By: Toby Martin-Kohls
The college basketball season kicked off on Monday, November 7th, and with that, a new era of Florida Gators basketball. Florida, picked to finish 8th in the SEC, by the media poll, is coming off a 20-14 season in which its head coach left the program for SEC rival Georgia.
Kentucky is poised to win the SEC this year, placing No. 4 in the Preseason Top 25 rankings. The Wildcats return 2021’s Wooden Award winner, given to the nation’s best player, Oscar Tshiebwe. He is currently the favorite to take home the same award this year, and if he does, he would become only the second-ever player to win the award twice and in back-to-back seasons. Ralph Sampson in 1982 and 1983 for the Virginia Cavaliers is the only one to do so.
Even with the bluebloods like Kentucky favored atop the conference, Florida is still expected to do well and make the NCAA Tournament come March. The roster has been heavily overhauled following Mike White’s departure, as new coach Todd Golden takes over. Golden is coming off a head coaching gig for the San Francisco Don’s in which he took them to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1998. Golden is a young mind, and at 37 years old he is by far the youngest coach in the SEC.
His predecessor lasted 7 seasons in Gainesville, leading the Gators to four NCAA Tournament appearances and an Elite 8 appearance. However, fans were upset about the handling of the program after White failed to make the NCAA Tournament in 2021 and only advanced to the NIT.
Golden has a lot of pressure on his shoulders, as Florida is still a solid program in the sport, having more wins than every SEC team, except for Kentucky, since 1990, and winning the most NCAA Tournament games this century, except for Kentucky.
Golden has brought in one of the best transfer classes in the country. Kyle Lofton highlights the point guard position. Lofton comes to the Gators as a super senior from St. Bonaventure where he was a 4-year starter who led the Bonnies to the NCAA Tournament and earned All-Atlantic 10 honors on 2 occasions, including 1st-team honors in the 2020-21 campaign.
Golden has also brought in a former 4-star prospect from LSU, an All-Ohio Valley player in Will Richard of Belmont, and a dynamic scoring guard in Trey Bonham of Virginia Military Institute.
The Gators are projected to be a very strong defensive team under Golden, with his new shiny transfers and a defensive-minded head coach. The Gators should be at least a top-40 defense this year. With that being said, this team’s ceiling very much depends on how well they shoot. Last year they shot just 30.3% from behind the arc which ranked 317th in the country. That year they attempted the 22nd most attempts, which is clearly an issue to address.
I think that the Gators project as a dark horse SEC team that should make the NCAA Tournament and will outperform their SEC Media Day projection. It will definitely be hard to unseat Kentucky, but in such a deep conference you never know what can happen.