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Friday, June 14, 2024

Florida men’s basketball prepares for NCAA Tournament as No. 7 seed without Handlogten

The Gators will play the winner of Colorado and Boise State March 22

Florida sophomore guard Denzel Aberdeen celebrates after slamming a dunk against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Gators’ 105-87 win on Tuesday, March 5, 2024.
Florida sophomore guard Denzel Aberdeen celebrates after slamming a dunk against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Gators’ 105-87 win on Tuesday, March 5, 2024.

In the opening minutes of the SEC Championship March 17, Gators men’s basketball starting center Micah Handlogten was going for a rebound. When landing, fans heard a snap, and he fell to the ground in pain. 

Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee, was dead quiet. Tears were falling from every Florida basketball player. As the stretcher came onto the court, the entire UF team came over to huddle around its starting center before he was taken to the hospital. 

After the game, it was confirmed Handlogten fractured his left leg. It was the end of his season.

“Yeah, it's tough, man, 'cause he's a great kid,” Florida head coach Todd Golden said, tearing up after the game. “You just hate to see it for him because he does everything the right way. He works hard. That's a super fluky injury that you don't see very often in this game.”

Handgloten’s absence was felt. His 7-foot-1 presence limits teams’ ability to go to the rim and get open layups. Also, it allows the Gators to have a tall, shot-blocking center to interrupt any easy shot attempts in the paint. 

But in the SEC Final, the Auburn Tigers used their physicality against freshman forwards Alex Condon and Thomas Haugh, and took advantage of graduate student forward Tyrese Samuel being in foul trouble. 

Auburn scored 44 of its 86 points in the paint, and the Gators defense struggled to contain center Johni Broome, who scored 19 points and brought down 11 rebounds.

“Micah is so valuable for our team, especially on the offensive rebounding side of things,” Tyrese Samuel said. “Losing him early kind of affected us a little bit. We were trying to win the championship for him. We really care about [Handlogten]. He's part of our family.” 

Now, Florida will prepare for the NCAA Tournament. Its first game is set March 22 against the winner of the Boise State and Colorado First Four matchup. 

Handgloten’s absence could play a major role for Florida’s hopeful tournament run. His lengthy height and wingspan have benefited UF all season. For an undersized opponent, it would’ve only benefited the Gators. 

Florida led the nation in rebounds per game during the regular season, and Handlogten helped substantially on the glass. He averaged 7.1 per game and brought down 17 in a game against Georgia Jan. 27.

Even though UF won’t have one of its best rebounders in the NCAA Tournament, Samuel said, after the games it’s a new season.  

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“Nothing matters from before pretty much,” Samuel said. “Just kind of going into practice, finding new tactics and ways just to complement each other without Micah.” 

Golden will now have to fill the center position in the starting lineup but it should be an easy decision for the second-year head coach. Freshman forward Alex Condon will most likely replace the injured Handlogten in the starting five. Although Condon hasn’t started all year, he’s in the lineup often and has provided valuable minutes, especially in the SEC Tournament. 

Additionally, Handlogten’s minutes had already been decreasing with the increased usage of Haugh and Condon. 

Handlogten averaged 20.17 minutes per game during the regular season, but that number dropped to 13 per game in three full games in the SEC Tournament. 

Condon will play even more of a role going forward. The 6-foot-11 freshman averaged 22.5 minutes per game in the conference tournament and played 26 minutes against Auburn and 28 versus Texas A&M. 

Going forward, Samuel will have to limit his foul trouble, as he picked up his fourth foul with eight minutes remaining against the Tigers. His physical presence will be vital as the Gators enter the NCAA Tournament with their leading shot blocker out.

Throughout the season, rebounding and free throw shooting has been a priority among Florida’s frontcourt. A day before a contest with Missouri Feb. 27, Samuel said the group was well connected. 

“I feel like us together, me, Condo, Micah and Tommy, I feel like we have a good bond together,” he said. “We’re always shooting free throws together. Because we all have to do the same job, so I’m sharing my insight and what’s going on during the game. I feel like that’s what’s made us really close.”

Haugh has blossomed into a role player for the Gators down the stretch. Against Georgia, he recorded a season and career-high 17 points against the Bulldogs. He played 25 minutes March 17, his third-highest of the year. 

His playing time may increase more. 

Listed at 6-foot-9, Haugh will have to play bigger than his size. He’s only gotten better throughout the year, becoming more clutch. The freshman recorded 11 points and four rebounds in the SEC Final. 

