Florida's clearly a tourney team; MSU needs to get healthy, more
Florida needs to develop the toughness required to play deep into the tournament
Rutgers sophomore guard Mike Rosario is good, but he's not Superman
Two sophs to watch: FSU's Chris Singleton and Alabama's JaMychal Green
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- We'll lead off my Monday Hoop Thoughts with my take on the quartet of teams that were assembled in Atlantic City last weekend for the Legends Classic. I did color commentary on those games for HDNet, so I had a great seat for the games as well as the shootarounds. I also got to spend some quality time with the coaching staffs.
Defeated Michigan State 77-74, defeated Rutgers 73-58.
If you saw the highlights of the Gators' upset of Michigan State, you probably saw sophomore point guard Erving Walker drain a 25-footer with under two minutes remaining to give the Gators the lead for good. If you concluded from that he played a terrific game, you were wrong. To that point, Walker was 0-for-6 from behind the arc and 1-for-9 overall. He did finish with seven assists (and just one turnover) and three steals, but he nearly shot the Gators out of the game.
Walker was much better on Saturday night against Rutgers, when he went 3-for-6 from three and had five assists to three turnovers. That only raised his three-point percentage on the season to 23.5 percent -- which is still better than the 19.5 percent clip being posted by his freshman backcourtmate, Kenny Boynton. The good news here is that this is a correctable problem. The Florida coaches assured me that those guys shoot the lights out in practice, so it's just a matter of their getting into a better rhythm during games. I saw plenty of Boynton in high school and I was frankly concerned that he would come into college with too much of a gunner's attitude. That has not been the case. He clearly looks intent on playing within the framework; he wants to be a good teammate. Boynton knows he has a green light (he's the team's leading scorer at 15.8 ppg), but he's still minding the speed limit.
Besides the arrival of Boynton, the biggest change for Florida over last year is the presence of Vernon Macklin, a 6-foot-10 junior transfer from Georgetown. Macklin is not and may never be a polished offensive player, but he allows Alex Tyus to move from center to power forward and 6-8 senior Dan Werner to shift to small forward. That makes for a very big lineup. Still, the Gators got outrebounded by 18 against the Spartans. That resulted partly from Florida playing a lot of 2-3 zone, but it's something the Gators need to tighten up.
Bottom line: This is clearly an NCAA tournament team, and the Gators' size and skill level will win them a lot of games. Now they need to develop the toughness required to play deep into the tournament.
Lost to Florida 77-74, defeated UMass 106-68.
We know toughness will never be an issue with the Spartans. Size, however, is a different story. It was pretty dramatic to sit courtside and see how much bigger Florida was than Michigan State. Tom Izzo is starting games with 6-10 freshman Garrick Sherman at center, but Sherman is playing less than 10 minutes per game. The player getting the most minutes in the middle is sophomore Draymond Green, but he only stands 6-6.
And yet, the Spartans dominated the boards against Florida because rebounding is at the heart of this program's identity. They also shot 52.5 percent and followed that up by shooting 58.6 percent in the win over UMass. This may be the most efficient offensive team Izzo has had. That is largely attributable to junior point guard Kalin Lucas, but Michigan State is also shooting a high percentage because all of its big men are excellent passers. That is especially true of Green, who is averaging 3.2 assists per game and whose basketball I.Q. is off the charts.
Michigan State should have beaten Florida, but the Spartans lost because they showed no poise against the Gators' press, resulting in 22 turnovers. Still, you have to keep in mind that this team has been riddled with injuries in the offseason and preseason. Raymar Morgan had only practiced three times since returning from a sprained ankle, and Chris Allen and Delvon Roe both missed time during exhibition games. Also, sophomore point guard Korie Lucious is still getting back into form after missing seven months during the offseason following foot surgery.
My general take is Michigan State does not have as much room for error as it did last season, but that doesn't mean this team is not as good as last year's. We'll have a better sense of how good they are after everyone has been healthy and together for a few weeks. The Spartans are always going to rebound and defend, but in the end their halfcourt offense will be the difference.
Defeated UMass 83-75, lost to Florida 73-58.
This was my first time seeing Scarlet Knights sophomore guard Mike Rosario play in person since he was high school. He looked good, but I wasn't exactly overwhelmed. Rosario had 18 points in the first half against UMass, but after the Minutemen made some adjustments on him defensively, he stopped moving without the ball and only scored four points in the second half. That allowed UMass to close a 19-point deficit to four before Rutgers closed them out.
The following night, Rosario played better against Florida, especially on the defensive end, but he still needed 15 shots to score 14 points. After the game Scarlet Knights coach Fred Hill told me they need Rosario to do more for them to be a good team. That's a problem in my view. The kid is good, but he's not Superman.
The good news is that Rutgers does have some other nice pieces. Junior point guard Mike Coburn is a solid, tough, smart, dependable player who did a much better job against the Gators' press than any of Michigan State's guards did. Hill has been splitting time at the five spot, starting 6-9 sophomore Gregory Echenique and bringing 6-11 senior Hamady Ndiaye off the bench, but going forward I expect Ndiaye to garner more and more minutes. He was superb in Atlantic City, with 26 points and 6 blocks in the two games compared to Echenique's 6 and 2. I was also very impressed with 6-6 freshman swingman Dane Miller. He's going to be a really good player in this program, but he and the rest of the Scarlet Knights are not ready yet to play their way into the NCAA tournament.
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