Florida basketball looks to manage expectations after top 10 preseason rankings

By Michael Phillips
October 26, 2019
Florida basketball looks to manage expectations after top 10 preseason rankings

Image Credit: Nati Rodriguez / UAA

The 2019-20 edition of Florida Gators basketball may have more talent and depth than any team since Billy Donovan was winning back-to-back national championships in Gainesville, Florida. That’s one reason why the Gators are ranked No. 6 in the Preseason AP Top 25, and head coach Mike White knows both the talent he has on the bench and how that will raise expectations. 

“I don’t blame whoever is out there saying we’ve got a chance to be pretty good or so and so ranking has this in the preseason, [Joe] Lunardi this and that,” White said back during the basketball team’s media day. “It is what it is; we’ve got a pretty good roster. It’s a good problem to have.”

With nine new faces added this offseason, the talent level and expectations are certainly high, but White is quick to point out that Florida has a long and tough road ahead this season. 

“We haven’t even been through a practice yet,” White said at the time. “We have no idea who’s going to start, who’s going to score for us, who’s going to be our best defensive player. All the ingredients that exist in really good teams remain to be seen with this team: toughness, maturity, experience, who’s going to lead us, consistency, work ethic. I could go on and on and on.

“Do I like our roster? Yeah. We’ve got a ridiculous schedule. We play four home games in the nonconference, I believe, which is unheard of at our level. Might be the only high-major team in the country doing that. You can check your facts there. We’ve got a really tough schedule.

“We’ve got nine new players. So I think, in two weeks, we’ll be a lot better than we are today. How good will we be by December, early November, mid-February? I don’t know. But we’ve got a lot to work with. I’m not going to dodge that. I like our roster on paper.”

It’s hard to look at Florida’s roster and not fall in love with it. 

The Gators have built around an impressive group of sophomores in point guard Andrew Nembhard, guard Noah Locke and forward Keyontae Johnson. Then there’s extremely talented guards in freshmen Scottie Lewis, Tre Mann and Ques Glover joining the program, along with more frosh like forward Omar Payne and center Jason Jitoboh. 

That’s just the young guys. The biggest offseason addition not only for Florida but any team is graduate transfer F Kerry Blackshear Jr. from Virginia Tech. The ex-Hokie has already been tabbed as the Preseason SEC Player of the Year and Preseason All-SEC first team selection. White has labeled Blackshear the best passing big man he’s ever coached.

The Gators do have a pair of veteran big men in juniors Dontay Bassett and Gorjok Gak who provide good size, length and defense on the floor when healthy. Unfortunately, Gak (shoulder) and Bassett (knee) will be sidelined due to injury to start the season with no timetable on their return.

With that setback, so many new players and uncommon depth, the Gators have plenty of questions to answer even now that they are a few practices into the preseason.

“I do think we’re more talented on paper this year,” White said. “I’m optimistic that we can be better offensively, but we’ve got to figure it out. I know we’re more versatile offensively, which sometimes can be … I think a lot of times can be a positive, but it can be a negative, too, if we’ve thrown too much at the wall.

“We’ve got to figure out what we’re good at quickly, what our strengths are, who we want to play through. Are we all accepting of playing that way? Can we all buy into doing that? And then hopefully find some offensive chemistry over the next couple months.”

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