The Florida Gators head into the 4th year of Mike White’s tenure looking to build from last year’s 21-13 campaign and compete in the ever-growing Southeastern Conference that’s only gotten stronger since the conclusion of last season. For the time being the Gators are a dark horse in the SEC. A trio of seniors and a solid core of younger players behind them is what Florida will have to try and make the NCAA Tournament for a third consecutive year.
- Jalen Hudson
- KeVaughn Allen
- Kevarrius Hayes
- Keith Stone
Florida’s leading scorer from last year, Jalen Hudson, returns after averaging 15.5 points in what was his first season in Gainesville, FL. Now he’s one of three seniors on this team that will have to step up and lead the Gators. Hudson has proven that he can handle his own, but the other two have some convincing to do.
KeVaughn Allen fell far from the lofty expectations he had going into his junior season. His points per game fell off from 14 in 2016 to 11 in 2017, his three-point percentage plummeted from 37% to 32.8%, and he shot a pitiful 36% from the field. As a senior, there is zero room for him to be as inefficient as he was and Florida still be successful this year. He can’t strive to just regain the level of play from his sophomore season either, Allen will have to assert himself to a level even higher than that.
Kevarrius Hayes is Florida’s other senior that will likely have the best opportunity of his career to produce at a high level. The big man averaged just 4.8 points and 5 rebounds per game last year, but he serves his greatest role on the defensive end. In his junior season Hayes averaged two blocks and a steal, had the 2nd highest defensive plus/minus and 5th highest plus/minus in the SEC. Even if he’s not scoring a lot, Hayes’ defense will be vital to the Gators’ chances this season.
The three seniors are obviously the more notarized players on the team, however, Florida has other returning players that could potentially break out this season. The most likely candidate to do so is junior forward Keith Stone. Starting in 26 games last season Stone led the Gators in three-point shooting percentage at 42.4%, doing so at 6’8” and 235 pounds. Likely to be starting full-time in Florida’s frontcourt Stone’s shooting should compliment the more bruising style of Kevarrius Hayes.
- Chris Chiozza
- Egor Koulechov
Florida’s big three of seniors will have to supplement the leadership and production lost with the departures of the team’s 2nd and 3rd leading scorers from the 2017-18 season. Chris Chiozza was the backbone of the team at point guard last year averaging six assists a game, and Egor Koulechov was a flamethrower of a shooter. Nearly 25 points per game and 108 total threes worth of production is now gone with those two seniors now gone. It really emphasizes the need for guys like KeVaughn Allen to step up.
Key Newcomers & Potential Breakout Players
- Andrew Nembhard
- Deaundrae Ballard
- Mike Okaru
A new face in Gainesville that will likely be starting right away is five-star point guard Andrew Nembhard out of Montverde Academy and Ontario, Canada. At 6’4” Nembhard is an exciting prospect that can help replace the skill and production that Chris Chiozza brought to the lead-guard position.
A couple of rising sophomores will also be intriguing to keep an eye on as Florida’s season progresses. Deaundrae Ballard has been in high regards of the Florida coaching staff since he arrived on their campus, and Mike Okaru shot 40% from three in limited minutes. Both are exciting young guards that should be getting increased minutes to show off hopeful improvements from their freshmen seasons.
Projected Starting Five
G: Andrew Nembhard
G: Jalen Hudson
G: KeVaughn Allen
F: Keith Stone
F: Kevarrius Hayes
Mike White is a very solid head coach that is still in the midst of building Florida back up to their usual prevalence. They won’t be the most talented team in the SEC, but the Gators have experience and depth that should allow them to remain in the thick of things throughout the 2018-2019 season. There’s a lot of really good players and quite a few really good teams in the SEC this season, some with quite a bit of really good freshmen talent. Florida’s experience should be a major advantage against the field, but will the returning pieces be consistent enough to match the more talented teams in the conference? One thing is certain, the Gators are ran by one of the best in Mike White.
Record Prediction: 22-9 (11-7 SEC)
The SEC is really good, having to play West Virginia and Michigan State back to back within five days is devastating, playing TCU in the Big 12/SEC Challenge will not be easy. They made it into the NCAA Tournament with 12 losses last year, a 22-9 mark should have them comfortably in with a decently high seeding.