This has been something of a "reorientation year" for Gator basketball fans after two straight years of excellence few college basketball programs ever attain. Last night, the Mighty Gators defeated Temple 86-69 and looked relatively good doing it. But, man, do we have issues. As do most all college basketball teams at this point. Take a look at our season stats, and then examine the box score from last night for some basic perspective.
I fear our primary problem is that many of us think Nick Calathes (one of the two guys running our offense out at the point or on the wings) is more than he really is. This is probably true even with Nick himself. He's good, extremely good for a freshman, but some of us act as if Nick "can do it all." Calathes most definitely cannot do it all. Not even close. Last night, for instance, it was evident the athleticism of Temple caused him problems offensively and defensively. It seemed to me that he had more than the four turnovers he was officially-recorded with last night and it also seemed to me that he missed two front ends of the 1-and-1 last night. Not good.
That may be nitpicking Nick too much. The last two years have certainly spoiled some of us Gator basketball fans, myself included, but most of us are spoiled in different kinds of ways for differing reasons. For instance, when I look at Calathes (and I know he needs another year of experience to shore up his game for this level of play), I see a guy who has, relatively speaking,  no hops,  no quicks,  and no strength. And I've watched him fairly closely this year. I see why Billy loves him, though. Not the least of which is his basketball IQ. He seems to get more out of his God-given talents than most. That is extremely important for a guard but his physical limitations appear to be the kind that can be modified only slightly.
I hope I'm wrong about that.
Taurean Green, the standard for Gator point guards, is a good year one versus year two comparison. Taurean looked much better as a sophomore than as he did as a freshman and was able to overcome his lack of height in large part because he had all three of the above-referenced physical abilities in greater supply than Nick has shown or is likely to show (I have the same critique of Jai Lucas, by the way, and therein lies our backcourt problem this season -- only superior shooting by the Gators negates this problem). That's a very deadly combination in the normally very physical SEC. Our strength and conditioning coach is going to earn his money on those two guards and Chandler Parsons, too. I'm still pleased with Nick, Jai and Chandler, though. Especially Chandler; strength and conditioning may really help him out.
Jonathan Mitchell seemed so out of it at the start of the year, and looked so bad, I was really puzzled over what the heck was going on. I can't begin to say how relieved I am to see him begin to do what was expected of him all along. We don't need double-digit points out of him consistently but we certainly need consistent contribution.
And how about Mr. Speights? We're seeing evidence of an appreciation of the inside-out (and sometimes back in) game, better appreciation of demanding a space on the offensive end of the floor and holding it, and trying to play good defense, too. Thank you, Marreese -- no steps backward, please.
It seems to me that we can (and should) do more with Alex Tyus, too. It is an indication of how good this team may be by the end of the year when you're left speculating afterwards that a guy like Tyus should be getting more than ten minutes in a game like Temple.
Walter Hodge? I expected more from him this season and he showed more early in the season. This Temple game (33 minutes, 50% from the field and from the 3-pt. line, hit both free throws, three assists, no turnovers, 12 points) may indicate that he's ready to give more once again, just in time for the conference season. Can he match this kind of efficiency in SEC play? Hopefully so.
Dan Werner? I'm a big defender of this guy and I loved that early three in this game. He took it without hesitation. Come hell or high water, he needs to keep doing that. But those Temple guys made him look really slow on more than a few occasions and raised a concern (in my mind) of whether he's going to really mix it up with these SEC guys down on the blocks. He's not really going to have a choice, though, and he will have to do it with much more gusto than he showed last night.
Finally, my man Adam Allen. I hope he hangs in there. I know he has to be angry that he only received four minutes of action last night -- I thought we'd be seeing much more out of him -- but he did seem tentative when he was on the court. Maybe he's still limited by injuries; I hope that is the explanation. We need him healthy and I think we're going to need more minutes from him during conference play.
Before the season began, I predicted we would be 13-2 heading into conference play. I suspected we would lose to FSU and OSU. We have done so. But it has been more of a rollercoaster than I suspected it would be. I was depressed about our prospects this season after the Georgia Southern game,
neutral after the Ohio State game, and back to quite positive after
this game. Although Georgia Southern lost to FSU 92-67 in GSU's first game of the season, they nearly beat 25th ranked Rhode Island last night on the road. Maybe they are a better team this season than I've acknowledged and maybe that performance against them in Jacksonville wasn't as horrific as it seemed.
The upshot? We're a blue-collar basketball team this season, that's who we are. And that takes some getting used to, especially after two straight seasons of elite play right out of the box, from game one of the season straight through. Everything starts with Speights. He has to establish a presence and let the opposition know that they will have to deal with a well-rounded basketball player in the post all game long. We cannot afford for him to lapse into his preference, a one-dimensional offensive style of game suited for the NBA.