#2 Florida Gators
Last Season: 20-15 (9-9) #41 in KenPom
My Prediction: 12 - 6 (2nd in conference)
GatorCountry Prediction: 11 - 7 (5th in conference)
The Masses Prediction: 12 - 6 (3rd in conference)
HEAD COACH: Mike White | Second Season 21 - 15
The first year of the post Billy Donovan era in Gainesville was predictable. So much so that the predictions from a season ago were basically spot on. GatorCountry thought they’d go 9-9, and they did. I thought they’d go 10-8, and they lost a home game in Overtime to Alabama, a team they should beat. The masses projected the Gators to go 8.4 - 9.6, so we were all within a game of the final tally. Will this season be as predictable? The Gators of a year ago were dealing with their iconic coach leaving, a talented but inconsistent roster, and a new coach bringing a new style and they played well at times but not well enough. This year, Mike White has a team which more closely resembles the style of play and team he wants to have. Perhaps the biggest question that remains for White is how he plans to manage the playing time of this roster, one in which 12 scholarship players have the ability to play and play a lot. White is young and not the most experienced coach in the SEC, but he has what is likely the second most talented roster in the league with the only question being can the Gators put it all together?
SEAT TEMP: COOL
That’s a lot of good seasons and NCAA appearances as Billy Donovan built Florida into a powerhouse program expected to do great things year in and year out. But when the man leaves, a void has to be filled and we’ll all be waiting to see if White is the guy to fill it. From an extreme overview, the health of the Florida program is as good as it’s ever been, and it looks like the blip of the last two years will be overshadowed by a return to the tournament this year.
It won’t be easy making up for the impact of Dorian Finney-Smith, who played the role of Florida’s best player for the last two years. A powerful combo forward, Finney-Smith had the ability to stretch the floor from the post position, and was athletic enough that he was able to drive to the basket when Florida needed to create some offense. Offense was something of a sore spot for the Gators, and Dorian was one of the few guys to consistently bring some. Alex Murphy never quite found his niche at Florida, and has been granted a 6th year of eligibility at Northeastern. Devon Walker was always a highly athletic and intriguing player, but his contributions were minimal, especially after his injury a season ago. The one player I was interested to watch was Brandone Francis, who was ineligible as a freshmen due to academics, but has great ability. He left for Texas Tech instead of competing in a very crowded back court.
Kevaughn Allen | SOPHOMORE | COMBO GUARD
It may have been a slightly rocky first season for Florida coach Mike White as he adjusted to the SEC, but this was not the case for his freshman guard Kevaughn Allen, who adjusted into one of the most important cogs for the Gators early on. He struggled in a few games here and there but was largely the player to watch in Gainesville. Allen is a dynamic athletic combo guard who a compact jump shot and the ability to score at all three levels. Another season under the tutilage of White and Allen could be on his way to having an All SEC caliber season.
There are few players as big and strong as John Egbunu, the massive 6’11 260 pound transfer from South Florida. Egbunu was impossible to ignore and sometimes felt like he was going to stuff the entire defense down the basket when he dunked the ball. He’ll be an important player for the Gators this season as the depth on the interior may be of a small concern. Where the depth isn’t a worry is at the Point Guard spot where senior Kasey Hill and junior Chris Chiozza will likely split a lot of time at the lead guard spot allowing Allen to slide off the ball to the wing. Both Hill and Chiozza spent plenty of time on the floor together a year ago, so that is another possible lineup with intrigue. Justin Leon came into the season last year as a scorer from Junior College but often struggled to make a real impact. He’s a long thin athlete with enough versatility to play the wing, though maybe not enough strength to compete down low on a regular basis. Kevarrius Hayes is a sophomore with a good high ceiling and a nice effort based game. But the guy we might want to keep an eye on is Redshirt-Freshmen Keith Stone. Reports have always been high on Stone, even going back to last pre-season. He’s a very versatile and athletic 6’9 forward who is probably most comfortable at the elbow and attacking. He has a similar style to Dorian Finney-Smith, and the Gators could use him down low.
Devin Robinson | JUNIOR | WING
There is every reason imaginable why Devin Robinson is a top candidate to break out this year. He was a highly rated recruit with all the tools to turn into a dominant college player. The breakout hasn’t happened as Robinson has seemed willing to take a backseat at times on the offensive end. When he does decide to up his aggressiveness offensively, Robinson is a tough guy to stop. He shoots the ball well off the catch and seems to have no trouble finding the rim off the dribble. If Robinson ever decides to be the guy, he could be the player that sets Florida apart from the rest.
|Jr||Jalen Hudson||6'5||195||TRANSFER -- Va Tech||CG|
|Sr||Canyon Barry||6'5||205||GRAD TRANSFER -- Charleston||CG|
I wouldn’t count on Florida getting a whole lot out of their freshmen class this year. Eric Hester will certainly play, but he’s currently stuck behind a few others guys at the point. He’s a highly athletic combo guard with a jump shot that’s a slight work in progress. He figures to be a major part of Mike White’s program moving forward, even if the minutes are scarce early. Gorjok Gak didn’t qualify academically, but he’s got a high ceiling and could be a factor in the future, just not this year. Dontay Bassett was Hester’s high school teammate at Oldsmar Christian and is a pretty standard big guy. He’s not super athletic, but he’s big and plays a physical style. I’m not sure I see him factoring into the rotation early on. Jalen Hudson transferred from Virginia Tech after playing a lot as a freshman and sophomore, but he’ll be sitting out. Perhaps the guy who’ll contribute the most this season out of the whole group is grad transfer Canyon Barry. Barry (yes the son of Rick) is a silky smooth wing who played the first three years of his career at College of Charleston and spent his last year averaging nearly 20 points a game.
