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Trust Mike White and his experienced backcourt to be the difference for Florida

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Previewing the #3 team in the SEC, the Florida Gators.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Florida vs Virginia Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Florida Preview

#3 Florida Gators

Last Season: 27 - 9 (14 - 4 in conference) #5 kenpom

My Prediction: 23 - 8 (12 - 6, 3rd in conference)

The Masses Prediction: 13.6 - 4.4 (2nd in conference)

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Florida vs East Tennessee State Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

HEAD COACH: Mike White | third season 48 - 24

It didn’t take long for Mike White to break through in Gainesville. After a rocky start in year one (the Gators were very up and down), last season provided a spotlight on why so many have pegged White as a rising star in the coaching ranks. White guided a mixed bag team of Billy Donovan’s players and his own to 27 wins and an appearance in the Elite Eight. The Gators started as a top 20 KenPom team and finished fifth. As Donovan left the roster in good shape, White took it and turned the program into his own and quickly. The Gators under White are slowly turning into a team in his own image, one which likes to push pace and defend all 94 feet. It’s a fun brand of basketball and it will make Gainesville a hot destination for more elite prospects. It’s because of Donovan the Gators are considered a National power, but it’s because of White they’re very likely to stay there.

Seat Temp: COOL

10 year look florida gators preview

At this point the Gators are a team who are more than likely to get the benefit of the doubt when you consider if they’re going to be a tournament team or not. Since the 1999 season, they Gators have been tourney bound for 15 of the 19 seasons. I don’t expect them to miss this season.

SO, WHO’S GONE?

name reason GP %min %pts %ov %poss
name reason GP %min %pts %ov %poss
Egor Koulechov graduation 35 75.64% 18.15% 13.04% 17.58%
Chris Chiozza graduation 35 79.13% 14.58% 35.21% 16.86%
John Egbunu graduation 35 0.07% 0.04% 0.10% 0.04%
30.97% 32.77% 48.35% 34.48%

Florida did lose quite a bit from their team last season. Canyon Barry proved everything they needed him to be, including the underhand free throw maker at an 88% clip. Barry’s experience and ability to flex into any role helped fulfill Florida’s roster potential. Devin Robinson left for the NBA despite not having put it all together yet but with Robinson it was always about potential. Kasey Hill ran the point and had his best season as a Gator. Justin Leon played an important role as a spot starter and consummate role guy. Eric Hester never quite got it rolling so he opted to transfer to Toledo. Meanwhile Schuyler Rimmer did have a year of eligibility left but graduated and actually took a job with the Atlanta Hawks.

AND, WHO’S BACK?

player year pos gp %min %pts ts% %ov
player year pos gp %min %pts ts% %ov
Jalen Hudson SR WING 34 65.75% 20.48% 65.92% 8.07%
KeVaughn Allen SR CG 34 77.53% 14.51% 55.41% 18.39%
Keith Stone R-JR CF 34 59.42% 11.64% 64.80% 5.38%
Kevarrius Hayes SR POST 33 55.78% 6.13% 67.95% 3.14%
Chase Johnson R-FR CF REDSHIRT 2.40% 0.66% 65.99% 0.22%
Mike Okauru SO PG 34 27.42% 5.04% 59.92% 4.71%
Deaundrae Ballard SO WING 30 22.91% 4.27% 46.37% 2.02%
Gorjok Gak JR POST 30 18.84% 2.44% 66.48% 0.67%
Dontay Bassett SO POST 25 12.95% 1.67% 58.90% 1.12%
Andrew Fava* SO PG 7 1.02% 0.23% 39.79% 0.45%
Mak Krause* SR WING 7 1.16% 0.16% 56.50% 0.00%
Isaiah Stokes R-FR POST REDSHIRT 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00%
69.04% 67.23% 60.99% 44.17%
NCAA Basketball: Vanderbilt at Florida Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Kevaughn Allen | JUNIOR | COMBO GUARD

My ongoing joke was I never saw Allen play well, but he was always playing well enough when I wasn’t watching to be an All SEC player. Allen’s 14 ppg were tops on the team and he increased his scoring efficiency which plagued him as a freshman. If Allen is forced to take on a more primary ball handling role with the graduation of Kasey Hill, it’s possible he may see a dip in overall production, but if he can continue his rise in efficiency, he’ll be just as if not more valuable of a player.

