- Ky McKeon
Key Returners: KeVaughn Allen, Jalen Hudson, Keith Stone, Kevarrius Hayes
Key Losses: Chris Chiozza, Egor Koulachev
Key Newcomers: Andrew Nembhard, Keyontae Johnson, Noah Locke
Outlook: Early offseason feelers indicate that Florida is one of the teams flying far below the radar heading into 2018-19. The Gators come off a successful 2017-18 campaign in which they earned a 6-seed in the NCAA Tournament. While the 21-13 (11-7) record doesn’t jump off the page, it’s worth noting that Florida lost seven of those 13 contests by just 5 points or less, resulting in the Gators ranking 310th in KenPom’s Luck ratings. The loss of Chris Chiozza, UF’s terrific table setter, shouldn’t be understated, but Mike White brings in a high-level PG prospect to replace him. With Jalen Hudson withdrawing his name from NBA Draft consideration and KeVaughn Allen looking to bounce back from a disappointing junior year, the Gators should once again be near the top of the SEC standings when all is said and done.
Chiozza’s impact was most notable on Florida’s elite turnover rate: the Gators ranked 6th in the country in ball protection thanks in large part to the sticky handles of Chiozza. The departed guard had a significant impact on both ends of the floor; Florida was +0.06ppp better on both offense and defense when Chiozza was on the court versus when he sat (a net +0.12ppp impact, info per Hoop Lens). Forward Egor Koulechev’s production will also be missed. The Mad Russian was highly efficient on offense, but was also a sneaky good defender as Hoop Lens data indicates (+0.07ppp on defense with Koulachev on the floor). Replacing Chiozza and Koulachev’s impact will be the toughest challenge for White and the Gators in 2018-19.
In order to compete for an SEC title, Florida needs its former star shooting guard, Allen, to get back into the swing of things. Here are Allen’s stat comparisons from his sophomore to junior season (courtesy of KenPom):
The most notable change was in Allen’s shooting percentages, as the Trap King’s numbers fell to putrid levels from everywhere on the floor save the free throw line. A lot of this probably had to do with the introduction of Hudson to the lineup. Hudson, a ball dominant, trigger happy wing, came in and immediately took over as the go-to guy on offense. For how trigger happy Hudson was though, his numbers were incredibly efficient. The 6’6” wing shot 40% from downtown and 50% from two, and his 35-point performance against Gonzaga in the PK80 will be one the Three-Man-Weave always remember.
Another reason Allen’s production could have plummeted, and a more simple explanation, is his shot selection and ability to finish near the rim:
Whatever the case may be, UF needs Allen to be a top-level SEC player to reach its potential.
White’s offense is of the spread-out variety, often featuring a 4-man that has range well past the three-point line. This season, that role will fall squarely on the shoulders of Keith Stone, a money long range shooter that improved his 3P% by 100 basis points in his sophomore season. Stone is undersized at the 4, not a great rebounder, and is liable to be pushed around on defense, but offensively he serves as a major weapon for what could be a deadly attack.
Despite the quantity and quality of shooters on this Florida squad, White’s team was baited far too often into settling for low percentage mid-range jumpers last season. This caused the offense to stall, especially given the fact the Gators had zero semblance of a post-up threat. Kevarrius Hayes is arguably the best shot blocker in the SEC, but he is a mere afterthought on the offensive end, as is reserve big man Gorjak Gak. This will almost certainly be the case this season, as Florida doesn’t add any meat to its frontline outside of redshirt freshman Isaiah Stokes, a former top 100 recruit and left tackle.
Guard play on both ends of the floor is what will carry the Gators to success this year. Top 30 freshman Andrew Nembhard looks poised to come in and immediately take over the reins of floor general. The Canadian and Montverde product has the size and wide range of skillset to potentially be the best point guard in the class of 2018. He likely won’t have near the ball protection stats that Chiozza turned in, but Allen and rising sophomore reserve guard Mike Okauru are more than capable ball handlers. Defensively, while Hayes is a great shot blocker, Florida is very susceptible to being destroyed in the interior and on the glass (case in point Marvin Bagley’s 30 pts. and 15 reb. 11/26/17 performance and Jonathan William III’s 39 pts. And 12 reb. 11/24/17 performance). Crazy stat: Hayes ranked T-5th on his own team in defensive rebounding rate last season. Stout perimeter defense from guys like Allen and Chiozza is what energized Florida’s defense and protected its frail interior. Nembhard will need to commit to being a stopper as well as a playmaker.
White brings in two more top 100 freshmen in Noah Locke and Keyontae Johnson. Locke will serve as another point guard option off the bench and has potential to be a knockdown outside shooter. Johnson, out of Oak Hill, has a D1-ready body and incredible bounce to add to his strength. He’ll be an option to play at a small-ball 4 or a wing next to Stone. Both will look to crack the rotation and be impactful in their inaugural years in Gainesville
Florida’s potential is sky high this season even without Chris Chiozza running the point. Allen was considered a preseason All-American by many last season, Hudson has developed into a legitimate NBA prospect, and Nembhard could be one of the best point guards in the SEC in just his first season. The Gators will need to overcome a relatively weak frontcourt, but their backcourt and wing troop is good enough to earn a spot on a top seed-line come March.