Hurricanes Hoops Way too Early Look Ahead: Florida

Tom Pennington

Miami and UF recently agreed to a 2 year home and home series. How do the Gators look for 2014?

Last week the 'Canes and Gators announced a home and home basketball series for 2014 and 2015.

Florida will host the first game Nov. 17, while Miami will host the return game at BankUnited Center during the 2015-16 season.

So what can UM expect from Florida in the first match-up?

To answer that and much more, we caught up with Andy Hutchins of Alligator Army, who gave us the scoop on UF's expectations and much more.

SOTU: Florida was arguably the best team in the country for the better part of last season. But they lost Scottie Wilbekin and Patric Young among others. Who are the key newcomers and which returning players will take over for all of the departed talent?

AA: The guys taking over for Wilbekin and Young are Kasey Hill and Chris Walker, and they were both part of the 2013-14 Gators — so not newcomers, really — and are both more talented than their predecessors. I expect Jon Horford, brother of Al, to slide into what was Will Yeguete's "defense and energy" role, along with Dorian Finney-Smith, and I expect freshman Devin Robinson and Finney-Smith to share the small forward role that Casey Prather locked down last season.

SOTU: What is the overall outlook/expectation of the Gators for 2014-15? Is it Final Four or bust?

AA: While I don't think it's Final Four or bust for next year's Gators, I think a return trip to the Final Four is a valid expectation. While 2014-15 Florida won't have nearly as much experience, and is unlikely to match a 30-game win streak that was the best in school history, this outfit should have more athleticism, height, and shooting, and all three of those things will be valuable. If Billy Donovan can get this team to play defense like last year's Gators did, they could be even better on the court, regardless of whether that shows up in their record.

SOTU: In addition to a reloaded Kentucky squad, which teams in the SEC can compete with UF?

AA: On talent, LSU's the only team that appears to be in range of Florida and Kentucky, but LSU coach Johnny Jones has not impressed of late. Tennessee could have started a better rebuild than the quick one Cuonzo Martin did over his three years in town, but Martin's departure leaves the Vols short on both talent and experienced SEC coaching, though I do like Donnie Tyndall.

And beyond those two "contenders," it's really barren. Arkansas is the best bet, but should still be a bit too green to compete with the big boys -- though the Hogs did knock off Kentucky twice this spring. Missouri will be painfully green. Alabama should have a strong senior class to lean on, but without all-everything performer Trevor Releford, it's hard to really like the Crimson Tide as potential UF/UK rivals.

SOTU: What concerns you (if anything) about facing Jim Larranaga's Miami squad?

AA: Well, first and foremost, Larrañaga concerns me. I think he's one of the 20 best coaches in college basketball, and I mean that sincerely; turning Miami into a Sweet Sixteen team in his second year was great, but the job he did to make 2013-14 Miami even remotely competitive was probably one of the best coaching jobs in America last year, record be damned. He's a brilliant motivator and tactician, and he'll probably be about as close to Billy Donovan's equal within a game as anyone who matches wits with Billy D in 2014-15.

That said: I'm not sure anyone on Miami's roster scares me, though Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan should be quite good for the 'Canes. Rodriguez was good, but rarely great, for Kansas State, while McClellan was close to the archetypal "inefficient scorer on a bad team" for Texas, and while they represent substantial improvements on what The U had in 2013-14, I'm not convinced that they make Miami more than a good ACC team.

SOTU: While it is wonderful that Miami and Florida hoops have ironed out a two-game series, do you have any hopes the schools do the same on the gridiron?

AA: I don't, not really. I think the May reports of talks were mostly a pump fake, and I don't think that the Joker Phillips saga helped matters. If Miami wants to bite the bullet and make a "neutral"-site game happen — nowhere north of Lake Okeechobee is going to be neutral, if we're being honest — then there's hope. If not, the talk of resuming the series is going to turn into nothing more.

Thanks again to Andy for giving us the low down on UF.   Be sure to stop by Alligator Army for more on the Gators.

And be sure to drop by SOTU often for more on the 'Canes as we count down to Midnight Madness.

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