There's no debating the point: Mississippi State is clearly not the best team in the SEC. And as the Bulldogs have lost to Alabama A&M and Loyola Illinois, they may be the worst. And if Casey Prather hadn't had some respectable performances against better teams, it would be harder to get excited over his performance on Saturday.
But right there lies the key. Prather's 12 points and five rebounds were not an anomaly against a cellar dweller. While those numbers don't blow anybody away, they are respectable, especially for a reserve, and he's proven that if he's healthy, and given playing time, he is yet another problem for the opposition to worry about.
As if a hot-shooting Erik Murphy and Hungry-Hungry Patric Young aren't enough trouble to deal with, right?
While double checking Prather's stats this morning, I came across a fascinating statistic: in games in which Prather plays 15 minutes or more, (excluding the Arkansas game because hey, everybody was miserable that night), he averages 10 points a game. That just goes to show the type of bench strength the Gators have. And in case you were wondering, no, those games were not against patsies. Here is the complete list of games this season in which Prather has played 15 minutes:
Sure, SE Louisiana and Yale aren't exactly top notch teams. But Marquette certainly is, and to see that Prather's numbers against the Eagles are in the same range as they are against the bottom feeders is definitely an encouraging sign.
Obviously, Prather is only getting this extended playing time because of the injury to Will Yeguete (and his minutes being up against Yale and Mississippi State have something to do with Murphy injuries). But while we all want Yeguete back for the NCAA Tournament, Prather has so far proven that given the opportunity, he can rise up and become yet another part of the Gators' team that opponents have to play for.
The best part: Nobody will know about him. Just like nobody knew about Michael Frazier until he exploded a few weeks ago. It gets repetitive to keep saying that about Gator players, but again, it's the way the Gators are. There are just so many different players opponents have to watch out for, and I can keep typing that sentence until my fingers fall off (or until FSU wins a BCS championship, whichever comes first) and it will still be true as long as Billy Donovan is the head man in Gainesville.
Unlike Frazier, however, we've seen what Prather can do when nobody pays attention to him. It's a small sample size, but we now have five performances from this season to point to as evidence of his potential. Even better, we've also seen what Prather can do in the NCAA Tournament when nobody pays attention to him.
In the opening round of last year's NCAA Tournament, Prather helped Florida beat Virginia with 14 points and four rebounds. Nobody knew him at the time, or expected him to explode, even after his baptism of Kyle Wiltjer the week before; the Gators' ensuing opponents in the NCAA Tournament did, but it didn't matter, because the Gators took turns starring, as Bradley Beal and Kenny Boynton took charge over the next two games.
The combination of fine play this year and in the 2012 NCAA Tournament should instill some confidence in fans about how Prather can play should Yeguete not return.
But the confidence Billy Donovan has in Prather never went away.
Neither did Prather's ability to ball.