Last Season: 21-13 (11-7 SEC) No. 22 KenPom
My Prediction: 18-12 (9 9, 7th in SEC)
The Masses Prediction: 11.1 - 6.9 (5th in SEC) No. 19 KenPom
HEAD COACH: Mike White | Third Season, 69-37
You can call me a Mike White believer, but I’m certainly no evangelist when it comes to the young and charismatic coach working in Gainesville. White took over a program already stocked with some elite talent, kept it mostly intact and has it running at a high level. Sure, the program dipped in Billy Donovan’s final year, but Florida was still viewed as an elite program, one capable of getting into any door when it came to recruiting. While it’s taken White several seasons to get the ball rolling, the class he assembled in 2018 is elite, and the one he’s putting together for 2018 might be even better.
That said, there are still some concerns about where the program is heading under White’s direction. He still isn’t playing the style he used during a successful run at Louisiana Tech, opting to be a little more traditional in his approach. This also the Gators first season without the leadership and playmaking ability of Chris Chiozza to fall back on. Florida could see its record dip this season, but I’m still confident they found a long-term successor to Donovan, and it won’t surprise me in the least to see White reach the same level of success.
Seat Temp: COOL
That is a graphic reflects a fair amount of consistency. The Gators have had some stumbles in the last 10 years, but, for the most part, they’re a program that’s just shy of attaining blueblood status. The expectations are also clear: make the NCAA tournament year after year, contend for SEC titles most years, making a Final Four run about every three or four seasons.
SO, WHO’S GONE?
The biggest loss here is clearly Chiozza, a steadying presence at point guard and a tenacious table setter on defense. He served as an extension of White on the floor and replacing that leadership might be more important than his average offensive production. On the other side of the coin is Egor Koulechov, who I was never a big fan of despite his ability to shoot the ball. Koulechov struggled to defend in the SEC, forcing UF to mask his deficiencies with a lot of weird schematic tweaks. In a way, Koulechov’s exit makes Florida better via subtraction, because the Gators won’t have to worry about whether he’s a liability against an athletic wing or stronger post player — issues that not even stellar shooting could overcome. John Egbunu exited after never fully recovering from his ACL tear the season before. He was a mountain of a man on the interior, and the Gators missed him after he got hurt in 2017.
AND, WHO’S BACK?
Jalen Hudson | SENIOR | WING
Get your hand underneath the ball, Jalen!
It’s kind of amazing to think Hudson, one of the top shooters in all of the SEC, starts shot with his palm nearly on the side of the basketball. But here we are. Hudson shot better than 40 percent from deep, while his effective-field-goal and true shooting percentages were elite. He will almost certainly be counted for more this season, and he’s capable. The threat he poses as a shooter sets up Hudson to attack closeouts, creating chances in mid-range and at the rim. While Hudson could take on a little bit more of a ball-handling role depending on the lineup, Hudson has to be his best self for the Gators this year.
The Gators bring back plenty of production, stoking big expectations about the heights they could reach this season. Keith Stone was a part-time starter who fits best as a combo forward. He’s big and strong enough to match up with opposing bigs but thrives in the mid-range. Extending Stone’s into extended range out to the 3-point line would be a logical step for White. Deaundrae Ballard was a highly-sought recruit but counted on sparingly last season. He’s an athletic wing, but one who can stand to shoot the ball a little better and only averaged one 3-point attempt per game. If you’re tracking playing time, I might keep an eye on Mike Okauru. He was a bit player a season ago and may have been recruited over a bit. However, if White gives him major minutes, things get interesting up and down the roster.
One of the guys I’m most intrigued by is Chase Johnson. Like Stone, Johnson is likely suited for a role at combo forward, but he needed to camp out in the weight room and got it in the form of a redshirt. But in high school, he was a highly efficient offensive player.
White’s roster also seems stocked with serviceable bigs capable of offering rebounding and rim protect but unlikely to be the focal point of Florida’s offense. Leading the pack is probably Kevarrius Hayes. Gorjok Gak is along the same lines, as is Dontay Bassett. I’m not sure you can expect much offensively from the Florida post players.
Kevaughn Allen | SENIOR | COMBO GUARD
Bursting onto the scene as a freshman, Kevaughn Allen became one of the tougher players to defend in the SEC during his first two seasons in Gainesville. When Florida ascended to a No. 4 seed and made an Elite Eight run a few years ago, Allen was the leading scorer. But last year saw Allen regress as his shooting percentages and scoring dipped. Needless to say, Florida was worse off because of it.
The step back was caused, in part, by Allen taking on a larger role as a ballhandler, running the offense whenever Chiozza wasn’t on the floor. While his turnover rate didn’t spike, the Gators offense became sluggish and stagnant. It will be interesting to see if White taps Allen for the same duty or moves him off the ball in hopes that wing rediscovers his offensive mojo. If that happens, Allen and Hudson will be as good as any guard combo in the SEC.
THEN, WHO’S NEW?
