North Florida-Florida Preview

The Associated Press

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- - Between injuries, illnesses and suspensions, Florida coach Billy Donovan doesn't know what to make of his team right now.

Well, he does have one thought.

"We're not even remotely close to being No. 10 in the country," Donovan said.

The ranked Gators already are dealing with adversity, and the program that has come up short in a regional final each of the last three years could have nearly as many scholarship players sidelined as suited up when the season opens Friday against North Florida.

"When you looked on paper at the guys that were supposed to be on our team, we looked like a very optimistic, promising team," Donovan said. "Right now, we're not a very good team. ... We're not the same team. If everybody looked at it on paper before the season started, each guy is healthy, each guy is here, what our team would look like. Our team is not that team on paper."

Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin and big men Dorian Finney-Smith and Damontre Harris are suspended indefinitely for violating team rules, and guard Michael Frazier II won't play while he recovers from mononucleosis.

Throw in highly touted recruit Chris Walker, who is still trying to get his test scores up so he can enroll in January, and the Gators will be down an entire five-man rotation.

Making Donovan's team even thinner, forward Will Yeguete (knee surgery) and guard Eli Carter (broken leg) are still recovering from injuries and will play limited minutes early on.

Yeguete had 12 points and Carter added 11 in a 110-88 exhibition win over Florida Southern last Friday.

"It's part of the game," sophomore guard DeVon Walker said. "Unfortunately it did happen, but it's not going to hold us back from trying to win games. It's not going to last the whole season."

While the depth issue won't last all season, it could hinder Florida early on with games in the first two months of the season against No. 20 Wisconsin, No. 18 Connecticut, fifth-ranked Kansas and No. 13 Memphis.

"We need to have a little bit more urgency than we have right now," Donovan said. "We've had some really good practices. But there's too much inconsistency. Part of that is hard for me to really put my finger on just because we've had so many players coming in and out of practice. That's probably had some kind of factor on it. But right now, for me, we're not as consistent as we need to be."

Without Wilbekin, highly touted freshman Kasey Hill will open the season as the starting point guard. Hill, a 6-foot-1 McDonald's All-American, has the potential to become Florida's best point guard since Nick Calathes (2007-09). The Gators have sorely missed a take-charge floor leader in the closing minutes of tight games, especially in the NCAA tournament.

"His skill on the floor will only get better through experiences," Donovan said.

Florida has one of its largest - and most experienced - senior classes in Donovan's 18 seasons. Center Patric Young, versatile forward Casey Prather, Yeguete and Wilbekin have played a combined 398 games. And they could be the key to Florida advancing to a fourth consecutive regional final.

The Gators want Young to play with energy and passion, need Yeguete and Prather to stay healthy and are relying on Wilbekin, who also was suspended to start last season, to stay out of trouble.

Florida has three transfers who could play prominent roles. Finney-Smith averaged 6.3 points and 7.0 rebounds at Virginia Tech in 2011-12, and Harris averaged 5.3 and 4.6 in two seasons at South Carolina. Both sat out last year under NCAA transfer rules.

Carter left Rutgers after the school fired embattled coach Mike Rice and was granted a waiver to play immediately. He averaged 14.9 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists last season as a sophomore.

Florida will be hosting North Florida for the fourth time in eight seasons after winning the previous three matchups by an average of 44.3 points.

The Ospreys, who went 13-19 in 2012-13, lost leading scorer Parker Smith (16.3 points per game) but return preseason all-Atlantic Sun first-team forward Travis Wallace.

Wallace is the team's top returning scorer (14.2) and rebounder (5.2), and the league's top returning shooter after making 57.7 percent of his attempts last season.

"Travis has worked very hard on his game in the gym and the weight room," coach Matthew Driscoll said. "His recognition on the preseason all-conference team just reaffirms what our team and staff already knew, and what others around the league are beginning to notice."

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