As Gator Nation gets set for the Friday night celebration and prepares to wave goodbye to the greatest recruiting class in school history, it makes sense to glance ahead to what will be an incredibly challenging year for Billy Donovan and his staff.
As of today, Florida’s head man has just nine scholarship players for the 2007-08 season although it’s likely that number could go up one or two in the days ahead. The five returning Gators combined for just 38 points in the six NCAA tournament games and 24 of those came in the blowout of Jackson State. Florida will be the least experienced team in recent history when it takes to the floor next fall with just five players who have seen any action at the collegiate level.
Don’t buy into parallels with two years ago because they really don’t work. Heading into last season Florida had seen more than enough to know that Al Horford (5.6/6.5) and Corey Brewer (7.5/3.4) to know they were going to be stars. Taurean Green (3.9/69 assists) showed he could run the offense more effectively than his high scoring predecessor (Anthony Roberson) and Lee Humphrey (62-157 .395) had demonstrated that he could at least shoot it from long range. Additionally Chris Richard and Joakim Noah had each scored over 100 points and had the size to help out.
This year’s returning players have displayed far less to this point.
* Marreese Speights —– The 6’10” Speights have already convinced me he will be a force inside next year. Despite very limited playing time he averaged 4.1 points and 2.6 rebounds. However the numbers are quite impressive when you look at his 40-minute averages. Speights scored 28.4 points and 18.2 rebounds for every 40 minutes on the court. He has to learn to avoid fouls (8 per 40 minutes) but he will be very productive.
* Dan Werner —– Early in the year Werner was the most advanced of the Florida freshmen and got significant playing time. As the year went on he appeared to lose confidence and eventually playing time. Still his 348 minutes were by far the most of the freshman class and he had a nice assist/turnover ratio (31/17 1.8). He’s a much better shooter than he showed (13-for-58) from long range and he’s a difficult match up at the power forward spot. He must get stronger to compete in the paint.
* Jonathan Mitchell —– This versatile forward‘s development is a major key for next season. Mitchell can score facing the basket and can post up smaller players as well. I like his passing skills and “feel” for the game offensively and defensively with 40 minute averages of 8.8 points, 8 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.6 steals.
* Brandon Powell —– I really wanted to see more of him this year because he might be the most ideal two-guard of the Donovan era. Powell has the length and quickness to be a superb defender and has shown a nice stroke from three point range (9-for-14 .643). However his 93 minutes are half those played by Mitchell.
* Walter Hodge —– The most proven commodity on this team, Hodge has to become a leader on and off the court. He averaged 5.7 points and 1.5 assists off the bench this season and made half his three point shots (34-for-68). He needs to improve his free throw shooting (35-for-55 .636) and improve his assist/turnover ratio (1.3/1).
There’s your starting five at this point in time. It’s capable and talented, but incredibly young and unproven. The Gators will actually be even younger when you mix in the recruiting class of four players (which is bound to grow). Once recruiting is closed out, we’ll assess each incoming freshman’s chances of contributing quickly as Florida goes after its tenth straight 20-win season and NCAA tournament appearance.