Gators basketball officially tipped off Thursday night, with the men’s team beating Nebraska-Kearney 101-71 in its only exhibition game of the season.
Though preseason excitement and expectations have largely centered on a solid core of players returning from back-to-back Elite Eight teams, it was the starting crew that spent lengthy periods watching the game from Billy Donovan’s court-side doghouse. Optimism, however, came in the form of phenomenal freshmen play and the return of junior forward Will Yeguete.
With a mere week before the regular season opener against Georgetown, we break down “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” from our first glimpse of the 2012-13 Gators.
The Good: Perhaps this is a misnomer, and “The Great” would be more appropriate. The freshmen trio of Braxton Obgueze, Dillon Graham and Michael Frazier combined for an astounding 48 points on 20-of-24 shooting against the Lopers. Frazier led the way with 21 points, and connected on 5 of 6 shots from beyond the arc, while the speedy Obgueze chipped in 15 points and Graham added 12. Though fellow freshman Devon Walker had a far more modest statistical line at 2 points, he too provided 15 minutes off the bench, and like his classmates, appeared confident and comfortable. Donovan somewhat downplayed their exciting debut by reminding that it is a “long season,” but did acknowledge that he was “much more pleased” with freshmen and their “commitment” than he was with that of his starters. In a game that Donovan seemingly sought to send messages and make preseason teaching points, the play of his freshmen allowed for both. Though this team will ultimately be driven by the play of Patric Young, Erik Murphy, Kenny Boynton and the other veterans, Thursday gave early indication that the freshman class may be much more than mere ride-alongs.
The Bad: Individually, it may be unfair to place each member of the starting lineup into this category, but as a unit, they were “bad”— at least in Donovan’s view. Throughout the first half, he tugged hard on the short leash provided to starters, quickly sitting players for poor shot selection, turnovers or defensive lapses. The latter seemed most frustrating for Donovan, who expressed real “disappointment with our defense” and described the allotted 71 points “at home to a Division II team” as “a problem.” Equally agitating was the relatively small rebounding margin of plus-3, over a smallish and certainly inferior team, leading Donovan to question effort and commitment. The entire starting five accounted for 12 rebounds — only one more board than Will Yegeute gathered on his own. Perhaps an understated loss resulting from the departure of Bradley Beal was his team-leading 6.7 rebounds per game. With a far smaller Mike Rosario moving into that spot, the Gators will rely upon team effort on the glass. Thursday night such effort was lacking. Offensively, the starters never seemed to find a flow and too often settled for poor shots. The transition from Erving Walker to a new point guard should see less emphasis on scoring from the point guard position, but in the exhibition opener, Scottie Wilbekin trailed only Boynton in shot attempts among starters, including 1-5 from the beyond the arc. Young rarely established himself on the blocks, and his teammates made little or poor effort to get him the ball in scoring position. He finished with 2 points and missed on his only two field goal attempts. Though much improved in the second half, the Gators turned the ball over eight times in the early going, with Rosario accounting for four giveaways. In fairness, the starting crew was offered little opportunity to play through first game jitters or rust — and at least a portion of Donovan’s actions and comments are motivational driven. Still, there is much to improve upon in the coming days.
The Ugly: Yeguete was beastly ugly, and we mean that as the highest of compliments. Florida’s “garbage man” returned to service, dutifully doing his “dirty work” — providing put backs, tipping balls, harassing opposition, forcing turnovers, creating two steals and gathering a team-high 11 rebounds. He played at various spots on the floor, moving from power forward to center as substitutions dictated. He ended the game with 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting and played a team-high 24 minutes. In addition, his free throw shooting and form showed remarkable improvement with 4 of 5 slipping through the net. On a night when the veterans were bad, Yeguete was beautifully “ugly”. While Yeguete’s absence at the end of last season may have been a bit underestimated, his role and presence this season will be anything but. He provides the perfect complement to this team — and relishes his much-needed role — saying that he simply wants to “play hard, play aggressive and crash the boards”. Job will-done!