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Fall Hoops Preview: Florida

Basketball season’s not too far away. To get ready for the season, we’re reaching out to every SEC school. Next up, the Florida Gators

NCAA Basketball: SEC Basketball Tipoff Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

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Florida is going to be good. Really good. Potentially a Final Four squad good.

After barely squeaking into the NCAA Tournament last March, Mike White’s Gators have an absolutely stacked squad. Florida was one of the big winners in the college basketball off season, getting commitments from a pair of five stars, small forward Scottie Lewis and point guard Tre Mann; the Gators also got a third top-50 signing from center Omar Payne.

And if all that wasn’t enough, Kerry Blackshear Jr. was the biggest graduate transfer on the market and the former Virginia Tech standout elected to head south to Gainesville.

Florida opened as the preseaon No. 6 team in the nation. That honestly might be too low for as much talent the Gators possess. Here to give us a better look into the Gators’ outlook on the 2019-20 season is Eric Fawcett from GatorCountry.com. You can follow him on Twitter @Efawcett7

1. Even in what was considered a “down year” for Florida, the Gators still made it to the NCAA Round of 32. How does Florida build off of last year?

Florida is a team that has thrived in grind-it-out, aesthetically unpleasing games the last two seasons and that has really benefited them in late conference and post season play when they were facing a talent deficit. Now that they’ve got loads of talent on the roster they’ll have to learn to play a different style game. Games played in the mud usually don’t benefit the more talented team so the Gators are going to have to open things up and probably play some higher possession games where their overall talent can shine.

2. Florida was one of the toughest groups defensively last year, only allowing 63 points a game which was 20th in the nation. Is it fair to expect more of the same this season or are the Gators not quite as formidable?

I would expect a similar level of defensive prowess from the Gators this season. While they graduated an elite defender in Kevarrius Hayes who anchored everything at the center position and a solid perimeter defender in KeVaughn Allen, they added probably the best defensive player in the 2019 class in Scottie Lewis and also have a revamped front court with Kerry Blackshear Jr. and Gorjok Gak who will add size and length they lacked last season. Florida was an undersized team without a lot of great athletes last year and with more size, length, and explosion this year they should still be great defensively. The only thing that keeps me from thinking they might not be better this year is the loss of Hayes.

3. Conversely, Florida wasn’t nearly as strong offensively last season, ranking 12th in the SEC in points per game. Mike White has got to want to see an improvement there right?

Desperately. Florida’s offensive struggles were largely due to the fact they didn’t have many players who could create off the dribble and they didn’t have a post scoring threat. Add those two things together and you’ve got a team that couldn’t get the ball into the paint and when you’re not getting easy points at the rim or getting inside-out three point shots you’re going to hurt offensively. The obvious improvement here comes from Kerry Blackshear Jr. who was one of the most efficient low post scorers in the country last year, as well as a capable 3-point shooter and a great passer from the high post. With him the Gators go from a team that was abysmal on the block to a team that’s elite there and that should really reshape things. Another weapon added to the mix is Tre Mann who is a lethal individual scorer. He brings some much-needed flash to Florida’s perimeter group and I think he’s going to really surprise people as one of the most important offensive players. Andrew Nembhard is also going to be the catalyst for everything Florida does offensively as one of the best passers in the country.

4. I’m not sure if any team added more talent to its roster than Florida. The Gators signed five stars Scottie Lewis and Tre Mann and Kerry Blackshear Jr comes to Gainesville as a grad transfer from Virginia Tech. Which newcomer makes the biggest impact for Florida?

To me it’s got to be Blackshear. Like I mentioned before the Gators were unproven at the center position before Blackshear decided to come to town and that was a black hole on the roster. When you can go from a position being unquestionably the weakest in the league to arguably the strongest that’s a major swing. While Scottie Lewis is getting the most hype as the #7 player in the 2019 class I actually think Tre Mann is the more important player of the two, at least from the standpoint of next season. Mann’s offensive creation abilities are going to be called on a lot more than a lot of people think and he’s someone that I think is going to make a name for himself in the SEC and maybe even nationwide.

5. Looking at Florida’s roster I see a stacked squad led by a proven coach. It feels like Florida has all the pieces to win the SEC and be a legit Final Four contender. What’s the ceiling for the Gators and what could be their undoing?

When you look at Final Four teams recently I think there are a few trends. Returning talent, a great point guard, a paint presence, and some one-and-done NBA talent. The Gators check all of those boxes. Andrew Nembhard, Noah Locke, and Keyontae Johnson were excellent starters last year and Kerry Blackshear Jr. is obviously a proven player as well. He provides the matchup problem and rebounding security down low while Nembhard is the tremendous leader and floor general every good team needs. Scottie Lewis and Tre Mann are one-and-done caliber players that aren’t going to be relied on as sole contributors but will have chances to shine. This is a team that absolutely should be in the Final Four mix and, aided by the fact there doesn’t look to be many unmistakable championship contenders at the top, they could definitely go on a run. There are two things that could lead to their undoing, starting with the fact that they are thin on the wings. Florida could struggle with teams that have multiple big wings and an injury to to Scottie Lewis, Keyontae Johnson, or even Tre Mann could be devastating. Chemistry is the other thing that could end up hurting the Gators as they have a whopping nine new players on the roster this year. All reports point to this being a totally tight-knit group who really loves each other but from a basketball standpoint there isn’t much continuity. That could really hurt a team that needs establish a new way to score the basketball and also shift some defensive philosophies with the loss of Kevarrius Hayes.