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October 30, 2011

Preseason Top 32: No. 7 Florida

STRENGTHS: It's all about the backcourt for Florida. This looks to be the best group of guards in the nation. Senior Erving Walker and junior Kenny Boynton are heading into their third seasons as starters, and that duo is a good one. Then you add in Rutgers transfer Mike Rosario, a junior who has been a big-time scorer, if not necessarily a good shooter, and freshman Brad Beal, the No. 4 overall recruit in the nation and perhaps the best pure shooter among all incoming freshmen. Walker averaged 14.6 points per game last season; he is jet quick and can get into the lane, but his lack of height (he's listed at 5 feet 8) can make finishing near the rim difficult. He has played major minutes in each of the past two seasons and has looked tired at times, which has led to too many ill-advised 3-pointers. Presumably, while his minutes should go down this season, his efficiency will climb. Boynton arrived at Florida as a celebrated recruit, but his offense never has quite matched the hype. That said, he can get hot and bury three or four jumpers in a row and he did average 14.2 points per game last season. Boynton's defense has been surprisingly strong throughout his career. He is physical on the defensive end and also is excellent from the line. He, too, should benefit from fewer minutes. Rosario averaged more than 16 points in each of his two seasons at Rutgers, but too often settled for 3-pointers. Part of that was that he had to score for Rutgers to be competitive. That won't be the case now. Rosario has the size and strength to get into the lane and has a nice mid-range game. His defense needs to improve. Beal has excellent range and a well-developed all-around offensive game, and he and Rosario should be in the discussion for SEC newcomer of the year honors. Sophomore Scottie Wilbekin is a willing defender and a good distributor, and rounds out the guard corps.

AT A GLANCE
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
F Erik Murphy (6-10/230, Jr.)
F Patric Young (6-9/247, Soph.)
G Brad Beal (6-3/207, Fr.)
G Kenny Boynton (6-2/189, Jr.)
G Erving Walker (5-8/177, Sr.)
KEY RESERVES
F Cody Larson (6-9/231, R-Fr.)
F Casey Prather (6-6/212, Soph.)
F Will Yeguete (6-7/222, Soph.)
G Mike Rosario (6-3/191, Jr.)
G Scottie Wilbekin (6-2/180, Soph.)

Coach: Billy Donovan (16th season at Florida)
Last season's record: 29-8 overall, 13-3 in SEC (1st in league)
Postseason: Lost to Butler in NCAA tournament Southeast Regional final
Final regular-season RPI: 8th
Last time didn't made NCAA field: 2009

WEAKNESSES: OK, so where's the discussion about the frontcourt? Well, it's right here. The presumption is physical and athletic sophomore Patric Young blossoms into a potential double-double guy this season. He wasn't asked to do too much except rebound and play defense last season because the Gators were loaded up front, but three senior starters up front are gone. That means Young has to produce. He remains raw offensively, but he can run and looks to have the needed athletic ability to provide the modicum of offense that Florida needs up front. Junior Erik Murphy needs to make the jump from playing 10 minutes per game to a guy who plays 25-plus minutes and provides rebounding, interior toughness and some offense. Murphy has 3-point ability, but he first has to prove he can score consistently inside 10 feet. If he can't, Young is going to be swarmed. Sophomore Fs Casey Prather and Will Yeguete can play defense, and Yeguete also looks as if he can be an effective rebounder. The rebounding aspect cannot be overstated. Florida has to have Murphy and Yeguete step up in that department, or Young is going to be mighty lonely under the backboard. The only potential issue in the backcourt is whether there is too much of a good thing. Each of the main quartet - Beal, Boynton, Rosario and Walker - obviously has the ability to average in double-figures. Will there be enough shots to go around?

[More Florida coverage: InsideTheGators.com]

OVERVIEW: Florida is aiming for its 12th NCAA appearance under coach Billy Donovan; the Gators had been to the NCAAs just five times before his arrival. (Florida's first NCAA appearance was in 1987 - the same season Donovan was a senior at Providence.) Donovan has an entirely new staff, but he brought in two former head coaches in John Pelphrey (Arkansas) and Norm Roberts (St. John's). The coaches have to find a way to get some production out of the frontcourt, both on offense and on the boards. The big question is Murphy; he seems likely to get major minutes, but is he physical enough to withstand the rigors of SEC play? Because of their backcourt, the Gators look primed for another successful March. A Final Four run is unlikely because of the lack of depth in the frontcourt. But if everyone in the backcourt meshes, another Elite Eight spot is a legit goal. Regardless, anything less than a Sweet 16 berth should be considered a disappointment.

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Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.



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