The good news for Gators fans is that while White struggled to recruit early in his tenure, he’s hitting his stride. In 2016 and 2017, UF didn’t land a single top-80 recruit, with Chase Johnson being the highest-rated prospect at No. 85 nationally. That’s a stark contrast to Florida’s classes in 2018 and 2019, groups where they’ve yet to land a player outside the top 80 nationally, including scoring pledges from three five-star talents. We’ll talk about the 2019 class next year, because the 2018 class is on campus now, and it’s a very good one.
Andrew Nembhard headlines the class and is exactly what the Gators need this season: a pretty traditional point guard with elite passing skills. He should for the starting position from Day 1. Keyontae Johnson is an elite athlete who has a college-ready body and should be an immediate impact player defensively. His overall offensive game needs some work, but Johnson is a load when barreling toward the rim. Meanwhile, I’m a big fan of Noah Locke, who is a rare commodity in that he can reliably knock down shots on the catch and has the economy of movement to his jumper than he can become a leading offensive weapon over the next few years.
|(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|
Last season, the Gators had an exceptional backcourt paired with a mediocre group up front. So naturally, they addressed the issue, right? No. They added three elite players to an already strong section of the roster. It’s possible none of the three freshman start, but I like Nembhard at point guard this season. Inserting the Nembhard early grants White the flexibility to bump Allen off the ball to combo guard and keep Hudson in his natural position as a scoring wing. I’m not really sure what the plan is on the interior, but I imagine they’ll start with Hayes and Stone. Johnson can win some minutes, too, but the intrigue will be on the perimeter. Florida’s seniors are certain to get their minutes, but keep an eye on whether Locke and Johnson overtake sophomores Okauru and Ballard in the pecking order.
My Projected Record: 18-12 | KenPom Projected Record: 19 - 10
|Nov 6||Away||Florida State||15||L|
|Nov 9||Home||Charleston Southern||233||W|
|Nov 14||Home||La Salle||175||W|
|Nov 27||Home||North Florida||228||W|
|Dec 4||Neutral||West Virginia||10||L|
|Dec 8||Home||Michigan State||13||W|
|Dec 22||Away*||Florida Gulf Coast||203||W|
White loaded up the non-conference schedule with a group of highly notable opponents. Florida State is coming off an Elite Eight run and returns a large chunk of its roster, meaning there’s a decent chance the Seminoles are ranked when the in-state rivals clash. Facing West Virginia is always a shock to the system with the way the Mountaineers play, even if they after moving on Jevon Carter. Michigan State is probably going to be a top-10 team, but the Spartans come to Gainesville. The docket also features matchups against Butler and a date with TCU as part of the Big 12-SEC Challenge. Overall, it’s as tough of a schedule as anyone in the SEC is playing this year.
|Jan 5||Home||South Carolina||42||W|
|Jan 15||Away||Mississippi St||23||L|
|Jan 22||Home||Texas A&M||48||W|
|Jan 30||Home||Ole Miss||94||W|
The SEC office didn’t spare Florida, handing the Gators home-and-homes against Tennessee, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and LSU. The only reprieve is drawing Georgia, who might be plucky in coach Tom Crean’s first season in charge. So on top of a very difficult non-con schedule, Florida’s conference slate features up to 15 games against teams who are likely to make the NCAA tournament or contend for a spot on the bubble come March. For example, Florida faces Mississippi State, Auburn and Alabama on the road. If you look at the entirety of the schedule, roughly 60 percent of the Gators’ opponents could be picked by the selection committee — and that’s before you count their buy games.
Even if last year wasn’t a banner one, the Gators finished with 21 wins, including 11 in SEC play and went to the NCAA tournament. Still, their offense underperformed, which stemmed from Allen’s struggles and the Gator’s inefficient efforts to overcome his slump.
It’s one reason I’m skeptical of this Gators team. Hudson is an elite shooter, while Allen can be one, too. After those two seniors, though, Gators don’t really have another outlet. If there was at least one guy on the interior who could consistently get them a bucket, then I might have more buy-in.
I was a big fan of Chiozza and what he could do to buoy the Gators from the point guard spot. Still, he couldn’t overcome a non-existent interior offensive presence. Hayes is a nice athlete and does the dirty work on the boards and on defense, but there’s no leap coming offensively. I think the hope is Florida’s combo forwards — Stone and Johnson — improve enough that the more of the offense flows through their spot.
I’m just not sure whether it pans out. They really need Hudson to be better than he was last year and for Allen to return to form. Ideally, Nembhard ready from the jump while Johnson and Locke supply stead production in support roles as the Gators go guard-heavy. With so much talent concentrated in the backcourt, it’s the only plan that makes much sense.
There’s always a possibility Hayes, Basset or Gak turn the corner and the give Florida the dimension of playing through the post, but the odds are slim.
This preview is probably underselling the Gators this season, but I feel like I oversold them last year. I wasn’t rewarded for that level of trust. So, for now, I’m backing off until White gets some added depth inside and starts building around his über talented youngsters.
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.
* - 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.