The big man in the middle was missing down the stretch for the Gators but there’s no mistaking John Egbunu is an important figure. For one, he’s huge. Listed at 6’11 and 265 lbs, he’s a hard guy to run interference on in the middle of the floor and when Egbunu suffered a torn ACL late in the year so his health at the start of the season will be the concern, but when Egbunu is healthy he’s as important as anyone on the roster. His backup was Kevarrius Hayes who upped his minutes from 11.5 as a freshman to 18.3 as a sophomore. He’ll likely need to improve on those numbers from a year ago, if not Gorjok Gak will be lurking behind him. Gak received more minutes once Egbunu went down but was up and down. He’s a talented young player who has enough of an outside shot to keep teams honest, but needs to toughen up around the basket. Keith Stone will also provide some time inside but his specialty is being a positionless matchup challenge. Jaylen Hudson has a chance to start at the off guard after sitting out his transfer year from Virginia Tech, and redshirt Dontay Bassett has good athleticism but needed last season to work on his skill set.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Florida vs Virginia Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Chiozza | SENIOR | POINT GUARD

I could have easily put one of the bigs in this featured player bit, but the Gators have a plethora of interior players and they’re a little thin at the point. Behind Chris Chiozza is a freshman ranked just inside the top 300 for his class. To say that it’ll be important for Chiozza to have a good season and stay healthy is an understatement. He’s been a tone-setter since getting to campus and that should continue this season. Chiozza had a bit of a breakout last season as he’s spent a lot of time playing in the shadow of Kasey Hill. But Chiozza’s play down the stretch and into the NCAA tournament, including running three pointer which won the game against Wisconsin in the Sweet 16. With so little behind him it’s going to be vital this year for Chiozza to have a big season, but he looks primed to live up to the billing.

THEN, WHO’S NEW?

class player ht wt rating ranking pos
class player ht wt rating ranking pos
Fr Andrew Nembhard 6'5 191 ★★★★★ 23 PG
Fr Keyontae Johnson 6'5 225 ★★★★ 69 WING
Fr Noah Locke 6'3 205 ★★★★ 80 CG

With three 4-star players in the class, the biggest get for the Gators was the addition of Egor Koulachov, from Rice. Koulachov is an outside sniper (he shot nearly 48% from three last season) with a nice all around offensive game that helped him average over 18ppg. At 6’5 and 210 lbs he’s a skilled wing who will likely start game one and will be a nice complimentary scorer with Kevaughn Allen.. Of the next three the guy I like the most is DeAundrae Ballard, a good athlete with great body control and a nice outside touch. Chase Johnson is a skilled combo forward from Huntington Prep who has great size and a soft touch but he will certainly benefit from a college weight room. Isaiah Stokes is a kid with a big body and some skill and could see some early minutes because of his physical readiness, you may know him as the younger brother of former Tennessee Vol Jarnell Stokes. Mike Okauru will have to be ready because of a lack of ball handlers on the roster, but the 3-star guard from Brewster Academy has good size and plays under control.

DEPTH CHART

position starter backup third
position starter backup third
(1) Point Guard Andrew Nembhard Mike Okauru
(2) Combo Guard Kevaughn Allen Noah Locke
(3) Wing Jalen Hudson Deaundre Ballard Keyontae Johnson
(4) Combo Forward Keith Stone Chase Johnson Isaiah Stokes
(5) Post Kevarrius Hayes Gorjok Gak Dontay Bassett

Mike White has 13 scholarships filled and plenty of decisions on who is gonna get minutes and where. I think you can easily assume who the top three are gonna be with Allen, Chiozza, and Koulachev. After those three it gets muddy. White could start a bigger lineup with Hayes and Egbunu (once Egbunu is healthy), or go a little smaller and more athletic with Stone, he could even bring Koulachev off the bench and start Hudson. I would probably start with Koulechov playing a small four and try to take advantage of your biggest strength in the backcourt. The tempo at which White wants to play should help him make his playing time decisions and it’s entirely possible he gets to 10-11 guys regularly.

SCHEDULE

My Projected Record: 23 - 7 | KenPom Projected Record: 22 - 7

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Baylor vs New Mexico State Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

NON-CONFERENCE

Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Nov 6 Away Florida State 15 L
Nov 9 Home Charleston Southern 233 W
Nov 14 Home La Salle 175 W
Nov 21 Neutral Oklahoma 52 W
Nov 22 Neutral Stanford/Wisconsin 105/20 W
Nov 23 Neutral - -
Nov 27 Home North Florida 228 W
Dec 4 Neutral West Virginia 10 L
Dec 8 Home Michigan State 13 W
Dec 18 Home Mercer 248 W
Dec 22 Away* Florida Gulf Coast 203 W
Dec 29 Home Butler 31 W
Jan 26 Away TCU 34 L
avg 112.91

A tough non-con slate, with five opponents in the 200’s and everyone else inside the top 100. And like a lot of the elite teams the Gators have several neutral court games against some decent teams. Cincinnati stands out as a tough matchup and should provide a difficult game in a contrast of styles. And a potential second round matchup in the PK80 against Gonzaga could lead to a third round matchup against Duke, Texas or Butler. Either way Florida will have another quality game on their resume.

