The (Second) Most Wonderful Time of the Year

The secret is out; I love college football. College football fueled my desire to start this site way back when on March 19, 2008. But, in the words of everyone’s beloved grandpa Lee Corso, not so fast. The first article posted to The Bull Gator was about college basketball. Okay, okay. That is not entirely correct; the first post was a welcome to the site that three people read—me, the affectionately-named One Eyed Willy, and my mom. But the first post of any substance was about college basketball. (Do not go back and read it; it is not very good.)

Patric Young, Florida Gators

In my mind, the most wonderful time of the year is and always will be college football season. A 4-8 record cannot stop me from believing that. There is a second place though and a good one at that. March Madness, the Big Dance, the NCAA Tourney, whatever you want to call it is great. For coaches, for players, for fans, for companies hoping to market the heck out of themselves, for sports in general, college basketball tourney time is a truly glorious time of the year.

It can (and does) get even better. When you are a fan of the nation’s No. 1 team, it is oh so much better. I will not be shy about that fact and at times will even become boastful over the next few weeks, assuming our top-ranked Florida Gators continue what has been a most wonderful stretch of victories. When your team makes the tourney, you are pleased. When they make a run, you are over the moon. When they enter as the prohibitive favorite to win it all, well, like the Grinch’s heart that day, your chest grows three sizes. If I played fantasy basketball, I would bet on the Gators for much more than the fact that I am a fan.

There is an obstacle between the Gators and the NCAA Tournament, sort of. Florida must first make their way through the SEC Tournament. A conference tournament championship will only solidify the Gators claim to the top overall seed, but it is far from necessary. We all would like Florida to carry momentum in to the bigger of the two tourneys, but a loss would not be the end of the world.

Wait, forget I said that.

Too many times in the past we have justified losses. Let us go ahead and stop that now. Yes, it is true a loss in the SEC Tournament would not destroy all hope of a Gators’ national championship, but it is also true that momentum can be a valuable commodity. Florida can go ahead and make it easy on everyone involved if they take care of business over the next three days and go in to the NCAA tourney with three more wins under their belt. Beat Missouri on Friday, take down the winner of South Carolina-Tennessee on Saturday, and win it all on Sunday.

That is all the Gators have to do. Get three more wins out of the way and move on to the next prize. Seems simple enough, and there is that pride creeping up. Expect it to be here for a while; it does not go away.

First things first, beat Mizzou. As always, Go Gators!

Florida Gators 78 – Alabama Crimson Tide 69: Gators Need Second Half to Pull Away

When Florida jumped out to an early 12-2 lead over Alabama on Saturday, it looked like the Gators were on their way to a blowout. That lead evaporated almost as fast as it grew and Florida would head into the locker room at halftime tied with the Crimson Tide.

Scottie Wilbekin, Florida Gators

The second half saw Bama give Florida much of the same as the Gators’ defense didn’t play up to it’s usual standards.

“If you play defense the way we did tonight, you’re not going to win. Thank God we had some offense today that helped us,” said Florida head coach Billy Donovan.

That offense came in the form of 62 percent shooting from the field and a second-half surge that saw the No. 3 Gators improve to 21-2 (10-0 SEC) on the season. The loss dropped the Anthony Grant-led Tide to 9-14 (3-7 SEC).

For the first time in over two months, all five Florida starters scored in double digits. The Gators were led senior guard Scottie Wilbekin’s 16. Senior center Patric Young added 11 and a highlight-reel block.

The Gators set a season high with 22 assists, but according to one Florida player, you aren’t going to hear Donovan praise them for that.

“Coach D is not going to tell us about that. As a coach, he wants us to see what we did wrong and get better from that. I think this game can help us learn. It better. Other teams are going to watch this film and see how we broke down and they’re going to run the same stuff,” said senior forward Will Yeguete.

The Gators have Sunday and Monday off before traveling to Knoxville, TN on Tuesday to take on 15-8 (6-4 SEC) Tennessee.

Florida Gators 69 – Texas A&M Aggies 36: Win Streak Reaches 13

Is there a sport in which the saying “defense wins championships” doesn’t apply? If so, it’s not college men’s basketball and that’s a good thing for the Florida Gators.

