Welcome to the Golden Era of Gator basketball. (Photo credit: Matt Pendleton, Gainesville Sun.)
With the wildly bipolar season first-year head coach Billy Napier is having in football, it’s only a matter of time until the sport that always is forgotten because of recent results, sneaks up on Gator fans. And that’s college basketball. Yes, the Florida Gators still play ball around a basket.
But this isn’t the year to go into winter hibernation and wait until a meaningful stickball regional game or a first-round tournament exit. Mike White is, in fact, gone. This year, the Gators have a coach who is striving for greatness. Florida fans have been wanting to hear this from a coach, one that only thinks about what they can control and hope for.
Brand new head coach, Todd Golden, 37, has said from the get-go that he wants to restore the Gators to greatness and “couldn’t be more excited about what the future holds in Gainesville.”
When is the last time a Gator basketball coach talked about excitement? Or any mention of wanting to win a championship? As a matter of fact, any mention of expectations for this two-time national championship program? Nope. Nada. Zilch.
Once Golden stepped foot in the O’Connell Center, he knew the history and pedigree, and that a job like this shouldn’t be taken for granted. Golden isn’t just regurgitating common first-year head coach talking points. The former San Francisco head coach, who last season lead the Dons to their first NCAA tournament bid since 1998, has put together a diverse roster filled with veterans and rookies, with different skill sets.
This won’t be an easy task for Golden, as being a first-year head coach is difficult enough. Adding to the fact that the roster this year has no two players who started a game together, all with skill sets Golden isn’t known for, prepare for a season of bipolar basketball.
Bipolar years in sports is something Florida fans should be used to, but not with basketball. Former coach Mike White, now at Georgia, went a decent 142-88 at Florida. Every year fans knew what to expect under White; a tournament appearance with a first or second-round loss on average.
What We Know
Under Todd Golden, this team is looking to surprise everyone. This Gator basketball team only received 3 votes in the preseason AP poll. Todd Golden’s team will for sure use this ranking for motivation and a way to surpass first-year ceilings; and not just be a “tournament team”, a team that could make a run deep in March.
This off-season surprised many fans as 5th-year senior and former Michigan transfer, Colin Castleton, announced a return for his final eligibility year. Castleton, an expert at ferocious on-ball defense, pick-and-rolls, and mid-range shooting, will likely bring this new team together with experience and veteran poise.
Castleton knows what it means to play for the Gators and should be even more excited to have a coach that reciprocates his mantra. Expect Castleton, a hard worker, to be even better this year at mid-range shooting and free throws. The rest of the team is unknown, with four new transfers, three guards, and old players who will assume new roles.
To go more in-depth, last year’s stats have to be addressed. Todd Golden isn’t really a faster tempo coach than Mike White, but he doesn’t exactly have a team that can’t score efficiently. Teams with a fast tempo need to have quick/slasher-type guards that can set up the offense quickly themselves and find a shot.
This Gator basketball roster has a lot of potential shooters (Kyle Lofton, Myron Jones, & pick-and-roll players (Jason Jitoboh and Castleton.) This, obviously takes a lot longer to set up an offense and get a good look. Expect this to be one of the Gators’ weaknesses.
Last year, according to KenPom, San Francisco had an adjusted tempo of 68.9 which is 89th in division 1. Florida, on the other hand, had an AdjT of 65.4. Don’t be fooled by the fact that the numbers aren’t far apart, because Florida was 267th in tempo last year.
The 2022-23 Gator basketball team’s likely strengths:
OPPONENT PPG: A slower tempo (131st), but not too slow like last year (267th), will limit the points the Gators allow each game.
LIMIT TURNOVERS: Probably the only direct positive of a slower tempo. When an offense takes its time running a play, it limits mistakes such as bad passes, steals, or poor shots.
MANY WAYS TO SCORE: this Gator basketball team has a dynamic potential scorer in Kowacie Reeves, three-point shooters in Myron Jones and Will Richard, poised veteran guards in Kyle Lofton and Trey Bonham, and rebounders such as Niels Lane, Jason Jitoboh, and Alex Fudge. The pieces are there for this team to put the ball in the basket on a high percentage of trips down the floor.
The catch is: yes, all those players CAN produce big numbers. However, the only player that fans should 100% expect consistency from day in and day out is Colin Castleton, because that’s simply what we’ve seen before; we haven’t seen the other guys do it yet for the Florida Gators. And that leads us to this team’s weaknesses.
The 2022-23 Gator basketball team’s likely weaknesses:
THE UNKNOWN: Florida has 4 new transfers, three of them being guards which is a whole new backcourt. Though it was the 9th best transfer class according to 24/7 Sports, Florida didn’t fare too well with their four transfers this past season. Fans can only hope Todd Golden brings this new group closer.
THREE POINTERS: Todd Golden can only hope for many bounce-back seasons from many players, especially on the three-point line. Florida had their worst 3pt percentage ever last season (.303). All Golden can do is hope for improvement, team play, and a faster tempo.
More specifically, an improvement from Myron Jones, who had the lowest free throw percentage of his career last year (73.8) and second worst FG (35.5) and 3pt (32.1) would be nice. Also included in here is Kyle Lofton, the St Bonaventure transfer who averaged 12.8 points last year but just a 28.2 three-point mark.
TEMPO & PLAY KOWACIE: More offensive movement is the start to a better tempo. And that begins with starting Kowacie Reeves, a sophomore, who has immense potential, and quickness. In the six games Reeves played 25+ minutes last year, he averaged 13.5 points.
Even though the tempo is expected to still be a weakness (131st), it will still need to improve from last year.
The Gator Basketball Floor & Ceiling For 2022-23
Florida this year, according to KenPom, is expected to improve slightly on offense, defense, and tempo from their 2023 rankings. Coming off an NIT season, the ceiling for this team is a sweet 16 appearance. If you go by KenPom, where Florida is ranked 35th, the reasonable expectation is a Round of 32 exit.
The schedule for the Gators is tough. Florida will play 5 Top 20 KenPom teams in the SEC (UK, ARK, AUB, ALA, TENN). Winning the first 5 is expected since Florida (35th) is ahead of all those teams including Xavier (37th) and FSU(65th). With Florida expected to play Duke in the Phil Night Legacy after the Musketeers, that will be a loss.
The best case scenario prediction for Florida, to me, is 10-2 in non-conference play (Loss vs Duke, L at K-State or at FSU). While the ceiling for conference play is 12-6. (L at UK, at AUB, at LSU, at ARK, at UGA, TENN, or UK). A floor is 10-8, with all those 6 losses including vs Georgia.
Florida fans wouldn’t want to lose to Mike White twice, so I chose to meet in the middle at 11-7 as my conference prediction with one loss to him. Combining with a 10-2 non-conference record, my official “meet in the middle” prediction for the Gators is 21-9, which will likely result in a 4-5 seed in the NCAA tournament.