Billy Donovan has never had a situation where the only two true point guards on his roster aren’t available for a game, but with Middle Tennessee State (4-0) coming to Gainesville Thursday to face 14th-ranked (USAToday Coaches Poll) Florida (3-1), the Gators will be playing without either of their primary ball handlers. It’s not the ideal situation, but it’s not like Donovan hasn’t played stretches without a point guard in the past, either.
The Gators will be without freshman Kasey Hill (high ankle sprain) indefinitely, and senior Scottie Wilbekin (suspended) for a still undetermined amount of time and that will force Donovan to get creative with his talent.
Leading up to the 2006 NCAA championship game, UCLA employed a defensive strategy to take out the opponent’s point guard. It nuked Darius Washington of Memphis in the regional final and forced the worst game of Garrett Temple’s career when UCLA cruised past LSU in the NCAA semifinals. The Bruins tried the same strategy against Florida in the championship game only Donovan adjusted the entire offensive strategy and ran everything through Joakim Noah at the high post. Green finished with eight assists in the game, almost entirely on the break, but he only scored two points. With Noah as the centerpiece of the offense in the half court, it was business as usual.
Donovan employed a similar strategy from time to time with Chandler Parsons and the offense ran smoothly. This year’s answer to Noah and Parsons will be Dorian Finney-Smith, who is versatile enough to play all five positions on the floor. Finney-Smith played point a good portion of the time in high school and for the Boo Williams Summer League Team on the Nike AAU circuit, so it’s not an unfamiliar position for him.
A lot of times when people look at a point guard sometimes guys think because they dribble the ball across half court and make an entry pass, that means they’re a point guard,” Donovan said. “But I’ve often felt like a point guard is somebody that has the ability and the wherewithal to make plays and good decisions. And in a lot of situations you can have a lot of point guards on your team. In a lot of ways DoDo in the half court is a point guard because he can make plays for himself and somebody else.”
Donovan even sees the possibility of advantages with Finney-Smith running the show.
The pressure that you’re relieving is that most teams are playing with two primary backcourt players, so if DoDo is playing the power forward and he’s bringing the ball up the court and initiating the offense, a lot of the time it’s going to be against the power forward so it’s a little bit different sometime,” Donovan said.
When the Gators faced Middle Tennessee last year, the Blue Raiders employed a lot of 2-2-1 full court and 1-3-1 half court trap. A press situation means Donovan will have to rely on more ball handlers than just Finney-Smith, but he’s comfortable that the Gators can handle the pressure with the ball handlers he has available.
I have confidence in Doe-Doe and (Michael) Frazier and DeVon (Walker), even Casey Prather,” Donovan said. “I think we have enough ball handling to initiate and start the offense so I think we’ll be okay. I think if we are dealing with any kind of pressure, we’ll hopefully utilize it as a chance to open up the floor and play fast, but certainly we’ll have to take care of the basketball and make good decisions but I do think we have enough ball handling. We don’t necessarily have a primary, pure point guard on our team at this point in time but I do think we have enough skill to handle it.”
WILBEKIN, HARRIS UPDATE
When asked about Scottie Wilbekin’s status, Donovan responded quickly, “He’s not playing tomorrow” and would not put a time frame on when the 6-2 senior point guard will return although all indications are the suspension will be lifted either by next Monday’s game with Jacksonville University or the Florida State game on November 29.
He’s still got a lot more things he has to do so I’m not going to jump days and forecast him taking care of the things he has to take care of but up to this point I’m really proud of him,” Donovan said. “He’s done a really good job but for me, I’d rather just go one day at a time before I start making things of what he’s got to do to get back on the floor. He knows what he has to do and if he stays on course, then he will have a chance to get back on our team. He’s done a very, very good job, more so than anything else, I really admire and appreciate how he’s changed for the better in a lot of ways.”
Donovan talked about Damontre Harris after the win over Southern University Monday night, stating that the 6-10 transfer from South Carolina is not practicing with the team at the moment. Harris was seen going into the practice facility Wednesday afternoon and there have been indications from friends and relatives that he will be back practicing with the team shortly and could be reinstated within 1-2 weeks.
KASEY HILL UPDATE
In the past Donovan has had some quick healers with similar high ankle injuries such as Al Horford (2006) and Prather (last season). Hill may also prove to be a quick healer, but there will be no effort made to rush him back to the court before he is 100% ready to go.
The one thing you don’t want to do to his game is come back where he’s not fully healed or he’s hobbled, and he can’t play to his strengths,” Donovan said. “His game is played in the open floor with speed and finishing. If we’ve got him out there and he’s not fully healed and can’t explode, that’s not going to help him as a player. This is a difficult injury and takes so long to recover from just because from what I gather is that anytime he’s walking and there’s stress on his ankle, it really prolongs the healing process. Him almost having to be off his foot, in a boot, on crutches – then work on his mobility to let that ligament calm down is what’s really most important right now. When you don’t do that with enough time to make sure he’s off the foot, that’s where you get into situations where the injury gets prolonged and nagging, he’s never quite back about 80%, because once you start playing, it’s really hard to get it fully recovered. We’re going to err on the side of caution in terms of throwing him back out there until he feels like he can explode and do things.”
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS
MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE (4-0): Neiko Hunter (6-7, 221, SR); Shawn Jones (6-8, 236, SR); Kerry Hammonds (6-5, 210, SR); Tweety Knight (6-1, 190, SR); Jaqawn Raymond (6-4, 197, RSO)
FLORIDA (3-1): Will Yeguete (6-8, 230, SR); Casey Prather (6-6, 212, SR); Patric Young (6-9, 240, SR); Michael Frazier (6-4, 199, SO); DeVon Walker (6-6, 195, SO)