JOHN: In a span of five days last week, the Gators lost their most experienced assistant coach and the entire 2011 recruiting class to the lure of more familiar pastures and greener wallets.
While there was little lamenting when Norm Roberts left to coach at Kansas or after freshman Walter Pitchford transferred, the announcement that Brad Beal will enter the NBA Draft must have appeared to Florida fans like a premature coup de grâce to next year’s team.
Beal was hands-down the Gators’ best player in March, but one look at the predicted 2012-2013 roster creates a fair argument that any hand-wringing over his departure should be short-lived.
Billy Donovan’s attempt to get to the Final Four from the 3-point line fell short, and, once again, Florida is seemingly stacked at guard while still desperately thin up front heading into the offseason.
With the recruiting window still open and five-star forward Anthony Bennett in play for Florida, Beal’s exit gives UF the opportunity to create offensive balance next year and become a better team.
GREG: Don’t let Beal’s magnificent 3-point stroke fool you, Boothe. Of the six Gators who attempted at least 150 shots last season, only Beal and Patric Young took more from inside the arc than out.
Beal was also Florida’s best threat to drive to the basket, leading the team in free throw attempts.
He played more minutes per game than any player since Eddie Shannon in the 1997-1998 season, filling the box score in a way no single player can replace. If the Gators were going to win it all, last year was the best shot they’ll get in some time.
As John Calipari and Kentucky proved, talent wins in March.
Beal could go down as the most talented player to ever put on a Florida uniform, and now he’s leaving Gainesville without a title.
JOHN: The only reason Beal began to attack the rim with such enthusiasm this season was because he fell below expectations as an outside shooter.
His 33.9 shooting percentage behind the arc — I think we can agree — was only going to improve the longer he stayed at Florida. There’s no way he would have finished another year with the lowest 3-point shooting percentage of any UF player with at least 100 attempts.
Beal is destined to be a shooting guard at the next level — maybe a dominant one.
But that’s not what UF needs next season.
While Beal filled in admirably as a primary rebounder when injuries piled up and unselfishly played out of position nearly the entire year, his presence created the false illusion that the Gators could win a championship with four guards on the court.
It’s no stretch to say Florida was a bad defensive team for the majority of last season. The Gators owned the ninth-best defensive field-goal percentage in the Southeastern Conference and blocked a league low 124 shots.
As Kentucky — which led the SEC in both categories — learned this season, big men win in March.
GREG: For a man making an impossible argument, you’ve made a few good points.
It’s been proven that a guard-heavy, 3-happy team can’t get it done in the Tournament. Seldom does that type of team reach the Final Four, and the failures of Duke, Missouri and Florida in 2012 only reaffirmed that.
But if Beal at small forward was the downfall of this unit, the solution is pretty simple: Play him at two guard!
Can you imagine a unit with Patric Young and Anthony Bennett, plus Casey Prather or Will Yeguete at small forward and Kenny Boynton running point? That team would be huge, talented and probably the preseason No. 1.
While defense was Florida’s downfall, Beal was the team’s best defender outside of Will Yeguete. Moving him to his natural position would’ve helped his NBA stock even further, and it would’ve put Florida in a great position to win it all.
But Billy Donovan couldn’t make that promise because UF didn’t have the front court players to make it work, and still might not if it doesn’t land Bennett. That’s why Beal was such a critical piece: He was everything Florida needed him to be.
JOHN: With three upperclassmen frontcourt players in Young, Yeguete and Murphy returning along with the possible addition of Bennett, Florida has a chance to resemble the 2010 Elite Eight team that was led primarily by its bigs.
Don’t forget that — even with Beal’s excellence — last season was largely deemed a letdown until the Gators were blessed with a third-round gift in the form of No. 15-seed Norfolk State.
Looking back through Donovan’s coaching career, some of his best teams and coaching jobs have occurred when frontcourt players like Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Vernon Macklin were more involved in the offense.
Playing considerably less talent at guard, the 2010-11 squad featuring Macklin, Alex Tyus and Chandler Parsons won the SEC regular season title and was far more consistent before earning its bid to the NCAA tourney.
With Beal back, Donovan would be too enticed to not play mad scientist again with his 3-point heavy offense.
GREG: Donovan will coach to what his team does best. Last year, that was shooting the three.
If the roster construction dictated that UF pound it inside, the team would do that. But, if like in 2011-12, the roster was built to shoot the three, that’s what the Gators would do.
What’s great about Beal is that he can fit into either scheme. He’s a versatile player who can drive when they need him to drive, shoot when they need him to shoot and defend and grab rebounds in between.
Regardless of what type of offense Florida ultimately decided to run, Beal would’ve been a great fit.
He’s smart enough to pick up whatever the Gators do, and the talent that makes him a Top-5 pick would fit into any system.
Only now, Florida has to try to implement whatever they decide to do without him. And that makes a third consecutive run to the Elite Eight considerably less likely.
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Florida center Patric Young embraces guard Brad Beal during the team’s Sweet 16 meeting with Marquette in 2012.