Oct. 29 Alabama
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Oct. 31 Auburn
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Coach (record at school, years; overall record, years): Mike White (21-15 Florida, second year; 122-55, sixth year)
2015-16 record (SEC finish): 21-15 (9-9)
2015-16 postseason: Third round, NIT
2016-17 media predicted finish: 2
DC’s predicted finish: 6
He’s outta here (senior unless otherwise noted): F Alex Murphy (3.3 ppg, 1.3 rpg, transferred to Northeastern), F Dorian Finney-Smith (14.7 pp, 8.3 rpg), G Lexx Edwards (0.4 ppg, 0.7 rpg), G/F DeVon Walker (1.6 ppg, 1.7 rpg, transferred to Troy), G Brandone Francis-Ramirez (2.0 ppg, 1.0 rpg, transferred to Texas Tech), G Zach Hodskins (0.3 ppg, 0.1 rpg), Jhonny Victor (0.0 ppg, 0.2 rpg, was a walk-on last year while on scholarship for track and field, is back to track and field)
He’s here (freshman unless otherwise noted): G Eric Hester, F Dontay Bassett, C Gorjok Gak (ineligible this year due to academics), G Canyon Barry (transferred from College of Charleston, eligible this year), G Jalen Hudson (transferred from Virginia Tech, ineligible this year)
Top returners: 6-2 G KeVaughn Allen (11.6 ppg, 2.7 rpg), 6-11 C John Egbunu (11.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg), 6-1 G Kasey Hill (9.1 ppg, 2.4 rpg)
It’s either a sign of what the SEC has coming back (not much) or Florida’s reputation still carrying it (despite a two-year NCAA tournament drought) that the Gators were picked second in the media preseason poll. This despite Florida not being a great shooting team last year, losing Dorian Finney-Smith and playing itself out of last year’s NCAA tournament with losses in four of its final five regular-season games.
The Gators are talented, and they’ll play vicious defense every night. If they can consistently get the ball to John Egbunu and let him wreck the paint, they’ll have a solid inside presence, but the factor that dodged them last year is what they’ll have to correct to get them back to the NCAAs.
Consistency dogged Florida throughout 2015-16, its offense hampered by dreadful 3-point and free throw shooting. It didn’t help that point guard Kasey Hill, a McDonald’s All-American, has never lived up to his billing, although he exploded into a 15-point per game scorer during last year’s postseason. KeVaughn Allen can definitely fill up the bucket, but he slumped as the Gators limped toward the finish line last year.
The Gators took a couple of preseason hits when 6-foot-11 Australian import Gorjok Gak (say that five times real fast) was ruled ineligible and freshman Dontay Bassett broke his foot, forcing him to redshirt. That left the recruiting class as combo guard Eric Hester, a four-star recruit, and College of Charleston transfer Canyon Barry.
Barry, the son of Rick Barry who shoots the same granny-style free throws as his old man, was averaging close to 20 points per game for the Cougars before a shoulder injury nixed his season after 13 games last year. If Florida is depending on him to be that same shooter, and he’s either not or his shoulder acts up again, they have options to turn to, but all of them are unproven.
Throw in that Florida is playing its first 11 games on the road or at neutral sites (granted, 10 of the 11 are in the state of Florida) while the O-Dome is being renovated and it could get ticklish in the early season. The Gators may hit that second-place finish due to the SEC not having a lot of separation between teams 2-14 behind Kentucky, but an NCAA berth may still elude them.
Coach (record at school, years; overall record, years): Amanda Butler (175-121 Florida, 10th year; 215-147, 13th year)
2015-16 record (SEC finish): 22-9 (10-6)
2015-16 postseason: NCAA tournament
2016-17 media predicted finish: 5
DC’s predicted finish: 3
She’s outta here (senior unless otherwise noted): G January Miller (6.1 ppg, 2.2 rpg), G Carlie Needles (6.6 ppg, 2.2 rpg), G Cassie Peoples (9.0 ppg, 1.7 rpg), C Viktorija Dimaite (2.1 ppg, 1.1 rpg), G Carla Batchelor (5.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg), G Isis Young (1.9 ppg, 0.3 rpg, transferred to Syracuse)
She’s here (freshman unless otherwise noted): G Sydney Morang, G Sydney Searcy, G Delicia Washington, G Elif Portakal
Top returners: 6-0 F Ronni Williams (11.1 ppg, 7.8 rpg), 5-1 G/F Eleanna Christinaki (10.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg), 6-3 F Haley Lorenzen (9.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg)
It was a return to glory for Florida last year, the Gators removing the sting of Amanda Butler’s second losing season of her career and missing the postseason for the first time in 2014-15. Florida won 22 games and finished fourth in the SEC, but left unfinished business.
Blown out in their only game in the SEC tournament (held in Jacksonville!) Upset by 12-seed Albany in the NCAA tournament after scoring two points in the final seven minutes. “Nothing … I mean, absolutely nothing, would go in,” sighed forward Haley Lorenzen at SEC Tipoff.
Coming into this year, the Gators return a lot of talent and are hoping to overcome a thin roster to post the first back-to-back NCAA tournament seasons in Butler’s tenure. It won’t be easy – Florida has four freshmen among its 11 players – but it has a lot of proven talent to rely on.
Lorenzen and 6-foot-4 Tyshara Fleming will handle the post, 6-0 Ronni Williams able to help on the block but more of a three that can shoot from the outside. It’s the guards the Gators will lean on, particularly Greek scoring machine Eleanna Christinaki.
It’s a team that’s used to playing with small numbers (due to injuries and illness a few years ago, Butler took a seven-woman team on the road) and the non-conference schedule, like the men’s, will be played away from home. Unlike the men, Florida only has seven of 11 games in the state (with one at Florida State) but if the Gators can handle it, they could enter the SEC schedule with 10 wins and then get two more against Auburn and LSU.
After that, though – South Carolina, at Mississippi State, Texas A&M, at Georgia, Tennessee. Eeep.
If Florida gets to the NCAAs past that kind of crucible, it deserves it.
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