Gator Bench a Growing Concern

Among of the things that go with being a defending national champion are absurdly high expectations and constant nitpicking. Well, being one of the premier nitpickers in this room, time is to again look at the concerns that Florida must have looking down the road.

At the top of the list has to be the increasingly unreliable play of the Gators’ non-starters. Saturday was another example of how Billy Donovan has become less and less trusting of the guys who come in off the bench. In the first half against Ole Miss, the Florida reserves combined to play 29 minutes, score ten points and grab five rebounds. That’s solid, useful play from Walter Hodge, Chris Richard and the freshmen.

However in the second half, Florida’s subs were awful, especially on defense. Repeated breakdowns helped Ole Miss to rally and they were nowhere to be found in helping get the ball up the court against the Rebel’s press. In the final 20 minutes of the game, the Gators got just 16 minutes from its guys on the bench who combined for zero points, zero rebounds and a pair of turnovers.

Poor Play Continues Trend

Florida’s struggles off the bench are part of an ongoing pattern since the start of conference play. In four SEC games, the Gators have gotten just 45 points and 27 rebounds from non-starters. That’s just eleven points and seven boards a night. That’s not terrible, but you would much rather see about twice that. The reserves also have a minus-three (7/10) assist/turnover ratio.

In the tougher non-conference games the bench play has been sporadic at best. Against UAB Florida got 17 points from its reserves, but ten of those came from Al Horford who played 29 minutes. Horford (10/6) out performed starter Chris Richard (8/2) in most points and rebounds. Against Ohio State, Florida’s bench delivered 21 points and 16 rebounds, but that, too is deceptive. Horford (11/11) had a double-double and Dan Werner (8/4) did the rest of the damage in is best day as a Gator.

In the Kansas game, the bench played 54 minutes but produced just two points and against FSU it was seven points in 44 minutes. Those numbers are just dreadful. All totaled in Florida eight toughest games, the bench has contributed 92 points and 66 rebounds and Al Horford was responsible for 21 of the points and 17 boards.

Hodge is the Key

While Chris Richard has struggled in recent games, and really had a bad day against Ole Miss, I don’t see any cause for concern there. Richard has a track record of making significant contributions and there’s no doubt in my mind he will do so the rest of the way. He’ll continue to deliver five or six points and three-to-five rebounds.

The real key guy is sophomore guard Walter Hodge who has been riding the roller coaster with his performances this season. Hodge scored 17 points and committed just one turnover in 32 minutes against Florida State, but in four SEC games he has totaled just twelve points while committing seven turnovers in 73 minutes. He had a good game in the blowout of South Carolina, playing 25 minutes, scoring five points and dishing out five assists with just one turnover, but in the three competitive SEC games it’s been a different story. In those contests, Hodge has played 48 minutes, scoring seven points with six giveaways. Overall in four SEC games Hodge is shooting just over 30 percent (5-for-16) after making almost two-thirds of his shots in the pre-conference schedule.

Walter Hodge has to give Florida about ten good minutes a half from here on in. That’ll keep Taurean Green around 30 minutes a game instead of the 35 he’s played in the SEC games. Green wore down last year and while his floor leadership didn’t suffer, his shooting did as evidenced by his 14-for-51 shooting in the NCAA Tournament. The Gators survived that woeful shooting a year ago, but they sure would be a lot better off come tournament time if Green is shooting like he has so far this season (51 % FG, 43 % 3-pt ), instead of how he shot it late last year. Quality play from Walter Hodge might be the single most important factor in making that happen.