Feb 5, 2013; Fayetteville, AR, USA; Florida Gators forward Will Yeguete (15) on the bench during a game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Bud Walton Arena. Arkansas defeated Florida 80-69. Mandatory Credit: Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

Will Yeguete's Injury Puts Florida's Championship Hopes on Hold

Will Yeguete’s solid body isn’t all that’s suspended on his hobbled right knee.

Florida’s national championship hopes hinge on just how quickly that joint recovers.

Yeguete will miss at least the remainder of the regular season following surgery to remove bone chips in his right knee. The junior forward will have the arthroscopic procedure on Friday and is expected to be out four to six weeks.

Jan 26, 2013; Starkville, MS, USA; Florida Gators forward Will Yeguete (15) brings the ball down the court against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Humphrey Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Assuming a best-case scenario — knee injuries for players his size almost never meet this timetable — Yeguete would be back in time for the SEC tournament. That would not allow for any appreciable practice reps or garbage-time playing opportunities to shake off the rust and reacclimate himself to live action. In a worst-case scenario, which falls in line with how long most recoveries last from such an operation, Yeguete wouldn’t be back until the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

It would be unfair, even in this diluted college basketball landscape, to consider the undermanned Gators a bona fide national championship contender in Yeguete’s absence. By no mistake a glamorous player, Yeguete is the unsung handyman integral to most championship-caliber outfits. He does all the small — in terms of visibility, not significance — dirty work that goes unseen, setting screens, stabilizing the back line of Florida’s stout defense and controlling the boards like a true interior enforcer. Yeguete leads the Gators in rebounds per 40 minutes (11.5) and is tied with Scottie Wilbekin for tops in steals per 40 minutes (2.0). Blessed with quick hands, a wide wingspan and keen court awareness, the sixth-man extraordinaire doesn’t get nearly the press he deserves for his defensive merit.

One of the staples to Florida’s extended, overplay 2-3 zone, Yeguete’s value isn’t reflected in his stat sheet alone. His floor presence has a ripple effect on the rest of the team. The Frenchman provides a safety blanket on the last line of defense which enables Kenny Boynton, Scottie Wilbekin and Mike Rosario to cheat up on perimeter ballhandler and stake chances in the passing lanes. The Gators are one of the nation’s top teams at forcing turnovers, and though Yeguete doesn’t rack up the steals all himself, he’s one of the secret ingredients behind the game-changing recipe.

Billy Donovan’s team was light on frontcourt depth even with a healthy Yeguete. The player earmarked as Yeguete’s underling — junior swingman Casey Prather — has fallen behind in his development thanks to an assortment of injuries, including a concussion and a high-ankle sprain. Prather filled in on Tuesday night for Yeguete, whose playing time was truncated because of a flare-up in his knee, contributing 18 scoreless minutes as Florida dropped a road tilt to Arkansas in Fayetteville.

The Gators have packed several years’ worth of adversity into three topsy-turvy months: an onslaught of minor injuries compounded by an early-season suspension (Wilbekin) and preseason defection (Cody Larson). No hurdle, past or present, will challenge Florida’s mental fortitude more, however, than the loss of the team’s indispensable glue guy down low.

For as long as Will Yeguete is idle, consider Florida’s once promising national titles hopes suspended too.

Tags: Basketball Florida Gators

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