South Carolina basketball beat writer David Cloninger looks at every other team in the SEC as the season approaches.
2012-13 record (SEC finish): 29-8, 14-4 (1st) *NCAA Elite Eight
Coach (record at school, years; overall record, years): Billy Donovan (415-166, 18th year; 450-186, 20th year)
Top returners: C Patric Young (10.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg); G Scottie Wilbekin (9.1 ppg, 2.9 rpg); F Casey Prather (6.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg)
Biggest losses: Mike Rosario (12.5 ppg, 2.6 rpg); Erik Murphy (12.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg); Kenny Boynton (12.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg)
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Three straight Elite Eights without a Final Four appearance leaves a rather sour taste. It’s no shame – not like every team gets there, hence the name – but once a team gets there, it naturally wants to take that next step. Especially when said team is one of the rare squads in the history of the game to ever win back-to-back national championships.
Florida heads into another season with great expectations, fitting considering it lost some talent but returns a lot more. Former South Carolina player Damontre Harris is eligible and will supply a boost to the frontcourt, while Patric Young and Scottie Wilbekin are two of the league’s best players.
What makes the Gators so dangerous is their unselfishness. They are the true example of team play, with no one superstar to carry the load and everybody able to take over the scoring lead game by game. Last year, Florida had four players average double figures and another just outside, with 9.1 points. The approach was obviously good enough for a deep NCAA tournament run – UF just wants that one more round this season.
What may be a potential drawback early in the year is health. Florida barely has enough players to practice (Ouch!), which must be making Billy Donovan think of the good ol’ days, when he was still spry enough to practice against his team. Then there’s the status of Wilbekin, who was suspended over the summer for the second time in seven months. He has been reinstated to practice but Donovan has said he’ll miss some games.
The early season features a trip to Wisconsin, but no other games to sweat before the rivalry battle with Florida State on Nov. 29. Wilbekin should probably return before then, and is very likely to be playing on Dec. 10 when the Gators host Kansas.
Of course, the team will be judged on what it does in March. Then again, that it’s constantly playing in late March is a testament to what Donovan has built.
2012-13 record (SEC finish): 22-15, 6-10 (T-8th) *WNIT Final Four
Coach (record at school, years; overall record, years): Amanda Butler (120-82, seventh year; 160-104, ninth year)
Top returners: G Jaterra Bonds (13.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg); G Kayla Lewis (7.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg); G Carlie Needles (6.6 ppg, 1.6 rpg)
Biggest losses: Sydney Moss (11.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg); Jennifer George (11.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg); Vicky McIntyre (4.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg)
The Gators have had three straight 20-win seasons, but they haven’t had a winning SEC season since 2009 (8-8 in 2012). Still, Florida followed a second-round NCAA tournament trip with a WNIT semifinals appearance, so there was some hope going into this season.
But then two players transferred, and the team’s tallest player, center Viktorija Dimaite, tore her ACL in preseason practice. Florida is down to nine players for the year.
Amanda Butler has brushed the talk aside, saying that she’ll worry when she gets down to four players. There is excitement, because of her newly installed offense, which incorporates a lot of transition and fluidity to go with the new rule in women’s basketball – the 10-second backcourt rule, for the first time. And it should be pointed out that teams can succeed with a thin bench – South Carolina relied on nine players for all but three games last year, and won 25 games.
Leading scorer Jaterra Bonds returns, but can a 5-foot-7 guard raise her game that much to overcome a barren post attack and a tough league? Butler has reached the postseason every year she’s been at Florida, so her job isn’t in danger, but she’s also only had one winning SEC season. That needs to improve at a school renowned for not just winning, but heavily winning, across the board.
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