Replacing a senior leader is a difficult task for any team. The Florida basketball team is currently facing an even tougher dilemma – replacing four.
Head coach Billy Donovan has been in a similar situation before, having to replace an entire starting five that won back-to-back national championships in ’06 and ’07. The following two years after they left, the Gators failed to make the NCAA tournament. Donovan is determined to successfully rebuild his squad this time around.
Part of what made Florida so dominant last season was their depth. While they had a veteran starting five, there was a great deal of young talent coming off the bench. It is these role players from the ’13-’14 squad that will be vaulted into positions of higher importance this season.
While it is extremely early for anything to be set in stone for next year’s lineup, it is never too soon to start making projections. So without further adieu, here are my preliminary starting five predictions for the 2014-2015 season.
Point Guard: Kasey Hill (Sophomore) – As the Gators’ top impact freshman, Hill showed flashes of brilliance last season in limited minutes. Playing in the shadow of senior and SEC player of the year Scottie Wilbekin, he proved himself as a precision passer and was the teams second leading assistor. He also excelled in transition and fast break possessions, a skill that has proven to be extremely valuable for a guard to possess in a Billy Donovan offense. Hill is the purest point guard on Florida’s roster and I can say with certainty he will take over the starting role next season.
Shooting Guard: Michael Frazier II (Junior) – Frazier II is the only returning starter from last year’s squad. He shot an astounding 45% from three point range last season, and hit a school record 11 three’s in a game against South Carolina. He is a surefire starter heading into this offseason. Also, I expect his season average of 12.4 points per game to increase, as Frazier II is the most skilled and experienced offensive weapon in Florida’s arsenal.
Small Forward: Dorian Finney-Smith (Junior) – The defending SEC Sixth Man of the year award winner will in all likelihood have his role upgraded in his second season with the Gators. Finney-Smith is a hybrid forward who can play both on the wing and in the paint. His versatility and defensive prowess impressed Billy Donovan last season, and more importantly he has earned his trust. Look for Finney-Smith to be plugged in at multiple positions next year, and be a veteran leader in the Gators’ starting lineup.
Power Forward: Chris Walker (Sophomore) – Walker was much heralded as a recruit and incoming freshman last season, but was deemed academically ineligible by the NCAA and did not make his debut until midway through the season. Because of this, fans were given a much smaller sample size to predict how Walker’s skills will be utilized going forward. However, from what could be seen it was very clear that the Gators landed an amazing athlete to their frontcourt. His length and leaping ability were his two biggest assets in limited minutes last season, and with good coaching he will become more complete big man. He will likely see the biggest jump in minutes out of all returning players, transitioning from a highly touted prospect to starting power forward in just one season.
Power Forward/Center: Damontre Harris (Senior) – Suspended for violating team rules, Harris sat out the entire 2013-2014 season. He originally transferred as a redshirt junior from Florida’s SEC foe South Carolina. He is a 6’10” forward who has experience at the center position. I expect Billy Donovan to use him more as a center, given the multitude of forwards he has at his disposal. Harris is an elite shot blocker who could be the key to Florida’s defensive success if he is named starter.
Other names to keep an eye on: There are several others who could possibly make the cut as starters during Florida’s 2014-2015 season. This is a list including 6’10” Duke transfer Alex Murphy (brother of former Gator Erik Murphy), 6’10” forward Jon Horford (brother of former gator Al Horford), returning junior guard/forward DeVon Walker, and the Gators’ top-recruited freshman in forward Devin Robinson.