The Florida Gators had been an NCAA Tournament fixture and reached the Final Four as recently as 2014 but enter this season having missed the NCAAs in consecutive seasons for just the second time since the 1990s. Mike White, Billy Donovan’s successor a season ago, looks to re-establish the Gators and reach his first NCAA Tournament as a head coach.
The Gators’ ultimate undoing last season was shooting — Florida shot 42.6 percent from the field, 31.9 percent from 3-point range and 64.7 percent from the foul line. Asked the three areas his team must improve, White joked, “Free throw percentage, 3-point percentage and free throw percentage again. We’ve simply got to shoot the basketball better.”
All SEC predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2016-17 Preview Magazine, available in our online store and on newsstands everywhere.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Mike White
2015-16 RECORD (SEC): 21–15 (9–9)
2015-16 POSTSEASON: NIT: Lost to George Washington 82–77 in third round
2016-17 PREDICTION: Third in the SEC
F Dorian Finney-Smith (14.7 ppg, 8.3 rpg)
G Brandone Francis-Ramirez (2.0 ppg, 1.0 rpg)
Forward Devin Robinson looks to fulfill his promise and fill the void left by Dorian Finney-Smith, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder last season. Even though he averaged just 9.0 points and 5.6 rebounds as a sophomore, Robinson flirted with turning pro. He entered his name in the NBA Draft but withdrew when a stress fracture in his left foot required surgery in April. Robinson has the shooting range, length and explosiveness to fill up the stat sheet. But the 6'9", 195-pound Virginia native needs to get stronger and play with more consistent effort.
Meanwhile, 6'11", 255-pound center John Egbunu is a powerhouse in the paint, a solid rebounder (6.5 rpg) and shot blocker (1.4 bpg). To become the Gators’ most complete player, Egbunu must expand his game offensively and improve his foul shooting. Egbunu averaged 11.5 points but made just 92 of a team-leading 173 free throw attempts (53.2 percent). Egbunu, like Robinson, spent the offseason recovering from surgery (torn ligament in his right thumb).
Senior forward Justin Leon, who started 11 games as a junior college transfer, provides energy, defensive effort and timely 3-point shooting. Two young Gators — redshirt freshman Keith Stone and sophomore Kevarrius Hayes — could carve out significant roles. Stone greatly benefited from a redshirt season and has become one of the team’s more-polished offensive players. The long-limbed Hayes has the tools to become a top rebounder and defensive force.
Senior center Schuyler Rimmer is a big body but a marginal athlete who gets by on hustle.
A late-season surge by point guard Kasey Hill offered hope for his final season. Hill, a 2013 McDonald’s All-American, averaged 15.4 points and 4.4 assists during the last five games, compared with averages of 7.3 points and 3.7 assists during his entire three-year career. If he can build on his finish, Hill could be the key in 2016-17.
“I’m proud of where he stands right now, and certainly we hope that that continues,” White says. “If we had a game tomorrow, I’d feel pretty good about Kasey Hill.”
Fellow point guard Chris Chiozza, a junior, has a superior shooting touch and basketball IQ but lacks Hill’s blinding quickness and ability to get to the basket.
When he was on, shooting guard KeVaughn Allen was unstoppable as a freshman. Consider his 32-point night against Florida State, a 27-point outing at Ole Miss highlighted by 6-for-7 shooting from 3-point range and 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting during the season finale against George Washington. Allen will seek consistency as a sophomore. Even with his effort against GW, he shot just 32.3 percent (33-of-102) during Florida’s final 10 games.
The Gators’ top scoring threat, though, should be graduate transfer Canyon Barry. The son of NBA Hall of Famer Rick Barry averaged 19.7 points in 31.9 minutes per game for the College of Charleston before a shoulder injury ended his season after 13 games. The 6'6" wing shot 40.2 percent from the field and 84.5 percent from the foul line — underhanded like his father.
Canyon Barry scored 20-plus points in seven of 13 games last season at the College of Charleston. Guard Eric Hester was the Gators’ top recruit and should provide a spark off the bench. Forward Dontay Bassett was Hester’s teammate at Oldsmar (Fla.) Christian School but is not expected to have nearly the same impact as a freshman. Forward Gorjok Gak was declared ineligible. At 6'10", 205 pounds, he will use his redshirt season to physically develop.
White enters his second season facing a list of unknowns. Robinson and Egbunu endured lengthy offseason recoveries from injuries; his point guard (Hill) and shooting guard (Allen) were wildly erratic last season; and Florida’s most explosive scorer will be a graduate transfer (Barry). Despite this uncertainty, the Gators will still be one of the most talented teams in the SEC. A deep run in the NCAA Tournament isn’t likely, but Florida should finish among the top two or three teams in the league and snap its two-year NCAA drought.