The Florida Gators entered last season with a ton of hype surrounding their new-look squad. Coach Mike White’s squad was picked by a lot of people to win the SEC and entered the season ranked 6th in the AP Poll. However, after a rocky start that saw the Gators lose four non-conference match ups, the Gators fell quickly out of the top 25 and never re-entered after the month of November. They were never consistent throughout the season, finishing with a 19-12 record (11-7 SEC), which prompted a lot of questions surrounding White’s coaching abilities and the talent on the roster. In this new season, the Gators look to silence the critics this upcoming season with some new talent and some familiar faces.
Who’s Back, Who’s Gone?
The Florida roster last season was a very young and inexperienced roster generally, with the one scholarship senior being F Kerry Blackshear, who has moved on to the professional ranks. Additionally, the Gators had three outgoing transfers in F Gorjak Gak (Cal Baptist), F Dontay Bassett (Weber State) and the biggest one of the three being G Andrew Nembhard (Gonzaga).
Even with the losses of Blackshear and Nembhard, the Gators still return a lot of talent, and that starts with All-SEC G Keyontae Johnson, who led the Gators in points and was second in rebounds at 6-5. While Johnson is the headliner of the returners, the Gators also return their entire freshman class which was ranked in the top ten per 247 Sports, specifically a top-ten F Scottie Lewis who has NBA potential, top-twenty G Tre Mann who tested the NBA Draft waters before returning to school, four-star F Omar Payne who showed flashes of brilliance last season, as well as F Jason Jitoboh and G Ques Glover, who both played at least twenty-one games last season. The Gators also return G Noah Locke, who was the fourth-leading scorer on last season’s team and looks to factor in heavily to Florida’s back court plans.
The Gators return a lot of last year’s team, but they do have some newcomers coming in to support that returning talent. Two players that were on last year’s roster that sat out due to transfer rules but are looking to contribute this season are F Anthony Duruji (12.2 PPG at Louisiana Tech in 2018-19) and G Tyree Appleby (17.2 PPG at Cleveland State in 2018-19), who are generating tons of buzz due to their status as being double-digit or near double-digit scorers at their previous schools. Additionally, Mike White has brought in four new players to the roster, including two prep recruits in four-star F Samson Ruzhentsev and three-star G Niels Lane, a top-ten JUCO transfer in Osayi Osifo and a Power 5 transfer in C Colin Castleton, who was granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA after transferring from Michigan. These newcomers will help fill in the gaps for the veteran Florida roster that is looking to take a young group that now has SEC experience and raise them to new heights.
G: Tre Mann
G: Noah Locke
G: Keyontae Johnson
G: Scottie Lewis
F: Omar Payne
Bench: Tyree Appleby
Bench: Anthony Duruji
Bench: Colin Castleton
Bench: Osayi Osifo
Bench: Jason Jitoboh
Bench: Ques Glover
Bench: Niels Lane
Bench: Samson Ruzhentsev
The starting lineup is pretty straightforward for Mike White, as Locke, Johnson, Lewis, and Mann all seem to be the logical starters for the four guard spots that White likes to employ. Omar Payne also is the most experienced big man in White’s system, and at 6-10 he provides a solid inside presence. Look for Appleby, Duruji, Castleton, and Glover to be the primary bench options, with Ruzhentsev and Osifo also providing wing depth in case of foul trouble. White played ten players seventeen or more games last season, so having a 10-11 man rotation seems to be in the cards for this season as well.
Looking to the Future
Florida’s roster has no seniors on it, which means that they have no available scholarships for the 2021 class. However, they have a pledge from four-star SG Kowacie Reeves Jr. for the 2021 class, meaning that they will have to have one player declare for the draft or transfer to bring Reeves Jr. in. The Gators could still pursue other recruits or transfers for the 2021 class, but they must balance those players with outgoing players from the current roster.
Florida has seen a lot of their nucleus return to Gainesville after a generally underwhelming season from the perspective of their expected position. The talented freshman class now has a full year of experience playing at the pace of the SEC, so more will be expected from those players, the returning players like Locke and Johnson will be expected to carry on their performances into their junior seasons, and the newcomers will be expected to fill in the gaps around those stalwarts. Overall, Florida is still in a great position to be successful this upcoming season even through the loss of Andrew Nembhard and Kerry Blackshear, but it will come down to the improvement of Tre Mann as a lead ball-handler and scorer, as well as the development of players like Omar Payne and Ques Glover. If those players can develop to the level they need to, Florida can challenge again for the SEC title and make the NCAA tournament once again.
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