|Point Guard||Combo Guard||Wing|
|Chris Chiozza||Kasey Hill||Kevaughn Allen|
|Eric Hester||Canyon Barry||Justin Leon|
|Devin Robinson||John Egbunu|
|Keith Stone||Kevarrius Hayes|
What will be interesting is who starts? Regardless of who actually begins the game the Gators will be deep and very talented. I except to see Florida playing 10 guys most nights and the ten most likely to see minutes are on the two deep above. This would leave Dontay Bassett as the only scholarship player not on the two deep as Gak and Hudson are sitting out for various reasons, and Bassett could be a contributor as well. The intriguing rotations to watch will be how White deploys his guards, seven of the 11 are regarded as “outside” players while of the remaining four only one (Egbunu) seems comfortable with his position.
My Projected Record: 23 - 8 | KenPom Projected Record: 20 - 9
NonCon (10-2): Duke, Florida State, Seton Hall, Oklahoma, Charlotte, Belmont
The top of this ticket is kind yikes because Duke is everyone’s pick for the best team in the country heading into the season, but the Gators didn’t exactly line up a ton of tough games after the top. Yes, they’re probably going to lose to Duke, Florida State will be a very tough game and Seton Hall and Oklahoma might be toss ups at this point as well. The Gators should beat Charlotte and will be favored against Seton Hall. They can’t afford to drop too many game prior to hitting the conference season because… more yikes.
Conference: Arkansas (2x), Kentucky (2x), Vanderbilt (2x), Georgia (2x), South Carolina (2x), @ Alabama, @ LSU, @ Auburn, @Mississippi State
One reason why I have to hedge my bets with Florida is because damn that is one tough non-conference schedule. They play home and home against 5 of the top 7 teams in the SEC based upon my predictions, the other two are Texas A&M and… Florida. This brutal part of the schedule means Florida has no breaks once the conference season gets going, they also get Oklahoma mixed in there at the end of January. In order to finish towards the top the Gators can’t afford any missteps, they can’t drop a game to the bottom half of the league and expect to stay in second. Their road games are no cake walk going to Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Mississippi State. If Florida fails this season it’s because they were done no favors in scheduling.
Florida was probably three games from having a good season last year. Their #41 Kenpom ranking should have been good enough for the NCAA’s but you can probably boil their season down to a few key games which kept them out of the tournament. The close loss to Florida State, a home loss to Alabama, and two home losses to Texas A&M and Vanderbilt. Florida needed to beat FSU, Alabama and split the other two and they’re likely in the tournament. But the inconsistent offense led the Gators to an inconsistent record and a trip to the NIT.
Many of the same players return, so why should we think things will be any different? It may require some faith in a young head coach who will have a year under his belt with a talented roster. White has proven at Louisiana Tech he can mold a program and win lots of games, and while there are still remnants of the Billy Donovan era, this group of players looks and feels a lot more like the sort of team White would field. They’ve got ball handlers, athletes on the outside and a big mountain of a man in the middle. If there’s a roster in the SEC you have to have a little faith in it’s the one in Florida.
Still, despite the obvious depth and talent on the roster there are enough holes and challenges on the schedule to give pause. The depth on the interior is less than good, which would scare the dickens out of me if Egbunu got hurt or even if he gets into foul trouble. I’m also not sure if the Gators have very many good shooters. Allen is decent and Barry should help a little, but Chiozza and Hill have never been pluses from the outside. Where the Gators should excel though is with their defense in causing havoc with White’s full court attack. Is this going to be enough to overcome a team that may struggle to shoot from deep, because making outside shots can be important for winning basketball games.
Is Florida good enough this year to turn those three losses from last year into wins and get back to the NCAA tournament? Apparently if you go by my predictions. I feel good about this group of Gators, I think they’ll clean up the outside shooting enough to improve offensively and then you’re really only laying the pressure on Egbunu on staying healthy. But Egbunu doesn’t have a history of injuries so you’d have to feel ok about that part of it. Allen is a year older and Canyon Barry is a pretty good shooter, which should be enough on the 3-point side of things, plus the Gators will have one of the toughest schedules in the SEC by playing Kentucky twice and Duke… So with a legitimate strength of schedule, a 20 win season and a record of 11-7 or better in the conference I gotta say I think it’s enough for the Gators to get back the tournament this year.
About the preview: Each SEC site was asked to submit one representative to pick the entire league schedule game by game. Because these are game by game picks, they often tend to be a bit of a rosier picture of each teams potential. Each rep’s picks are reflected in the record prediction for the site listed at the top of the page, and within “the Masses” picks as well. Included in “the Masses” are various SEC media members who made picks at my request also.
If you’d like to submit your picks, here is the Google Form we used:
GP - Games Played
%min - percentage of total available minutes played, does not account for time missed due to injury
%pts - percentage of teams points scored
%ov - offensive team value, simple formula of (%points + %rebounds) - %turnovers/*100, similar to Offensive Rating but places more value on performance to the team