Patric Young, Florida Gators

On Saturday, Florida defeated Texas A&M 69-36. The win was the 13th in a row for No. 3 Florida and that streak could continue for quite some time. The 19-2 (8-0 SEC) Gators only have two games remaining on their regular season schedule against ranked opponents. Both of those contests pit Florida against Kentucky. It could be smooth sailing for the Gators between now and the NCAA Tournament and this team is good enough to make some serious noise come March.

Holding the Aggies to less than a point per minute is impressive; holding Texas A&M to less than 26% from the field may be more so. Not every game will go this way, but the Gators’ defense is an unmatched strength in the SEC. While there is talent elsewhere in the conference, Florida is benefiting from a down year all around. That’s not to take anything away from the Gators, but were at that point that anything less than both a regular season SEC title and conference tourney title would be a disappointment.

Florida was led by sophomore guard Michael Frazier II who led all scorers with 21 points. Only sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith joined Frazier II in the double-digit scoring club, but that didn’t matter much as not a single Aggie scored more than seven points.

Finney-Smith was one rebound away from a double-double, while senior center Patric Young was one point away from the same. Young led all players with 14 rebounds. Senior forward Will Yeguete also had a double-digit rebounding outing with 10.

Despite the big win, head coach Billy Donovan was ever the realist. “We haven’t even played half our league games yet,” Donovan said.

He’s right of course, but it’s exciting to see this team seemingly improve with every game. It’s scary to the rest of the nation that the Gators are about to get even better. On Tuesday, against Missouri, highly-touted freshman forward Chris Walker will finally make his debut.

Florida Gators 67 – Richmond Spiders 58: Gators Win Final Non-Conference Game

With one final game before conference play begins, Florida defeated Richmond 67-58 on Saturday. The Gators improved to 11-2 and will head into SEC play in the top 13 of both major polls.

Scottie Wilbekin, Florida Gators

The Spiders kept the game closer throughout than the Gators would have liked, and even led with less than six minutes to play. But when it mattered, Florida stepped up on both offense and defense. For nearly four full minutes near the end of the game, the Gators went on a 12-0 run, taking a lead they wouldn’t give up. Richmond was able to score eight points in the final 1:06, but it wasn’t enough and Florida would prevail.

The Gators were led by sophomore guard Michael Frazier II, who scored 18 points. He went 3-for-7 from behind the arc with all three makes coming in the second half. He was joined in the double-digit scoring column by senior forward/center Patric Young (15), senior forward Casey Prather (12), and senior guard Scottie Wilbekin (10). Prather has scored in double digits in every single Gators’ game this season.

Head coach Billy Donovan appears to have his lineup set for hard-fought games. Senior forward Will Yeguete was the only starter to not log at least 20 minutes, but did play 18. Coming off of the bench, sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith played 28 minutes and freshman guard Kasey Hill was on the court for 21. Sophomore guard/forward DeVon Walker was the only other Florida player to see the court. He logged nine minutes. The rotation could change slightly when freshman forward Chris Walker finally makes his debut, but, for the most part, the Gators appear to be set assuming everyone stays healthy.

The Gators’ begin SEC play on Wednesday, January 8, 2014 when South Carolina comes to Gainesville.

Florida Gators 76 – Savannah State Tigers 34: Patric Young Scores 1,000th Career Point in Blowout

Florida ended 2013 on a high note, defeating Savannah State 76-34 on Sunday in Gainesville. The Gators jumped out to a 34-11 halftime lead and never took their foot off of the gas. The 42-point win is by far the largest victory margin of the season for Florida.

Patric Young, Florida Gators

The spotlight was planted firmly on senior forward/center Patric Young. Young became the 50th Florida men’s basketball player to score 1,000 career points. He would finish the game with a team-high 15 points and add six rebounds.

“I have just been very fortunate to be on winning teams and just to be here under Coach [Billy] Donovan, one of the guys who is going to help develop his players. I can praise him for that. I couldn’t walk and chew gum when I first got here. I can do a few more things now. I just want to thank him for believing in me and helping me get better,” said Young.

After scoring the basket that put him over 1,000 points, Young would score again, ending the game with 1,003 career points. That moved him to 49th-place on the all-time list. With the majority of the season remaining, Young will have plenty of opportunities to rise even higher in the Florida history books.

Three other players joined Young in the double-digit scoring club in the win. Sophomore guard Michael Frazier II had 11 points and senior forward Casey Prather and senior guard Scottie Wilbekin both had 10. Sophomore foward Dorian Finney-Smith and sophomore guard/forward DeVon Walker tied for the team lead with seven rebounds.

