Gator basketball fans are in the middle of transitioning from lamenting a disappointing loss in the Elite Eight toward great anticipation of the future, which looks very bright indeed.
The Loss to Butler
Of course, we always want to give credit to our opponent when they win. As a rabid Floridian, I always fear Floridians who up their game against us. Butler had two who played well against us, Vanzant and Marshall. But it was the tremendous heart of that team that did us in, along with their willingness to get down and gritty with their basketball. I'm still angry about the loss but not angry at Butler. You have to love that team; just as you have to love VCU. It's going to be a great Final Four game with those two.
What can you say about our Gators in that game against Butler? Anyone who has watched Tyus and Macklin during the entirety of their time in Orange and Blue heaven knows physicality ain't them. Okay? Gator power? Not them. Lots of grabbing and pulling? They shy away from that.
The very same thing applies to Chandler Parsons, of course.
There's the problem. And did I mention that all three of them, relatively speaking, have bad hands?
That was the brilliance of Butler's strategy to own the boards, and we -- for some crazy reason -- played right into that strategy with walking the ball up the court and dumping it down low time and time again. Our bigs depended on a proper flow that gives them space, where they don't have to deal with all kinds of grabbing and pulling. It looked as though our staff forgot who our bigs really were. When Gator fans were praising Macklin at halftime, I was going crazy (check my twitter account). Zeroing in on him was narrow-minded in the extreme, as far as I'm concerned. We completely removed our guards from the flow of the game and paid for it in the final half when the ref stunted our close-out and gave Butler new life. By that time, Walker and Boynton -- both natural scorers -- were completely frustrated and, try as they might, couldn't do enough to get us over the hump. And as we should have learned, frustrated scorers are bad news for the Florida Gators this season. It has been a chore to get Big Shot Erv to do the dribble-drive penetration and involve his team in the flow of the game. Admittedly, it may be I'm not giving Butler enough credit but it looked as though we gameplanned away from the dribble-drive penetration. Weird, weird, weird.
But all of that is after-the-fact nitpicking and counterproductive. The players maximized their contribution this season and our coaches did a fantastic job coaching them up. I was going crazy at the gameplan but it may have been the smartest approach. None of us really knows, we are simply left with our personal opinions. Our bigs simply didn't have a defensive personality this year (a personality, by the way, that is extremely helpful on the offensive boards) and you can't coach that into a player, you can only coach to mitigate the effect. Still, we won the SEC title this year and earned a 2-seed in the tournament, blasted UCSB in game one and defeated a very good-looking UCLA team to make the Sweet Sixteen. There, we handled Jimmer-mania and defeated a game Brigham Young squad to make the Elite Eight. Then Butler avenged a last-second loss to us years ago with a hard-fought victory. Arrrggghhhhh !!!
Looking Forward while Thanking Our Seniors
The good news? There's great hope that Patric Young will know how to police the paint next season and grow tremendously with his knowledge of how to handle hard work in the trenches as only a grunt can.This is a lost skill with these modern players. If Erik Murphy, Cody Larson or others (Yeguette, Prather, etc.) can engage the physicality, and properly complement Patric, we are in very good shape going forward.
As devastated as I was after that loss, and I was devastated (we were a clearly superior team), this is a time for celebrating and congratulating our seniors for bringing us back out of the mediocrity. Kudos to you, Vernon and Alex and Chandler. Well done. You've set the stage for futher Gator excellence.
At the beginning of next year, when the staff is looking at all kinds of options, here's how I see things shaking out based on the five basketball positions:
1. Rosario, Scottie, Walker [point guard is the focus at the 1]
2. Boynton, Rosario, Walker, Beal
3. Beal, Prather
4. Murphy, Yeguete, Pitchford, Young, Larson
5. Young, Larson, Murphy, Yeguete
Billy and staff are going to watch these combos and see how they flow. Walker at the 1 and 2 will give great flexibility, Beal at the 2 and 3 will do the same.
And I can't wait; the potential is phenomenal.
As for people insisting that Big Shot Erv is going to start throughout the season, don't count on it. Defense, defense, defense. Pay more attention to defense, not offense.
Here's my bigtime bias, and it should be obvious from looking at my projected slots: I love Beal and firmly believe he has a chance to be the best Gator ever. Seriously. And Patric, my favorite from this year, is worthy of comparisons to Mr. Gator Power himself, Al Horford. Back to Beal; what's so special about that guy, you may ask? If you have the time, sit back and take a look:
The guy is special. Truly special.
Everyone within Gator Nation should be salivating at our basketball prospects next season. We're going to be a force; quite probably much more of a force than we were this season. Now, with Shaka Smart shining so bright, and perhaps headed to N.C. State -- a question for us may be which Gator assistant replaces Shaka just as Shaka left our staff to replace Anthony Grant who started the trend of Gator coaches heading up to VCU. Will it be Rob Lanier, Richard Pitino or Larry Shyatt???