Although the bracket for the NCAA Tournament was revealed March 17, Florida will be forced to wait to find out who its first round opponent will be.

The Gators drew the No. 7 seed in the South region and will await the winner of Boise State and Colorado on Wednesday.

“Knowing we got one more game promised, I think it's just staying together,” senior guard Zyon Pullin said. “Learn from this. Give ourselves the best chance to win and go on a run here.”

The Broncos and Buffaloes are both talented squads that will pose problems for Florida in their Round of 64 matchup.

Boise State is no stranger to defeating a quality opponent. The Broncos took down the former 21st-ranked team in the nation in Saint Mary’s Dec. 1. They finished with a 3-2 record against teams ranked in the AP top 25 when the regular season came to an end.

Boise State suffered a 76-66 loss at the hands of New Mexico in the Mountain West tournament March 14 and will be hungry for an upset win over the Gators in the first round.

The Broncos finished top five in the Mountain West in both scoring offense and defense and will bring a balanced play style into March Madness. Boise State’s offense isn’t exactly high-flying, averaging just 75.8 points per game. However, where they could pose the biggest issue for Florida is on the glass, especially with UF’s loss of Handlogten.

Boise State was the No. 1 rebounding team in the Mountain West this season and will look to match the intensity that Florida will bring to the boards. A Florida vs Boise State matchup would be a physical battle featuring two of the top rebounding teams in the nation.

A balanced scoring attack with four players averaging double-digit scoring marks makes it difficult to pinpoint one key matchup that will stick out for the Gators. Though, junior forward Tyson Degenhart leads the way offensively for BSU scoring 17 points and six rebounds per game.

Rounding out the Broncos offensive attack is senior Chibuzo Agbo and junior O’Mar Stanley, who combine to average just over 26 points and 11.5 rebounds per game. Senior guard Max Rice chips in 12.5 points per game and is a threat from deep, making 74 made 3-pointers on the season.

The Broncos are a veteran group that starts two juniors and two seniors which has been a similar recipe for success for team’s who made a deep run in the NCAA tournament in prior years.

The other possible opponent for Florida could be one of the best double-digit seeds in the entire NCAA Tournament. Colorado posted a 24-10 record this season and tallied some quality opponents. 

The Buffaloes took down then-ranked No. 22 Washington State for a signature Quad 1 win. Despite its solid overall record, CU struggled against elite competition this season, finishing with a 1-3 record against ranked opponents.

But don’t get it twisted, Colorado will be an extremely tough out for both Boise State and Florida. They shoot the ball at a very efficient rate en route to having the best field goal and free throw percentage in the PAC 12.

Colorado finished third in the conference in both scoring offense and defense and beat teams by an average of eight points per game. Not only are they efficient from the field, but the Buffs are lethal from deep when it comes to knocking down 3-pointers and defending the perimeter.

They rank No. 1 in the PAC 12 in 3-point percentage and No. 1 in defending the three as well. The Buffaloes have three starters who all shoot above a 40% clip from deep. Leading the way is elite junior guard KJ Simpson who averages just under 20 points and five assists per game.

Though Simpson will be the focus point for Florida defensively, UF head coach Todd Golden will not be able to keep his entire attention just on Simpson when scouting the Buffs. Colorado has five players averaging double-digit point totals that all contribute offensively.

Senior forward Tristan da Silva and freshman forward Cody Williams are 6-foot-9 and 6-foot-8 wing players, respectively, who are skilled and have a versatile style of play that can attack your defense inside and out.

Da Silva is Colorado’s second-leading scorer at 15.6 points per game and Williams scores 12.6 per game, respectively. Senior center Eddie Lampkin Jr. is a force down low for CU’s frontcourt as the team’s leading rebounder at just over seven per game.

One area the Buffaloes struggle in that the Gators could take advantage of is being sloppy with the ball. Colorado ranks dead last in the PAC 12 in turnover margin at -2.

Florida will take on the winner of Boise State and Colorado in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at 4:30 p.m. March 22 in Indianapolis.

Contact Bennett Solomon at Follow him on X @B_Soly11. Contact Max at Follow him on X @Max_Tuckr1.

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Max Tucker

Max Tucker is a junior transfer student at UF. After obtaining his A.A. in Journalism from Santa Fe College in 2023, he chose further his education at Florida's College of Journalism and Communications. Max is currently pursuing his Bachelor of Science in Journalism with a specialization in sports and media. He enjoys golfing and going to the beach with his friends in his free time.

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