A new year, same result for the Florida Gators men’s basketball program.
Florida is ranked seventh in the USA Today Coaches’ Preseason Top-25 Poll. Last year the Gators opened up the season ranked eighth and finished third after reaching their fifth Final Four in school history last year.
This is also the highest preseason ranking for the basketball program since the it won the national championship in the 2006-07 season. That year the Gators entered the polls at number one.
This is the fourth straight year the Gators open up the polls in the top 10. Coming off a year where Florida went undefeated in the SEC regular season and won the SEC Tournament, the team will have a new look this year. Four of the team’s five starters have left due to graduation, including SEC Player of the Year Scottie Wilbekin and SEC Defensive Player of the Year Patric Young.
Head coach Billy Donovan said the adversity of early exits in SEC and NCAA tournaments over the careers of last year’s seniors helped them achieve the success they were able to. Donovan said this year’s team would have to go through some challenges in order to have a successful season.
“We’ve talked a lot about this in the off season, not to say we’re going into the year hoping to lose or face adversity, how you respond to those things is going to be really important,” Donovan said. “There’s no doubt in my mind Scottie had the year he had because he responded the right way to adversity. There’s no question about that. Same thing with Patric Young. Same thing with [Casey] Prather, Will [Yeguete]. All those guys responded well to that.”
This year more will be expected of the players that contributed under the seniors. A player on the watch this year will be Michael Frazier II, the only underclassman in the starting lineup last year. Donovan said he looks to see how Frazier will respond to teams’ defensive focus on him, as well as his ability to contribute without scoring.
“If he does get a lot of help and coverages coming off screens, is he going to have the wherewithal to find the open man and make the game easy for himself?” Donovan said. “It could be a situation for Mike where, you know what, in some games he might not score. But it could be a game where he gets five or six or seven assists.”
The Gators will also look for more from sophomore forward Chris Walker, who will miss a preseason game and the first two games of the regular season due to a violation of team rules. While Donovan cited Walkers shot-blocking ability and value to the team, the coach said Walker has work to do.
“He has such a long way to go in terms of being reliable, accountable and disciplined. Those would be the three things I would say I don’t have a real good grasp on right now, but we’re going to find out.”
The Gators have a preseason game November 6 against Barry University, then open up the season against William & Mary November 14.