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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

After the Gators dominated Flagler last week and beat up some kid named Lynn on Monday, it's still pretty hard to tell how good they are.

The UF men's basketball team's freshman-filled lineup has shown shades of brilliance and momentary lapses. They have quite a few games to work out the kinks.

The Gators won't face a formidable foe until their sixth regular-season game when they host Florida State, and then they'll have another six games to sleepwalk through before they travel to Ohio State on Dec. 22.

How the Gators' youth and inexperience will affect those matchups and the conference schedule remains to be seen, but the good news is that the unselfishness that characterized the last two UF squads has carried over to this year.

The scoring has been equally distributed - six players scored in double figures in each of the two exhibition games - and the Gators have moved the ball well, but despite their blowout wins, weaknesses have shown up.

UF obviously lacks the size to control the paint, but it has also struggled defending the perimeter.

The Gators gave up seven 3-pointers to Lynn in the first half, which sent Coach Billy Donovan into a tirade on the bench.

The team faces the same challenge as the football team: overcoming youth.

In the two exhibition games, the freshmen have all lived up to the hype.

Guard Nick Calathes has been Mr. Everything, dishing out assists, shooting from outside and battling down low.

Point guard Jai Lucas' performance looks like a flashback to Taurean Green's first season. He has shown the court vision that made him a McDonald's All-American while also proving his mettle as a scorer - although he may shoot too much.

Calathes' high-school teammate Chandler Parsons is limited by his size, but the wiry forward is equal parts scrappy and smart, playing well beyond the limits of his skinny frame in the post.

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The most pleasant surprise is Adam Allen, who totaled 13 points against Lynn on 5-of-5 shooting.

Allen sports a football pad to protect his left shoulder, giving him the second-most famous shoulder injury in Gainesville behind quarterback Tim Tebow's.

"He's a Heisman candidate, and I'm a freshman coming off the bench," Allen said. "There's a big difference."

Of the experienced players, guard Walter Hodge and forward Marreese Speights have picked up where they left off last season, but they'll have to do it over longer minutes.

Unfortunately, forward Dan Werner has also continued his play from last year.

Werner has struggled shooting the ball, though his first points of the year came on a 3-pointer to open the second half against Lynn.

He did tally seven assists against Flagler with no turnovers, but so far Werner has more personal fouls than points on the season.

Fellow sophomore Jonathan Mitchell has also had a slow start. At this point, Donovan believes Mitchell and Werner's problems are mental.

They have the size that Parsons and freshman Alex Tyus lack but have yet to translate it into on-court success.

This season could go really well, really poorly or anywhere in between for UF, but if Donovan wants to keep basketball in the forefront of the minds of Gators fans, he'll have to gut out a decent year with his small and inexperienced team.

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