Key Departures: Kasey Hill, Devin Robinson, Canyon Barry, Justin Leon, Eric Hester, Schuyler Rimmer
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Chris Chiozza (Sr.)
SG: KeVaughn Allen (Jr.)
SF: Keith Stone (RS So.)
PF: Kevarrius Hayes (Jr.)
C: Isaiah Stokes (Fr.)
Key Reserve Players:
C: John Egbunu (RS Sr.) SG: Jalen Hudson (RS Jr.), C: Gorjok Gak (So.), SG: DeAundre Ballard (Fr.), PF: Dontay Bassett (RS Fr.), SG: Egor Koulechov (GS.) PF: Chase Johnson (Fr.), SG: Michael Okauru (Fr.)
The Gators fell to the Gamecocks in the Elite 8 of last year’s NCAA tournament. Coach Mike White has done a sensational job since taking over for Billy Donovan. Florida had a record of 27-9 last year. They do lose a fair amount of scoring from last season, but KeVaughn Allen returns. Allen is one of the purest scorers in the SEC, and I think he will be one of the better scoring guards in the country this year. Allen had eight 20-point games last season, including a 35-point performance in the thriller against Wisconsin in the Sweet 16. He led the Gators in scoring last season, and I think he will pick up right where he left off. He is one of those scorers that can take over a game offensively when his shots are falling. Chris Chiozza takes the point guard duties from Kasey Hill, despite having plenty of experience at the position. Chiozza was essentially a third starting backcourt player, but came off the bench because of Hill and Allen. Chiozza was the hero from the Wisconsin game, and he will be called upon to produce as a distributor for Mike White for his senior year.
At the small forward position, I chose to insert Keith Stone into the starting lineup. Stone only played 12.1 minutes last season, but his minutes will increase with the departures of Devin Robinson and Justin Leon. Stone has really good size at the three, and he will have a much more substantial role this season. Jalen Hudson, the transfer from Virginia Tech, is another player that could battle for a starting spot. The last time that I saw Hudson play was in the NIT tournament at Cassel Coliseum against Princeton in 2016. He had 28 points in his final home game as a Hokie. Hudson is an athletic guard who can contribute on both ends of the court. He can step out as a perimeter shooter, but his ability to drive and get to the rim is what impresses me the most. He brings a great work ethic and competitive mindset to Gainesville, and will be a big part of this rotation. The graduate transfer from Rice, Egor Koulechov, and the freshman, DeAundre Ballard will also get in on the action. Koulechov averaged 18.2 points and 8.9 rebounds last season for the Owls. With the transfer of Eric Hester, Hudson and Koulechov will take on an increase in ball-handling duties. Ballard is a high-character kid who brings versatility as a guard. He can score in different ways (he can shoot it), and has good potential as a perimeter defender. Mike Okauru, the four-star from Brewster Academy, brings added depth to the guard rotation.
One of the issues for Florida last year was a deficiency in the frontcourt, more specifically, with the bigs. When John Egbunu tore his left ACL against Auburn, Kevarrius Hayes had to step in/start, and he played the bulk of the big man minutes. Hayes actually played very well. He brought energy and effort on the boards, and provided a defensive post presence. He is not a great offensive player, but he knows how to use his strengths to contribute. You saw players like Devin Robinson and Justin Leon (more natural small forwards) playing as stretch fours, due to the lack of size. Egbunu is still recovering from his injury, but will be available later in the year. I have Hayes remaining in the starting lineup at the start of the season, along with Isaiah Stokes, who ameliorates the size issue from last year. Stokes, just like his brother Jarnell, is very skilled. He also has a really good feel for the game. Offensively, he will do a lot of damage in the paint area and in the mid-range game. Gorjok Gak, Dontay Bassett, and Chase Johnson will provide added big man depth off the bench. Gak played sparingly during his freshman season, but now has a year of the college game under his belt. He has good length at 6’11”, runs the floor well for his size, and has defensive potential as a solid rim protector. Dontay Bassett was redshirted last year due to a stress fracture in his foot. Bassett is another big who runs the floor well, can be a rim protector, is athletic, and can finish above the rim. Chase Johnson is a smart player who brings stretch four ability, and will know his role on this Florida team.
Florida will be really good in the SEC again this year. They bring in a good recruiting class that joins key pieces from last year. KeVaughn Allen will be a SEC Player of the Year candidate, and Isaiah Stokes is a freshman to keep your eyes on. Defense will continue to be their calling card. They will be competing with Kentucky again this season, and I have them ranked at number 13 on my preseason list.