A national title contender won on Tuesday night in Gainesville. And don't tell me I'm overreacting to what took place in Florida's 67-61 win over Kansas. I've been holding off on judging the Gators for the last month, and it would probably be wise to wait another month.
Let's recap quickly what has happened to Florida from the start of school until now.
- McDonald's All-American big man Chris Walker doesn't enroll in school because he hasn't qualified yet. Walker plans to join the team at semester.
- The Gators start the year with Scottie Wilbekin and Dorian Finney-Smith suspended.
- The Gators lose by six on the road to Wisconsin without both Wilbekin and Finney-Smith.
- Freshman point guard Kasey Hill, a McDonald's All-American, sprains his ankle in the fourth game of the season.
- Wilbekin makes his debut in the sixth game of the season. Then a week later the Gators travel to Connecticut. Wilbekin sprains his ankle in the final minutes, and the Huskies need a fortuitous bounce and a Shabazz Napier buzzer-beater to beat the Gators.
That brings us to Tuesday night. And for the first time, the Gators had close to what their roster will look like for the rest of the season.
I did leave off two other events in that season recap. Donovan decided to redshirt Rutgers transfer Eli Carter after he played 53 minutes in seven games, because he's still not right after breaking his leg in February. And according to a report from Franz Beard at GatorCountry.com, South Carolina transfer Damontre Harris has been booted from the team. But neither of those two probably would have figured in the rotation.
Carter averaged 14.9 points per game last year for Rutgers. He'd probably get back to close to that production this year if the Gators waited. But they don't have to. They're so deep and talented that they don't need Carter and they don't need Harris.
That's what we witnessed on Tuesday night against a Kansas team that's searching right now for its own identity but still talented enough to win any game.
The Gators bullied the Jayhawks after falling behind 10-3. They forced 12 turnovers in the span of 17 possessions at one point.
Donovan had played 47 possessions of zone coming into Tuesday night, per Synergy Sports Technology (subscription required), and that defense changed the game. A defense the Gators had hardly used.
Donovan's defense was the most dominant D outside of Louisville last year, and his eventual rotation will have more length and athleticism. Meaning this defense could be better than that defense, which was dominant.
As for the sneak peek against Kansas, Wilbekin (18 points, six assists and four steals), other than a late charge by Andrew Wiggins, was the best player on the court on both ends. In limited minutes, Hill showed off a few drives that were a glimpse of just how good he can be—possibly the best guard Donovan has ever coached.
Finney-Smith played his role perfectly, knocking down 4-of-6 threes off the bench. Patric Young looked like the prospect everyone has always wanted him to be, bullying the Jayhawks on the blocks. Casey Prather, who is a shoo-in at this point for most improved player in the country, had his worst game of the season, going 1-of-5 from the field. He still ended up with 12 points.
And all of this was without Walker, who is the best NBA prospect on the team.
Donovan said on Monday, via Chris Harry of Gatorzone.com, that Walker has completed his coursework. If Walker is cleared this week, he could start practicing with the Gators on Saturday. It should take him at least a month to get into game shape and get used to the speed of the college game.
That's why it's still too soon to judge these Gators.
When they are at full strength, the Gators will have the makeup of a Final Four team.
They have the experienced point guard (Wilbekin), the future NBA point guard (Hill), a wing scorer (Prather), two future pros in the middle (Young and Walker) and a great spot-up shooter (Michael Frazier has made 24-of-46 threes). And Will Yeguete and Finney-Smith are really good role players.
Name the teams with that kind of talent. Kentucky? Kansas? Arizona? Michigan State? Oklahoma State? Louisville and Syracuse maybe?
The list ends there, and Florida has more experience than any of those teams except for Michigan State.
The Jayhawks saw how good the Gators can be on Tuesday night, and that was just the tip of the iceberg. The best is yet to come.
Follow C.J. on Twitter @cjmoore4.
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