Florida announced via Twitter on Monday that point guard Scottie Wilbekin has been suspended indefinitely:
"Suspended indefinitely" is a nice way of phrasing "We haven't figured how many games he will be suspended for yet."
This is not the first time Wilbekin has been suspended. He missed two games at the beginning of last season for undisclosed reasons. He would have also missed the Georgetown game that was canceled.
It's not worth trying to figure out why Wilbekin has been suspended again, but if we can make one assumption, it's this: A second suspension usually comes with a longer sentence than the first, especially if it is due to the same offense.
If that is the case and Wilbekin misses a good portion of Florida's nonconference schedule, that's troublesome for head coach Billy Donovan.
Wilbekin is as important as any player returning to Donovan's roster this season. The Gators have a great Plan B on the offensive end in incoming freshman Kasey Hill, a 5-star point guard according to Rivals.com, but the loss of Wilbekin will hurt defensively.
Wilbekin was the best defensive player for the Gators last season on a team that identified itself as a defensive-minded club. It wouldn't be a stretch to credit Wilbekin with the Gators going from average defensively to be one of the best in the country on that end.
Here are some advanced defensive numbers comparing Florida's 2011-12 defense with that of 2012-13, courtesy of KenPom.com (subscription required):
|Adj. Def. Efficiency||Rank||Effective FG %||Rank||TO %||Rank|
The one major change to the rotation from 2011-12 to 2012-13 was Wilbekin. He went from averaging 15.2 minutes to playing 31.9 minutes per game.
"Our defense has gotten better, and he’s got a lot to do with that," Donovan told The Florida Times-Union in late January.
Donovan could put Wilbekin on the top opposing perimeter player and not have to worry much about that guy for the rest of the night.
Assuming Wilbekin is allowed to play again, worrying that he will miss some games in November and December might seem short-sighted, but the Gators have a team where it's worth evaluating everything through a big-picture lens.
Florida will be a preseason Top 10 program and should compete for a Top Two seed in the NCAA tournament.
Look back to last season to see how important early-season success could be as far as seeding goes. The Gators dominated the SEC and ended up with a third seed in the NCAA tournament. Indiana had a similar resume—both went 14-4 in their conference and both lost in the conference tournament—and the Hoosiers ended up with a first seed.
The difference was that the Hoosiers played in the Big Ten and the Gators played in the SEC. The committee says that conference affiliation does not matter, but its actions rarely tell the same story.
Next season, the SEC should be stronger with Kentucky being Kentucky again and several other programs like Tennessee and LSU expected to improve. But, still, the league will not be on the level of a Big Ten or ACC.
The way the Gators can make up for that is with a strong nonconference run and they will have the chance to get several marquee wins with these games on the schedule:
- at Wisconsin, Nov. 12
- vs. Florida State, Nov. 29
- at Connecticut, Dec. 2
- vs. Kansas, Dec. 10
- vs. Memphis in Jimmy V Classic at New York, Dec. 17
Two of Wisconsin's more important players are guards Ben Brust and Josh Gasser. Connecticut goes as guards Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright go. Kansas has Andrew Wiggins and Wilbekin has had success against bigger wings before—he held Texas A&M's Elston Turner to four points the game after he scored 40 against Kentucky. Memphis point guard Joe Jackson led the team in scoring last season and Josh Pastner recently added Missouri transfer guard Michael Dixon.
It would be nice for the Gators to have their stopper against that group of guards.
This isn't to say that Florida cannot still make a run if Wilbekin's absence leads to a lower seed in the tourney. The Gators may be better off long-term if Hill is able to take over at point, but there's no reason why Donovan cannot play Wilbekin as more of a combo guard next to Hill.
Experimenting early in the year would be a nice luxury. And forcing Hill to log big minutes at the point guard spot early in the year is a lot to ask.
It's also made even more difficult because backup point guard Braxton Ogbueze transferred to Charlotte.
Obviously, Donovan cannot be happy that he has had to suspend Wilbekin for a second time, but it's even more frustrating when you consider that this could be a special season for the Gators.
Suspending one of your senior leaders in June is not an ideal start.