2008-09 Florida Basketball Preview: #19
Overall Rank: #19
Conference Rank: #2 SEC
2007-08: 24-12, 8-8, 4th East
2007-08 postseason: NIT
Florida had a team with enough talent to reach the NCAA Tournament last year, but their youth and inexperience was too much to overcome. But now this is a group with a year of experience under their belt and they are ready to take Coach Billy Donovan back to the big dance. And it will all fall on the shoulders of Nick Calathes. The 6-6 guard led the team with 15.3 points, 6.1 assists and 1.6 steals per game. He also added 5.2 rebounds and hit 36.7 percent of his attempts from long range. With Calathes leading the way, the Gators will compete for an SEC championship.
But they will have to do it without Mareese Speights. The 6-10 forward was second to only Calathes in the scoring column and led Florida with 8.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game. That success led to an early departure to the NBA where he was drafted 16th overall. Little used Michael Weisenberg and Shane Payne are also not returning.
Speights is certainly an important loss, but this is a large recruiting class that will give the team plenty of options and plenty of depth. In the end, it is a good trade. Allan Chaney, Kenny Kadji and Eloy Vargas will help replace Speights. Chaney is the usual athletic 6-8, 231 pound scoring forward. Kadji is the more traditional big man. The 6-10, 245 pound Cameroonian will give the Gators a large presence in the paint who can battle with anybody. Vargas is a versatile big man who might not do a lot of scoring this year, but he will block plenty of shots. Ray Shipman, Erving Walker and walk-on Kyle McClanahan will add depth on the perimeter. Shipman is a talented defensive player on the wing and could emerge as a big scoring threat sooner or later. Walker should see some minutes as the back-up point guard, but the 5-8 speedster has the skills to add another dynamic to the offense.
Who to Watch:
And it will be important for Shipman and Walker to be ready to contribute off the bench since there are not too many options in the backcourt. But there is plenty of talent. Walter Hodge and Jai Lucas, along with Calathes, all averaged over 30 minutes per game a year ago, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Those are three very talented players. Hodge averaged 10.4 points per contest and is a great defender. The 6-0 Guaynabo, Puerto Rico native is the only senior on the roster and needs to continue to be a leader on and off the floor. Hodge is a good shooter, but he is very inconsistent. If he can boost his three-point shooting percentage up a number or two he will be a great secondary scorer to Calathes. Maybe getting up to Lucas type numbers from the three-point line is a good mark for Hodge to strive for. Lucas hit 43.5 percent of his attempts from long range, but he just did not take that many shots. His 8.5 point per game average could be a lot higher. But Lucas does more than just score. The 5-11 point guard is a steady floor leader and a year of starting in the SEC should do wonders for him as a sophomore.
Dan Werner is the team’s leading returning rebounder after averaging 6.4 per game as a sophomore. And Werner is also a solid passer and can stretch out the defense by hitting the three-point shot. His versatility makes him a great power forward to have around, especially when there is a legitimate scoring threat around the basket. Speights was that scoring threat and now Coach Donovan has to find another one. The newcomers are options, but so are Chandler Parsons, Alex Tyus and Adam Allen. None of those guys are going to score in the paint like Speights did, but all bring something to the table.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Jai Lucas, Sophomore, Guard, 8.5 points per game
Walter Hodge, Senior, Guard, 10.4 points per game
Nick Calathes, Sophomore, Guard, 15.3 points per game
Dan Werner, Junior, Forward, 9.1 points per game
Alex Tyus, Sophomore, Forward, 4.3 points per game