CONFERENCE

Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Jan 5 Home South Carolina 42 W
Jan 9 Away Arkansas 64 L
Jan 12 Home Tennessee 11 W
Jan 15 Away Mississippi St 23 L
Jan 19 Away Georgia 101 L
Jan 22 Home Texas A&M 48 W
Jan 30 Home Ole Miss 94 W
Feb 2 Home Kentucky 7 W
Feb 5 Away Auburn 17 L
Feb 9 Away Tennessee 11 L
Feb 13 Home Vanderbilt 69 W
Feb 16 Away Alabama 51 L
Feb 20 Away LSU 50 L
Feb 23 Home Missouri 43 W
Feb 27 Away Vanderbilt 69 L
Mar 2 Home Georgia 101 W
Mar 6 Home LSU 50 W
Mar 9 Away Kentucky 7 L
avg 47.67

Last year Vanderbilt got into the NCAA tournament on the backs of beating the Gators three times, so naturally they matchup to open conference play. Then they get a good opening task of going on the road to Texas A&M and Missouri in games they’ll have a tough time winning. Kentucky and Alabama twice should prove a tough test, as should the Commodores who were the Gators kryptonite last year. However both Georgia and South Carolina should give Florida chances for a sweep in the season series.

OVERVIEW

A while back I asked on twitter if we were sure Florida was good or not. The consensus seems to be they are, however looking at their roster I’m not entirely sure. The backcourt is good and I’m pretty sure Kevaughn Allen is elite, and I love what Chiozza brings to the point guard position. Then they bring in Egor Koulachov, one of the elite shooters in college basketball last season, to solidify the perimeter scoring. After that I have questions.

John Egbunu may not be ready to start the season so the Gators likely turn to Kevarrius Hayes, a guy who is a nice player around the basket but far from elite. Then it depends on how Mike White wants to start, either with a small lineup and play Koulachov at the four, inserting transfer Jaylen Hudson in at wing, or go big and use Keith Stone or one of the freshmen more? Stone is a nice player, but like Hayes, not exactly elite. The incoming freshmen are all good looking players and fairly highly rated but there isn’t a truly elite player in the group. All in all this is a nice roster, but who is their elite guy? I think you can say Allen, as he’s probably a 1st or 2nd All-SEC performer. But then... it’s just gets ok.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

This is the weird part for me about the Gators. I know all of this and still have them winning 12 games in conference. I guess you tend to trust known quantities like Mike White with Kevaughn Allen and Chris Chiozza over question marks with other more talented teams. In terms of talent and depth, I’m not sure the Gators have a top five or six roster in the league. I feel comfortable saying Kentucky, Auburn, Texas A&M, Alabama all, at least, have more talent than Florida. I think you could say the same about Missouri, and possibly even Mississippi State. So where does that leave us?

For one, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Florida fall back from projections, including my own. They’re a preseason top 10 team in the country and this roster looks more like a top 20 or 30 team instead of top 10. But I think the top of the SEC is far closer to the middle of the SEC which hasn't been the case in a long time.

The Gators are still a very good team and I think they’re probably right to be ranked where they are in my rankings. When it comes to the trust issue and depth, the Gators have both. While their depth may not have the elite levels of some of their league mates, the Gators have been there. They were in the Elite 8 just last year and they bring back their leading scorer. Sure they’re replacing 2-5 in their scoring leaders from last year, but Chiozza has never been a big scorer. He facilitates and now he has an elite shooter to kick the ball to along with Hudson.

All in all I have questions about the Gators I don’t see being asked by many people, but in the end enough of them should be answered by a good coaching staff and a talented and experienced back court.


About the preview: a number of respected basketball bloggers were asked to submit one 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, click here for the Google Form we used.


GLOSSARY

* - an asterisk denotes a walk-on player

GP - Games Played

%min - percentage of total available minutes played, does not account for time missed due to injury

%ov - offensive team value, simple formula of (%points + %rebounds) - %turnovers/*100, similar to Offensive Rating but places more value on performance to the team

%poss - percentage of team possessions the player is responsible for ending a possession, whether by making a shot, missing a shot not rebounded by the offense or committing a turnover.

%pts - percentage of teams points scored

ts% - true shooting percentage, basically points scored divided by 2x fga +0.44*fta.