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Saturday, April 13, 2024

In 2007, Billy Donovan and the Gators stood on top of the college basketball world after back-to-back national championships. Now, Donovan is looking to just get back into the NCAA Tournament.

After two straight National Invitation Tournament appearances, UF will attempt to rebound and join the field of 65 without its best player from the last two seasons but with the addition of a 6-foot-10 transfer from Georgetown and a high-scoring freshman.

So the burning question for the men's basketball team is: Can the Gators get back to the NCAA Tournament?

There are plenty of other storylines to be found on this year's team, and how each of those play out will determine whether or not UF makes it to the Big Dance.

Can Kenny Boynton fill the void in the backcourt left by Nick Calathes? Will Vernon Macklin live up to the hype and finally bring a much-needed physical presence to the Gators' frontcourt? Does Donovan need to get back to the tournament to ensure his job security?

Donovan made the first step toward turning his program around by upping the difficulty of his non-conference schedule, slating opponents like Michigan State and Xavier. There is little doubt he did so thinking of the effect a quality win against those teams could have on UF's 2010 NCAA Tournament résumé.

For those games to have any impact in March, the Gators will have to improve their Southeastern Conference record. They went 9-7 in 2008-09 against a struggling SEC that put just three teams in the tournament. But the conference has improved, particularly with the impressive offseason Kentucky had.

Last year, UF struggled to find its identity all season, a problem it can't afford to face again. Even without Calathes, however, the Gators could be better prepared to do so.

Erving Walker, the only true point guard on the roster, will become the team's primary ball handler. Boynton is a shoo-in to play the other guard spot and put points on the board. Macklin is supposedly the big man UF has lacked since Al Horford and Joakim Noah left, and his arrival allows Alex Tyus to move over to power forward. A few players could fill the small forward spot - namely Chandler Parsons and Dan Werner.

In addition to having a more traditional lineup, the Gators will also enjoy some level of depth in the frontcourt if they remain injury-free, unlike the past two years.

However, most of the team's potential is dependant upon Boynton and Macklin living up to the hype. As a true freshman, Boynton will have to make the adjustment to the college game. Macklin, a junior, will be back on the court for the first time since the 2007-08 season.

If Boynton can at least match Calathes' scoring, Macklin can keep opposing big men from dominating the Gators down low and the Gators can rectify their struggles with inconsistency from the last two years, Donovan could lead his team back to the NCAA Tournament.

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