from that initial guy back and he will be that initial guy. I just like his core, I just like how he’s wired on that end of the floor.”
Pearl also likes Florida because of its physicality and size up front.
“This is going to go from a team that took and made the most 3-pointers in the SEC a year ago, to a team that is much more balanced,” Pearl said. “I don’t think there’s any question that Billy, he likes this team. I think he knows that this team has a chance to be a much better defensive club, a much more physical club and I think that will bode well for them in close games.
“Defense and rebounding win championships. I think it will allow them to be more consistent, Tennessee and Florida are probably the two most experienced teams returning and I think that experience will benefit both of them.”
— Pearl said he felt “too much” was expected of Florida junior center Patric Young last season: ” He was a freshman on that team when Chandler Parsons and Alex Tyus and Vernon Macklin, and those three senior frontline guys were pretty good, he went against them every day in practice and he couldn’t beat any one of them out. And so then he comes in his sophomore year and everyone expects him to be the man and be as good as Vernon Macklin was as a senior. He certainly has got the athleticism and the heart but he looked like a freshman at times last season because last year was really his first year playing. I think it was a great decision for him to return. He’s got a lot of work to do offensively. He averaged 10 points and he shot 61 percent but you know he’s going to benefit from that year of a little more skill work and I think he can have a big year and look like a much more competent offensive player.”
— Dykes, on Missouri and Texas A&M joining the SEC this season: “I think Missouri will adjust better in basketball than they will in football. And I don’t know if Texas A&M will adjust in basketball as well as they have adjusted in football.”
— Pearl, on Kenny Boynton: “He might be one of the best on-the-ball defensive guards in the country. And if he would realize it he could make himself and enormous statement by demonstrating what a beast he is defensively and the second thing, he’s one of the best bad shot takers and makers in college basketball. He can take and make some bad shots.”
— Pearl predicts that Kentucky will have its 52-game home winning streak snapped his this season because of its youth. Though Kentucky has another top-rated freshman class coming in this season, Pearl said Kentucky will miss the leadership and experience of senior Darius Miller and sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb. “Those three returning players along with Coach Calipari and his coaching staff took that talented group of freshmen and they rolled,” Pearl said. “There is no anchor. Kentucky is going to lose a game at home this year. I don’t know who is going to beat them but they are going to lose at home this year because they are so young and young guys are not perfect every night.”