Florida Gators 77 – Memphis Tigers 75: Gators Winning Close Games This Time Around

One season ago, the Florida Gators turned in a 0-6 record in games decided by less than 10 points. With a 77-75 victory over the Memphis Tigers on Tuesday night, the Gators improved to 4-2 this season alone in such games.

Casey Prather, Florida Gators

While not technically a road game, Florida traveled to New York, NY to face Memphis in the Jimmy V. Classic at Madison Square Garden. It was the Gators third-straight game against a ranked opponent and second-consecutive victory. Florida improved to 2-2 this season against ranked opponents. As the polls stand today, the Gators won’t face another ranked opponent until February 4, 2014 when they host the Missouri Tigers.

The player of the game was a no-brainer as the honor goes to senior forward Casey Prather. Prather shot 8-of-13 from the field, a perfect 6-of-6 from the free-throw line, and led all scorers with 22 points. He put in the final eight points the Gators would score and made four free throws in the final 1:20 to help Florida to the win.

To say Prather has been a surprise this season would be a gross understatement. The senior was expected to see more playing time and showed flashes last season that proved he would be able to answer the call with increased minutes; however, he has performed at a higher level than any would have expected. He leads the team with 18.7 points per game and has already surpassed his points total from last season. Prather was expected to be a contributor, but has surpassed that expectation and has become a vital part of Florida’s success.

Of the three transfers eligible to play for the Gators this season, redshirt sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith is the one continuing to make a name for himself. (Of course, Eli Carter is redshirting while injured and Damontre Harris isn’t likely to ever play for the Gators.) In 29.0 minutes per game for Virginia Tech during the 2011-12 season, Finney-Smith averaged 6.3 points and 7.0 rebounds. In almost four less minutes per game for Florida, he is averaging 11.4 points and 7.5 rebounds. While Carter heals and Harris possibly looks for another opportunity elsewhere, Finney-Smith is taking every possible advantage of the opportunity to play for the Gators and head coach Billy Donovan and is performing admirably.

Freshman guard Kasey Hill isn’t back to his old self just yet, but he was able to play 20 minutes or more for the second-consecutive game since returning from injury. Hill had his ups and downs during the win, struggling early. Sometimes it’s hard to remember he’s just a freshman and still has a lot to learn. Missing four games didn’t help the process, but Hill will continue to grow. The Gators will need him at his best if they hope to make a deep tourney run come March.

Florida improves to 8-2 with the win. With three non-conference games left before SEC play begins, the Gators are in a good position to have a nice streak riding into the new year. Florida will travel to another neutral site on Saturday to face the Fresno State Bulldogs in the Orange Bowl Basketball Classic in Sunrise, FL. The 4:30pm game can be seen on Fox Sports Net.

Gators Lose Kasey Hill for a Month in 67-53 Win over Southern

The Florida Gators men’s basketball team won on Monday night, but they may have actually lost. Early in the second half of the Gators’ 67-53 victory over the Southern Jaguars, freshman guard Kasey Hill rolled his ankle sidelining him for a month. The injury turned out to not be as bad as it looked, but we still have to add a hopefully to the end of that statement. Hill suffered a high ankle sprain that could keep him out for the remainder of the 2013 calendar year.

Kasey Hill - Florida Gators

The Gators have now won two in a row since falling to Wisconsin last week. That’s the good news. The bad news is that we really have no idea who will be on the court for Florida going forward. With Hill gone for at least a month, Dillon Graham out for the season (head coach Billy Donovan announced this on Monday), Eli Carter possibly out for an extended period of time, and Scottie Wilbekin still suspended, there may be an open call for any student that can play the guard position.

After Hill went down on Monday night, the Gators’ offense looked lost and Donovan looked for ways to fix it. While the Gators’ scoring output didn’t change much with the loss of Hill—Florida scored 35 with him available in the first half and 32 without him in the second—they weren’t able to control the flow of the game. Southern actually outscored Florida 34-32 over the final 20 minutes.

We’ll go with what we’ve got. We’ll have to do some different things, make some lineup adjustments and changes, protect some guys in foul trouble and probably have multiple guys handle the ball. We’ve got to be able to flow and function on offense.

– Billy Donovan, Florida Gators Head Coach

One of Florida’s three incoming transfers—Dorian Finney-Smith—has seen his playing time increase from his first game to his second, but he is solely a forward. One of the others—Damontre Harris—remains suspended and from the sounds of it, he will remain so for quite some time. With Carter’s minutes limited, the Gators may move forward with just two scholarship guards—Michael Frazier II and Devon Walker. Immediately, Florida may be able to handle it, but a four-game stretch with contests against Florida State, Connecticut, Kansas and Memphis is right around the corner.

Six of the Gators’ top seven scorers remain available despite the injuries and suspensions, but who will get them the ball? Frazier II is a pure shooter and Florida’s primary weapon from behind the three-point line. Now, he may be the one bringing the ball up the court. What started as a top-10 team may quickly become a roster pieced together by out-of-position players. While talent is still available, plenty of it will be watching from the bench.

It’s too early in the season to curse the football team for passing along its whatever bad mojo it has just yet, but if anyone else is carried off of the court or suspended any time soon, we may be seeing significant minutes from names that are new to us. For instance, we know who Jacob Kurtz is, but before this season, his career high in minutes played was 4 against South Carolina on January 30, 2013. In four games this season, Kurtz is averaging 18.5 minutes per game. That’s not to say he hasn’t earned more playing time, but his story would be different with a full roster.

The Gators get two days to process Hill’s injury and Carter’s future. On Thursday, they host Middle Tennessee. A win is expected, but no one has any idea what form it will take.