The college basketball season doesn’t tip off until early November, but that won’t stop the national media from making those wildly bold predictions merely based off what a team looks like on paper.
This year, the Gators have found themselves on the right side of those predictions, thanks to a complete roster overhaul this offseason that features nine new faces on the 14-man squad.
It’s very easy to buy in to the hype when it comes to this Florida team.
The seventh-best recruiting class (according to 247sports), a trio of sophomores that contributed greatly during their freshman seasons in Gainesville and the addition of the top transfer on the market has completely changed the perception of what the Gators can accomplish in 2019-20.
Tre Mann and Scottie Lewis – both McDonald’s All-Americans – are two players from that top 10 class that should contribute in a big way right from the beginning.
Lewis, a 6-foot-5 guard with a ridiculous amount of athleticism, has the tools to collapse a defense with his driving ability, which should lead to open looks for some of the team’s sharpshooters on the outside when he isn’t finishing at the rim.
Mann will be one of those sharpshooters. The freshman averaged 23.6 points per game last season as a high school senior, making 152 three-point baskets during his last two years playing at The Villages Charter, just an hour south of Gainesville.
I’d expect Mann to get plenty of open looks this season, especially with the return of sophomore point guard Andrew Nembhard.
An SEC All-Freshman Team member, Nembhard played in all 36 games last season, averaging over five assists per contest. His high basketball IQ and great vision make him a valuable asset among his talented teammates.
Look for Keyontae Johnson (8.1 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 20 starts) and a healthy Noah Locke (9.4 PPG, 38 three-point percentage, 26 starts) to both mold into more consistent players because of the experience they received during their rookie campaigns.
The x-factor for the Gators this season will be graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr.
The former Virginia Tech forward gives this basketball team something it hasn’t had since Patric Young and Will Yeguete last played in 2014. At 6-foot-11, Blackshear Jr. brings much-needed height and athleticism in the paint. Down low, Florida has struggled to gain a consistent offensive presence since coach Mike White took over in 2015. With Blackshear Jr., however, the team now has a big man that can handle the ball, score in the post and bounce outside to make a jump shot.
When it comes to talent, UF has plenty of it, and that’s why every preseason ranking I’ve seen has the Gators in the top 10.
ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi has UF as a No. 2 seed come next March in his preseason projections.
College basketball analyst Andy Katz put Florida in his preseason Final Four, along with Michigan State, Louisville and Kansas.
Those are just two of many who share the same high praise for White’s group.
In the SEC, many believe it’ll be a neck-and-neck battle between the Gators and Kentucky. When you have national college basketball media members – many of whom absolutely adore the Wildcats year in and year out – picking Florida to compete with one of the blue bloods of college basketball, you know the potential for a special season in Gainesville is serious.
Right now, everything looks good on paper, but we’ll see if the Gators can live up to it come November.
Follow Evan Lepak on Twitter @evanmplepak and contact him at [email protected].