The Gators led the Tigers in every major statistically category, but the most telling was field goal percentage. Florida shot 49.0% from the field while holding Savannah State to 24.5% shooting. Only two players on the Tigers’ entire roster managed to make at least half of their shots and eight players that attempted field goals didn’t connect on a single one.

At 10-2, the Gators have won four in a row heading into 2014. That momentum should serve them well in their final non-conference game of the regular season on Saturday, January 4, 2014 against Richmond. Following that, the Gators host South Carolina on Wednesday, January 8, 2014 to kick off their SEC schedule.

Florida Dismisses Damontre Harris; South Carolina Transfer Never Plays for Gators

Florida has announced the dismissal of forward Damontre Harris. The transfer from South Carolina leaves the program having never played for the Gators. Florida will allow Harris to transfer without any restrictions.

Damontre Harris, Florida Gators

Harris transferred to Florida from South Carolina hoping to play two seasons with the Gators after sitting out during the 2012-13 campaign. He was suspended before the 2013-14 season began and, just recently, head coach Billy Donovan said he didn’t believe Harris would ever play for the Gators. On Saturday, that became true.

At 6’9″, the forward/center was expected to play behind senior Patric Young this season and then take over for him in 2014-15. An SEC All-Defensive Team selection with the Gamecocks, Harris was a welcome addition to the Gators roster. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to put it all together and get himself in Donovan’s good graces.

The timing of Harris’s dismissal is one to note as it will give him the ability to join another program for the spring semester. When he’ll actually be able to play is up to the NCAA.

Alex Murphy to Transfer from Duke to Florida; Erik Murphy’s Brother to Play for Gators

While the football program is routinely gutted by the transfer process, head men’s basketball coach Billy Donovan continues to convince those not happy with their current situations to come play for the Florida Gators. The latest to announce his intentions to transfer to Florida is forward Alex Murphy, younger brother of former Gators forward Erik Murphy.

Alex Murphy, Florida Gators

The younger Murphy was one of the nation’s better prospects coming out of high school. He was a four-star recruit across the four major services – 247, ESPN, Rivals, and Scout – and fell between No. 36 and No. 45 in overall rankings. Murphy committed to the Duke Blue Devils over Florida and redshirted his first season, 2011-12. Over the next season and a half, Murphy never became a consistent contributor for the Blue Devils, averaging 6.3 minutes in 2012-13 and 6.3 this season. Murphy only appeared in five of Duke’s 10 games this season.

When it became evident Murphy would look to pursue his college basketball career elsewhere, Florida became the logical choice. His No. 2 during the recruiting process, Murphy had come to know the Gators through both his brother and Donovan. There was a connection that benefitted Florida greatly when Murphy decided Duke was no longer for him.

Because of the timing of his transfer, Murphy will be eligible to play for the Gators one year from now, or about halfway through the 2014-15 season. He could become a big part of the rotation immediately as Florida loses Casey Prather, Will Yeguete, and Patric Young after this season. With Damontre Harris not an option and soon-to-be-playing freshman Chris Walker likely a one-and-done (or half-and-done to be accurate), the Gators need bigs. While Murphy plays a similar style of basketball as that of his older brother, he still has size and Florida will need it.

Wisconsin Badgers 59 – Florida Gators 53; Point Guard-Less Gators Come Up Short

This wasn’t a game that the Florida Gators should have won, but it also wasn’t a game where a win was unattainable either. The Gators had plenty of opportunities to seize the game but instead came up short with a 59-53 loss in Madison, WI against the Wisconsin Badgers.

Billy Donovan, Florida Gators

I’m going to try to break down the game in terms of positives and negatives, through the notes I took during the game.

Positives:

• Florida didn’t get killed. Seriously, the team went into a hostile environment without a point guard for much of the game and handled it reasonably well given the circumstances.
• Michael Frazier II put forth a magnificent effort, scoring 20 points on 11 shots with 5 three-pointers, and you could say he’s the primary reason that Florida was able to stay in the game. He also assumed a lot of the ball-handling duties when Kasey Hill was out.
• Casey Prather (12 points) continued to be one of the top offensive options. I’d say that he is easily the most improved player from last year to this year and he’s made tremendous strides over his career.
• The defense wasn’t bad. In fact, it looked better than it did against North Florida.

