Thanks to some big assists from role-player-turned-playmaker Taurean Green, Florida's one of the season's early surprises
Florida began the season unranked, and with good reason. The Gators, who lost their top three scorers from last year ( guards Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh and forward David Lee), were left with an untested starting lineup made up of four sophomores and a junior. Little wonder coach Billy Donovan is so pleasantly surprised by Florida's 7--0 record through Monday, its best start in 20 years. That run, which included wins over Wake Forest and Syracuse as well as a comeback from a 17-point deficit against Florida State, has vaulted Florida to No. 8 in this week's AP poll. "We weren't going to replace the guys we lost with one or two players, so the thing I've emphasized with this team is unselfishness," Donovan says. "They've exceeded my expectations."
Indeed, the Gators have gotten assists on nearly 70% of their field goals, thanks in part to the deft dishing of sophomore point guard Taurean Green, a role player last season who has averaged 5.1 assists a game and ranks second on the team in scoring (14.4 points). Green's excellence has helped make Florida the biggest surprise of the season's first month. Here are some other early impressions.
Biggest disappointment: Charlotte. We could have gone with Miami (5--3 through Monday), but the Hurricanes have been slowed by injuries to point guards Anthony Harris (stress fracture in his right foot) and Eric Wilkins (back) and center Anthony King (sprained left ankle). Charlotte, by contrast, is plenty healthy--but the 49ers, who boast an All-America candidate in 6'8" senior forward Curtis Withers, were 5--3 following losses to Northwestern, Wyoming and Mississippi State. They also needed two overtimes to beat Davidson at home.
Best player: Adam Morrison, Gonzaga. The Larry Bird comparisons aren't far off. Morrison's height (6'8") and scoring skills (29.7 average) compare well with Bird's, and the Zags' junior forward has a similar competitive fearlessness. Now all Morrison needs to do is take his team to the Final Four, as Bird did with Indiana State in 1979.
Best unknown player: Anthony Winchester, Western Kentucky. The 6'4" senior guard averaged 24 points during the Hilltoppers' 4--1 start, which included an impressive road win at Alabama-Birmingham. The versatile Winchester was second on the team in rebounding (5.4 per game) while shooting 52.5% from three-point range.
Overrated: Duke is 7--0 and ranked No. 1, but the Blue Devils have not looked like a team ready to win the national championship. They struggled to beat Drexel in the preseason NIT and needed a miraculous half-court shot by Sean Dockery on Sunday to edge unranked Virginia Tech at home. Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who has seen his share of great teams in Durham, says of this year's Devils, "We're not any kind of powerhouse."
Best transfer: Marco Killingsworth, Indiana. The 6'8" senior forward was a rebounding force at Auburn, and his improved scoring ability was evident in his career-high 34-point performance in a Nov. 30 loss to Duke. When the Hoosiers get 6'9" sophomore D.J. White back from a broken left foot at the end of this month, they'll have the best post-scoring tandem in the country.
Strangest schedule: Louisville. As trade shows featuring livestock and RVs occupied Freedom Hall for much of November, the fifth-ranked Cardinals played just once during the month, a 78--61 home win over Tennessee-Martin. They will make up ground with 11 games in December, but their only road match before Big East play comes on Dec. 17 at Kentucky.