Since 2008, excuses have dominated the Florida Gators basketball program. They were too young, cut down by transfers or guys going to the pros, and lacking a real backcourt.
In 2010-11, none of those excuses are relevant. For the first time since Florida's historic run 2005-2007, the Gators have a team that can win the SEC and challenge for the Sweet Sixteen. In an ideal world, they can play for the Final Four. Before you dismiss that, consider the expectations for Florida; all five starters return, they have been picked to win the SEC, and are 9th in the AP Poll.
So much of Florida's recent history has been a series of bad breaks and guys jumping ship. In the past three seasons, Florida has lost games they could have and should have won. Last season, Chandler Parsons' game winners against NC State and South Carolina were huge, but Florida couldn't find a bucket to beat BYU in the NCAA Tournament. Marreese Speights, Nick Calathes, Eloy Vargas and Austin Rivers have all backed away from Florida.
Maybe things will change when it comes to Florida's luck. They signed highly touted guard Bradley Beal for next season, while picking up Patric Young for this year. Young is the best recruit Billy Donovan has brought to Gainesville since the Oh Fours. Young is raw and won't start, but he is coming off playing well for the USA under-18 team. Many big men struggle with adjusting to the college game (remember Joakim Noah as a freshman?), but Young should be a solid contributor.
Florida's strength will be the front line. Parsons was a revelation last season, gaining muscle and attacking the basket as much as possible. Parsons is no longer a long and lanky jump shooter, but a guy who can finish against bigger forwards and centers. Playing with Vernon Macklin, the Gators can have a nice inside-outside punch as Macklin will continue to evolve, but he has to rebound. His 5.5 RPG in 2009-10 is not acceptable. Alex Tyus is the other big man, but he needs to look over his shoulder for Young. Tyus seemed to regress last season, as he moved further away from the basket. He was taking too many jumpers and not nearly rebounding enough. If Tyus struggles, Young can move in to the lineup and Tyus can forget about the NBA.
Speaking of struggles, Erving Walker's final month was as good as what you or I could do. It's not a coincidence that the point guard got bad at the same time that UF finished the season by losing 5 of 6 games. In those losses, Walker scored in double digits twice; the SEC Tournament loss to Miss State and the double OT loss to BYU. Walker shot an average of 3/11 in those six games. Kenny Boynton was not much better, averaging 6/14 in that stretch, but he wasn't turning the ball over like Walker was. Boynton looked like the better ball handler late in the season, especially considering some of Walker's back-breaking turnovers against BYU. Too many times, Walker would leave his feet and not know where to go with the ball.
If either Walker or Boynton struggle, Florida has the luxury of playing Parsons in the backcourt, moving Tyus to the 3 and Young at power forward. Two freshman forwards and Erik Murphy can also add depth on the front line.
The Gators will be tested early, as they play No. 4 Ohio State and Rhode Island at home, FSU and Xavier on the road, and No. 3 Kansas State in Sunrise. Kentucky has reloaded and only another crime spree will prevent Tennessee from playing for a SEC title. With an older and mature team, Florida has the players to win now. There are no more excuses.