Hoops forecast: Continued success
Florida should return plenty of talent and offense next season
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida's basketball season ended in the Elite Eight for the second consecutive season. This year's trip, however, was more impressive considering the Gators' 2010-11 starting frontcourt had graduated -- including two players who are in the NBA.
Whether Florida can make it three trips in a row to a regional final -- or deeper -- will depend on the decision of two key players who are considering leaving early, the continued development of several players, how a group of talented freshman guards is integrated into the team, and the potential addition of another frontcourt player.
Here's a look at how the 2012-13 Gators:
Guards Bradley Beal and Kenny Boynton have yet to announce their plans for the future. Both are considering leaving early, though Boynton's future is likely overseas instead of the NBA. Beal, however, is considered a top 10 pick in the NBA draft and has been as high as the No. 3 selection in some mock drafts.
Beal really came on at the end of the season and was the Gators' best player in the postseason -- once he finally listened to UF coach Billy Donovan and became more assertive offensively and as a leader. Beal is the ultimate team chemistry guy, and he was afraid of coming in as a freshman and being seen as someone who tried to take over the program.
The 6-foot-3 Beal was phenomenal in the postseason, averaging 16.5 points and 8.0 rebounds while shooting 53.1 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from 3-point range in six games (including the SEC tournament).
A lot of that production came when Beal was forced into action at power forward to replace the injured Will Yeguete. He was the team's best rebounder -- he averaged a team-high 6.7 per game -- and was the only player on the roster who consistently could take his man off the dribble and drive to the basket.
Should he decide to return, which is unlikely, he gives the Gators one of the most versatile players in the country.
Boynton started the season hot, but his production dipped in January, February and March. He still finished as the Gators' leading scorer (15.9 ppg) and he made a team-high 110 3-pointers and shot 40.7 percent from long range, but he shot just 32.8 percent from the field and 22.9 percent from 3-point range and averaged 11.2 points in six postseason games.
One thing that could induce the 6-1 Boynton to return for his senior season is that he is 502 points shy of becoming the school's all-time leading scorer (UF doesn't recognize part of Vernon Maxwell's career because of NCAA violations). He scored at least 525 points in his past two seasons.
Donovan once famously said that just because a player is older doesn't mean he's better, but that didn't apply to sophomore center Patric Young and junior forward Erik Murphy. They stepped into starting roles this past season and performed well despite some injuries and mental blocks along the way.
The 6-9, 247-pound Young averaged 10.2 points and 6.4 rebounds despite being hobbled by a sore ankle much of the season. His biggest issue was consistently playing with a high energy level, but he seemed to solve that by the end of the season.
The next step in his development is becoming a better post scorer and adding a short-range jumper so he can play facing the basket, too.
The 6-10 Murphy (10.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg) was UF's best 3-point shooter (42.1 percent). He's not really a post scorer, but his shooting ability allows the Gators to space the floor and presents a matchup issue for defenses.
With the loss of Yeguete, Murphy was forced to play some center, and he responded by being a better rebounder. He averaged 5.8 rebounds per game in the postseason, more than a rebound better per game than during the regular season.
UF is counting on the continued development of several other players, too.
The 6-7 Yeguete was the Gators' best post defender and was their leading rebounder (6.3 rpg) at the time of his injury. He also was the key to UF's press, and the Gators were not as effective without him.
Yeguete is more of a garbage scorer, but it certainly would help the Gators in 2012-13 if he could develop into a 6-7 ppg scorer.
Point guard Scottie Wilbekin did a solid job filling in for Erving Walker. He's a tough defender, so much so that Donovan even gave him minutes at the power forward spot to help replace Yeguete. He's not a scorer, although he is efficient when he does shoot (43.4 percent from the field, 45.7 percent from 3-point range). He also had the best assist-to-turnover ratio on the team (2.8).
Whether he inherits the starting job from Walker will depend on what the Gators can get from signee Braxton Ogbueze, but he'll be a valuable contributor regardless of what happens.
UF needs to get more consistency from forward Casey Prather, forward/center Cody Larson and guard Mike Rosario. All three flashed at times this past season -- especially Prather in the NCAA tournament -- but never seemed to put together back-to-back games in which they played well.
It's an important summer for Larson in particular. UF needs help in the frontcourt, and Larson is a big body (6-9, 231) who could spell Young for longer stretches so Yeguete and Murphy won't have to spend time at center.
The Gators add three freshman guards in the fall -- Ogbueze, Michael Frazier and Dillon Graham -- and one of their most important characteristics is that they're all 6-1 or taller. Walker finished his career as UF's all-time leader in assists and fourth on the school's all-time scoring list, but he was only 5-8 and had trouble matching up against bigger guards on defense. He and Boynton also struggled to get clean looks against teams with bigger backcourts.
Ogbueze is a 6-1 point guard with a good outside shot and a is physical defender. He'll be given the chance to win the starting job, but even if he doesn't, he'll play significant minutes.
Frazier and Graham are both 6-4 shooting guards who are very good catch-and-release 3-point-shooters, which should allow the Gators to continue to be among the nation's top 3-point shooting teams.
Donovan is still hoping to add power forward Anthony Bennett, ESPNU's No. 7 player in the 2012 class. He recently cut his list of schools down to five: UF, Kentucky, Oregon, UNLV and Washington.
Should Beal and Boynton return and Bennett decide to sign with UF, the Gators likely would begin the 2012-2013 season with a top-five ranking. If Beal and Boynton leave, and Bennett picks another school, the Gators likely would earn a preseason ranking in the 15-20 range.