Florida unlikely to repeat last year's feats
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) Florida's record-setting run through the Southeastern Conference and the NCAA tournament last season will be difficult, maybe even impossible, to top.
The Gators won a program-best 30 consecutive games, set another mark with 32 straight home wins, became the first team to go 18-0 in the SEC's regular season, swept the league tournament and earned the top overall seed in the NCAA tournament for the second time.
And after losing in a regional final the previous three years, Florida finally made it to the Final Four.
The trip ended with a disappointing, 63-53 loss to eventual national champion Connecticut.
Repeating the feat seems unlikely. Then again, coach Billy Donovan has one of his more athletic teams, with point guard Kasey Hill, sharp-shooter Michael Frazier II, forward Dorian Finney-Smith and big man Chris Walker returning in bigger roles.
How everyone around them progresses might be the key to Florida putting together another successful season.
''We've got a lot of talent, a lot of individual talent, but we've got to come together as a team,'' Finney-Smith said. ''I don't think we're a team yet.''
The Gators (36-3) were the consummate team in 2013-14.
They shared the ball and the spotlight, and played for each other from the season opener through the finale.
''Last year's team worked really, really hard, and the results that we got were extraordinary,'' Donovan said. ''We weren't the most talented team in the country. But they were investing in one another, sacrificing for one another, caring for one another, wanting to play the game for the right reasons for one another. That was really rewarding to me because I could not sit here a year ago and say I was really 100 percent sure that could happen.''
Donovan surely won't predict it happening again.
Florida lost forward Casey Prather, point guard Scottie Wilbekin, forward Will Yeguete and center Patric Young to graduation. The four seniors accounted for 61 percent of the team's points, 53 percent of the team's rebounds and 51 percent of the team's assists last season.
Hill, Frazier, Finney-Smith and Walker should be able to pick up some of the slack.
But how quickly former Michigan center Jon Horford, freshmen guards Devin Robinson and Chris Chiozza, and injured holdovers Eli Carter and Dillon Graham catch on could have a significant impact on the season.
''I think we'll be more athletic,'' Walker said. ''All we've got to do is get joined and get connected like we were last year. I feel like if we can do that, the sky is the limit.''
Here are five things to know about Florida heading into the season:
MISSING TIME: Walker will miss an exhibition and the first two games of the regular season for violating team rules. Freshman guard Brandone Francis will miss the entire season because of NCAA academic issues. Guard DeVon Walker also won't play after tearing a ligament in his right knee in July. And former Duke forward Alex Murphy will miss the fall semester because of NCAA transfer rules.
HOLDING PATTERN: The Gators also are unlikely to get highly touted center John Egbunu on the court this season. The 6-foot-11 Egbunu transferred from South Florida in the offseason, and Florida has petitioned the NCAA to get him immediate eligibility. ''We're going to exhaust all of our avenues and see where it leads us,'' Donovan said.
TOUGH SLATE: Florida's non-conference schedule includes games against in-state rival Miami (Nov. 17), versus Georgetown (Nov. 26) in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas, at Kansas (Dec. 5) and a rematch against UConn (Jan. 3).
NEARING 500: Donovan is approaching 500 career wins. In his 19th season in Gainesville, Donovan needs 14 victories to reach the coaching milestone. His career mark is 486-189, which includes two years at Marshall (1994-96).
INSPIRATIONAL WALK-ON: The Gators are sure to have one of the most popular walk-ons in the country, as Zach Hodskins, who was born without the lower half of his left arm, is expected to get playing time in mop-up duty.