Florida Gators basketball may – or may not – be without two of its best players this week when it participates in the 2014 Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas beginning on Wednesday.
Redshirt juniors guard Eli Carter (foot sprain) and forward Dorian Finney-Smith (hairline fractures in hand) both traveled with the Gators on Monday though Carter is not cleared to practice and Finney-Smith has been held out of team drills in order to rest his non-shooting hand as much as possible.
“We don’t play until Wednesday. I would say probably, by after our practice Tuesday, I’ll have a really good gauge of where those guys are at. I know that’s tomorrow, but I know right now both of those guys are not really cleared for practice,” head coach Billy Donovan said on Monday.
“My feeling right now going into this is we’re going to basically have the team we had playing against Louisiana-Monroe. That’s how I’m going into it right now, how I’m approaching it.”
Donovan has been notoriously pessimistic about injuries throughout his career at Florida with players often out of action for much shorter periods of time than initially projected. In this case, at least as far as Finney-Smith is concerned, Donovan and the Gators are being extra cautious.
“I think Dorian’s hand does feel better, [but] he still has pain. I think a lot of it’s going to come down to where is he at in terms of what he can actually tolerate,” he explained.
“When does he get to a point where he feels like the pain is manageable? Because he’s going to be playing with pain for some significant time, that’s definitely going to happen. Now how long it takes for him to be totally pain-free, I don’t know. But he’s going to have a brace on his hand definitely for a few weeks. … The feeling by the trainer and the doctor is if his pain is pretty significant, what ends up happening is the constant hitting of it, catching, rebounding, banging it all that does is create more swelling, creates a longer healing process, and that’s something we’re trying to avoid right now.”
Carter is perhaps more likely to see the court for Florida this week after an X-ray (checking for fractures) and MRI (checking for a Lisfranc tear) both turned up negative on his foot. He was projected to be out for about a week with a mid-foot sprain but is already doing a lot of cardiovascular work and simply trying to ensure he can cut and move before stepping on the court for a game.
As a result of having a short bench against Louisiana-Monroe and in practice over the last week, Donovan has moved some players around positionally.
Freshman Devin Robinson, who is shooting poorly from the field (.313) and long range (.100) has been shifted from small to power forward in order to help fill Finney-Smith’s void. This will allow redshirt senior Jon Horford and sophomore Chris Walker to form more of a rotation at center as opposed to being on the court together, an attempt that failed on Friday.
Donovan has also been working with sophomore point guard Kasey Hill at shooting guard with freshman Chris Chiozza seeing more minutes as the floor general. Though the Gators need Hill to play at the two in place of Carter, they certainly wish a better shooter was in that role as Hill is only hitting 12.5 percent of his shots through three games.
Whether Carter and Finney-Smith are completely out or severely limited, Florida will be faced with major depth issues. The Gators will only have six other scholarship players eligible to play, but they will also get plenty of minutes out of redshirt senior walk-on F Jacob Kurtz, who leads the team with 9.3 rebounds per game, four more than the next player on the roster.
“[Depth is] a concern for me right now because I do think this team needs to press, our team needs to press. I don’t think we can sustain that kind of intensity – never mind three games in a row, certainly for 40 minutes – just not enough depth,” Donovan said.
To help combat some of these issues, Donovan apparently practiced Florida five times in two days over the weekend in order to have the Gators face some adversity and get used to playing long minutes with limited substitutions.
Whether that will pay off for Florida remains to seen, but it’s first test will come on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. against the Georgetown Hoyas.
NOTES AND QUOTES
» On the decision to participate in such a difficult tournament: “The last three or four years, we kind of decided to do this … create a competitive schedule all the way through. I think there’s been a real focus, at least in home games for our fans, to have some really good non-conference quality games and to try and play a national schedule. … Before December 1st, we’re going to know a lot about our team. Of course, we’ve had to deal with some injuries and some suspensions, but I still think we’re finding out things about our team, which is good.”
» On the team’s plans for Thanksgiving while in the Bahamas: “For Thanksgiving? Get ready to play whoever we’re playing.” Will there be a team dinner? “Probably not. We got to play a game, so maybe there’ll be turkey for pre-game meal, but you know, we’re playing a game on Thanksgiving. … What we normally do is have the guys out to my house. We usually practice earlier in the morning and then have them come out in mid-afternoon and then usually we’re playing on Saturday. But this will be a little bit different.”
» On HIll’s serious offensive struggles: “I think he’s got to finish a lot better, especially at the basket. He’s getting in there, certainly for us the last three games. We’ve broken down every shot he’s gotten, it’s not like he’s bombing three-point shots. … Most of his shots are at 15 feet; most of his shots have been in the lane. He’s got to finish better. He’s got to do a better job. I think he’s got to do a better job waiting on screening actions. I think he’s going off too quick. I think he’s made some rough decisions, especially in transition, where he’s trying to go one-on-four and trying to use his speed where he probably needs to run our team a little bit. He had been doing a pretty good job up until our last game. … When you go 3-for-24 in your first three games, there’s no question that definitely is playing on [his] mind right now. I’ve got confidence. In practice and in individual workouts, he can make 15-, 17-foot jump shots. He has proven to be able to do that, and he’s able to prove he can finish in the lane, but he’s got to be a better finisher when he gets in there. He’s had some drives where he has gotten to the front of the rim. He’s got to be able to make those plays. He’s got to be able to put the ball in the basket.”
» On going up against Georgetown and John Thompson III: “John’s going to have his system. He takes a lot of the Princeton style things, and he’s added his own things, tweaks, those kinds of things. They can play big. … They can go a little bit smaller. … They’re very, very quick and athletic on the perimeter, they’re a really good driving team, they get to the free throw line. I think it’s a little bit misleading, their three-point field goal percentage. They’re not shooting a great percentage, but I would say this, if the team is shooting threes at that rate, the coach must think they’re a pretty good shooting team. It’s a matter of time. Really, really good team. They’ve got a lot of things on offense that they can do. They can drive it, they can get to the free throw line, they can throw the ball inside to two frontcourt players. They’re really good in transition. You know, John’s system is always difficult to go against. They can do a variety of different things defensively, so this will be a great test for us.”