Negatives:

• Kasey Hill struggled to get into a groove, and most of his layups were strong off the backboard, though he really showed off his athleticism and burst in the open floor. Wisconsin was also playing very loose defense on Hill and he failed to hit a shot that forced the defense to guard him closely. He fouled out in the second half.
• DeVon Walker still isn’t there yet. He showed flashes of athleticism, with a nice block in transition, but turned over the ball too much and looked like a young player who just isn’t ready.
• No back-up point guard: Prather and Walker handled the ball often and accounted for 8 of Florida’s 11 turnovers.
• Depth. Not much of it, whatsoever. That will change though.
• The Gators left way too many Wisconsin shooters open. Perimeter defense has struggled this year without Scottie Wilbekin and Kenny Boynton.
• Patric Young is struggling to play good basketball. If the Gators had more depth, this would be a situation where Donovan benches Young in order to motivate him.

Overall, isn’t wasn’t a bad effort for a depleted basketball team against a decent team in Wisconsin. The Florida Gators showed a lot of fight and should improve on the loss. While Scottie Wilbekin remains suspended, key transfers Dorian Finney-Smith and Demontre Harris should be available for Florida on Saturday against the Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans in the O’Connell Center.

Florida Gators 77 – North Florida Ospreys 69; Gators Unimpressive in 2013-14 Men’s Basketball Opener

It’s that time of the year again. That’s right; Florida Gators Basketball is back, though it didn’t completely begin as planned.

Billy Donovan couldn’t exactly be described as a happy camper after the game:

We are light years away from even being a remotely good defensive team right now and light years away from even being a ranked team.

-Billy Donovan, Florida Gators Head Coach

 

Donovan has plenty to be upset about though. Thought the Florida Gators won 77-69 against a respectable North Florida team, the Ospreys were able to make nine three-pointers against a Gators defense that wasn’t up to par with what we saw last year. 69 points for a team that was probably paid just to play the No. 10 Gators is too many.

Offensively, things weren’t much better for the Gators. Between Patric Young, Will Yeguete, and new transfer Eli Carter, the trio had only 7 points to show for. That’s going to have to change. Surprisingly, walk-on Jacob Kurtz outscored each of those aforementioned scholarship players with 4 points himself.

On the bright side, three Gators shined, perhaps each having his own best game in the orange and blue. Casey Prather played out of his mind, posting a career-high 28 points and accounting for more than a third of the Gators’ points. Kasey Hill was everything he was cut out to be with 15 points, 2 steals, and 4 assists running the Gators’ offense. Also great was the efficient 19 points and 9 rebounds from sophomore sharp-shooter Michael Frazier, who did everything but rain down threes in his return from the mononucleosis that hampered his health over the last month.

Things could get worse for the Gators, however, before they get better. The Gators match up against a Wisconsin team on Tuesday that is definitely better than North Florida. The Gators will miss their defensive-star point guard Scottie Wilbekin, phenom transfer Dorian Finney-Smith, and Damontre Harris for the second-straight game in each’s violation of team rules.

Patric Young to Return to Florida Gators for Senior Season

For the second-straight year, the Florida Gators can breathe a sigh of relief. Center Patric Young has announced he will return for another season.

Patric Young - Florida Gators

Once thought to be a top-10 pick in the NBA Draft, Young may have seen his stock fall slightly over the course of his junior season. While Young is a physical specimen with plenty of potential at the professional level, he is no longer a lock for the first round of the draft. That, along with other factors, may have made it easy for Young to decide to return for one final season donning the orange and blue of the good guys.

Academics could have been one of those other factors. Young has been selected as the SEC’s Men’s Basketball Scholar Athlete of the Year following each of the last two seasons. The studious Young may be looking to bring home the three-peat.

The Gators’ finish at the end of each of Young’s seasons may be yet another reason. Florida took its final bow in the Elite Eight of the last three NCAA Tournaments, leaving Young exactly one game away from reaching the Final Four on three different occasions. Despite an extremely different Gators’ team set to take to the court in 2013-14, Florida should have another great opportunity to advance far in the tourney again.

Head coach Billy Donovan has some work to do, but having Young back should make it all a little easier. Young brings leadership and experience to a largely overhauled roster. With incoming freshmen and transfers set to join the likes of Young, Will Yeguete, Scottie Wilbekin, Michael Frazier II and the rest of the roster, the Gators are poised to make another deep run.