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Reloading, Part I: The Gators

by Chris Mackinder | January 21st, 2008

In college basketball, the term “reloading” is thrown around often. Perhaps too often.

It is one thing for a team to win a conference championship, lose a Player of the Year candidate and a few other weapons, and then compete for a conference title the following season (see this year’s Wisconsin Badgers). It is even more difficult to be in the NCAA title game, see most of your team’s scoring, rebounding, and leadership disappear, and then still be in the discussion to be a threat to dance deep into March.

In the first in a three-part series, Bracketography will take a look at three of the 2007-08 teams that lost significant talent yet don’t seem to be missing much of a beat.

For starters, let’s meet the 2007-08 Florida Gators.

Arguably no team in NCAA history has ever been hit with a change of personnel as hard as the Gators. Florida, despite losing its six leading scorers from last year’s championship team, looks to be one of the SEC’s best teams and has a squad that should be ranked in both polls. The Gators (16-3, 3-1 SEC) have benefited from a pre-season schedule that only Hostess could be proud of (Tennessee Tech, Stetson, Georgia Southern and High Point to name a few), but regardless of the opponent, the Gators have made most of their opponents Gator bait despite the plethora of new faces seeing significant minutes.

Think about what Florida lost to the NBA. Al Horford (13.2 ppg, 9.5 rpg) was drafted No. 3 overall by the Atlanta Hawks; Corey Brewers (13.2 ppg, 1.9 spg) went No. 7 overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves; the Chicago Bulls took Joakim Noah (12 ppg, 8.4 rpg) at No. 9; sixth man Chris Richard (6.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg) was taken No. 41 by the Minnesota Timberwolves; Taurean Green (13.3 ppg, 3.7 apg) went No. 52 by the Portland Trail Blazers. That list doesn’t even include three-point specialist Lee Humphrey (10.3 ppg).

Losing that lineup–even spread out over two seasons–would be tough for some teams, detrimental for most. Florida has shaken off the losses as if the players did nothing but contribute in garbage time.

Billy Donovan, who despite reaching the 2000 NCAA Championship game as a No. 5 seed, was once known as a coach whose team’s choked yearly in the NCAA Tournament. It took back-to-back NCAA title the past two years for people to finally call “Billy the Kid” a great coach. Ironically enough, it might be this year’s team that shows just how good of a recruiter and coach Donovan is.

Freshman Nick Calathes is playing like an All-American, averaging 15.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game. Sophomore Marreese Speights is adding 13.8 points and grabbing a team-leading 7.6 rebounds per contest. Oh, Speights also is blocking 1.5 shots per game. Then there is Jai Lucas and Chandler Parsons (both freshman) averaging 9.7 and 9.2 points per game, respectively, to go along with “veterans” Walter Hodge and Dan Werner, averaging 9.9 and 8.2, respectively.

Hodge is has the most experience of the group as a junior while Werner, another force on the glass, is a sophomore. Lucas and Parsons join Calathes in the newest Gator class to be labeled by their high school graduation year…. America, meet the Oh-Sevens.

Florida’s lone losses this year are an early-season slip-up at Florida State, a rematch of last year’s title game at Ohio State, and a trip to then one-loss Mississippi. The longer the season goes on, the Gators, even despite losses, seem to be making significant strides.

On the outside this Florida team looks like the real deal, a team that could challenge Tennessee for SEC supremacy and–gasp!–make a run for a third straight Final Four. The rest of the season, which includes a pair of games against both Vanderbilt and Tennessee, will provide the rest of the story.

Following the recent setback at Ole Miss, Donovan said he hoped the tough road loss would be “something the team can build on.”

Well, Donovan’s rifle is reloaded, so it’s just time to wait and see if the Oh-Sevens & Co. can create a legacy like the Oh-Fours.

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6 Responses to “Reloading, Part I: The Gators”  

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  1. Jake Says:

    Great article!

    As a Rowdy Reptile, I would believe my opinion is as biased as it gets. However, I do believe that this team has great potential for a deep run in March. These last two games have proven that to me. In Oxford, the Gators were getting destroyed most of the game, especially inside. Tack on a lot of missed threes and free throws, and you have a big loss on your hands. Despite all that, the Gators almost pulled the win out of its rear end. That takes determination and toughness.

    As for last Saturday’s night game against Kentucky, I have to say it was Marreese Speights best game ever. I’ve never seen him play so physically inside. I think he finally gets it. I think he finally understands his purpose.

    Despite his play, Kentucky almost beat us. Once again, it took great determination and toughness to score a third of our regulation points in a 5 minute span. Nick Calathes took the team on his back to victory.

    With Vanderbilt and Tennessee on the horizon, this team has a monumental mountain to climb if it wants to be considered as great of a team as the 04′s and Co.

    And GO GATORS!!!

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  2. David Mihm Says:

    @Jake – Calathes and Speights were terrific against Kentucky, no doubt. But I’m not sure that the Gators are as safe for a Tournament bid as everyone seems to think…see my Bubble Watch analysis this week. It’ll definitely help to get two chances @ Vandy and Tennessee, being in the SEC East, however.

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  3. John Says:

    @ David Mihm. Yes they are as safe as everyone says because young teams get better and better as each game goes along. While getting frustrated in front of my TV that they could not put away a pathetic(yes pathetic by their standards) Kentucky team, I now realize close games that are pressure packed are what is best for this team. No game nor team is easy in the SEC, but it helps to avoid Vanderbilt and Tennessee till as late as possible. And Jake i too am a Rowdy Reptile.

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  4. Jake Says:

    @ John- Nice!
    I’m in the front row in between the right three point line and the center line for every game.

    I had to wait 30+ hours in line to get that seat for the Kentucky game though. I got wristband #35. For College Gameday and a great OT game, it was worth every second in line.

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  5. Nicole Says:

    What are the chances that the Gators not only make the NCAA Tournament but reach the Final Four? This team is young, but so was Syracuse in ’03. I don’t believe Florida will, but the young talent will only get better and the SEC is so weak (other than Tennessee) that Florida could build a win streak and take it into the big dance. Thoughts?

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  6. Christopher Mackinder Says:

    @ Nicole:

    I’m no expert but there seem to be at least a dozen teams that based on their schedules and experience are better Final Four candidates (Kansas, UCLA, Memphis, North Carolina and Georgetown to name a few). Offensively, the Gators are one of the nation’s most elite teams (1.183 points per possession is 12th in the nation) but Florida is 64th in the nation in defensive efficiency (.942 opponent points per possession). I see the defense being a major issue, more so than lack of experience.

    Would I be completely shocked if Florida reached the Final Four? At this moment, not completely shocked. Surprised? Yes. However, there are still plenty of SEC tilts to be played (including today’s game at Arkansas and next week’s game at Tennessee). We’ll revist Florida’s chance for a three-peat when the NCAA Tournament field is announced.

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