(h/t UK Athletics)
Over the next few weeks I’m going to start previewing Kentucky’s major competition in the SEC. The SEC has been very top-heavy in basketball the last few seasons and this year expects to be no different. Kentucky will be awesome. Florida will be very, very good. Tennessee should be one of the better teams nationally. After that? Eh. LSU should be better but is very unproven. Ole Miss is kind of the wild card team in the league because they feature the biggest wild card player in the nation in Marshall Henderson.
Nonetheless, one by one over the next few weeks I’ll be breaking every team down so that you’ll be ready come SEC play.
Last season: 29-8 (14-4), advanced through three rounds of the NCAA tournament before losing in the Elite Eight to Michigan.
Who’s Gone: G Kenny Boynton, F Erik Murphy, G Mike Rosario
Who’s Back: F Patric Young, G Scottie Wilbekin, F Casey Prather, G Michael Frazier II, F Will Yeguete
Notable Incomers: G Kasey Hill, G Eli Carter (transfer), F Damontre Harris (transfer), F Dorian Finney-Smith (transfer), Chris Walker (ineligible first semester, possibly second semester)
Strengths: The Gators may have lost some experience in the front court with Murphy graduating, but Billy Donovan has replenished his stock of bigs with the return of bruiser Patric Young and with the transfers of Damontre Harris (South Carolina) and Dorian Finney-Smith. Harris was one of the better players for the Gamecocks two seasons ago when he averaged 6.8 points and 5.5 rebounds under former coach Darrin Horn. Finney-Smith (Virginia Tech) is the bigger coup for the Gators, though, as he is a former five-star recruit who played a strong role in VA Tech’s 2012 campaign when he averaged 6.3 points and 7 rebounds per game. These two additions add to an already strong front court, giving the Gators one of the deepest and most talented front courts in the nation. If highly-touted freshman Chris Walker is added to the roster at the midway point then you can almost pencil in Florida as the nation’s second best set of big men behind our beloved Cats (I mean c’mon, WCS, Randle, Lee, and Dakari is just ridiculous).
Weaknesses: While the Gators guard play should be steady with the addition of top-ten recruit Kasey Hill, UF isn’t exactly loaded with scorers which could find them some major trouble. Say what you want about Kenny Boynton and co., but they found a way to put the ball in the basket when they needed to. Wilbekin came on as a scorer a little bit last year, but probably isn’t going to be who Florida looks to for a go-to bucket. Look for Michael Frazier II to make a big jump this season after scoring only 5.6 points per game last season. He shot the ball at a high percentage and should see a major increase in minutes this season which could propel him to be the Gators’ leading scorer.
Bottomline: Give Billy Donovan a ton of credit for what he’s done down there in Gainesville the past couple years. He’s the only coach who has gone to the Elite Eight in each of the past three seasons and it appears he has the club to do so again this year. Florida was one of the most efficient teams in the country last year due to their high effective field goal percentage offensively and defensively. Hill can push the ball in transition and should have a myriad of athletes to get the ball to on the break, leading to a similar result this season.