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Basketball Preview: Pre-season Superlatives

November 5, 2019
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With a stockpile of talent, the No. 6 Gators enter Tuesday’s season-opener against the University of North Florida. It is their first step in meeting the media’s expectations, where the team is considered a favorite for a top seed in the NCAA Tournament. With the start to the season so near, it’s time to look at some pre-season superlatives. 

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Deepest position: Guard

Florida once again enters the season overflowing with talented backcourt athletes. Two of last year’s starters, Andrew Nembhard and Noah Locke, are returning, bringing with them a wealth of experience. Nembhard spent this summer competing with Team Canada in the 2019 FIBA World Championship while Locke devoted his time to improving his ball-handling, an attribute he says needed the most work to increase his skill set. The Gators are also welcoming four freshmen guards into their ranks. Of them, Tre Mann and Scottie Lewis, former five-star recruits, are expected to provide a substantial contribution to both offense and defense. 

Thinnest Position: Center

The front court once again is an area of concern for the Gators entering this season. The team opened the pre-season with two players listed as official centers: Gorjok Gak and Jason Jitoboh. Not too long after, Gak was ruled out indefinitely after injuring his shoulder during practice. Jitoboh has the size and deft touch around the basket to provide sizable contributions off the bench. Still, his inexperience will plague him and limit his ability to succeed in Mike White’s system fully. 

Biggest Question: Can Mike White succeed with such a small roster?

The modern game of basketball has evolved into one where positions play little role in how a player is utilized. Tweeners were once cast away, and now players with no defined position due to their combination of size and intangibles are highly sought after — Draymond Green is a prime example. The Gators are coming in this season with three healthy players at least 6-foot-10 or taller, two of which are freshmen. This team is plentiful with speed and athleticism to close out on opposing wings, which are hoping to get clean shots from the perimeter, but what may plague them is defending the interior. It will be interesting to see how White appropriately plans his defense to avoid giving up high percentage baskets in the paint due to the team’s inexperience and lack of rim protection. 

Impact Freshman: Scottie Lewis

Tre Mann has slowly become the freshman everyone’s eyes have turned to. He was the lone first-year to start against Lynn University. Still, I expect the other five-star recruit to make the most significant impact this season. Lewis has a mature approach to the game, taking the team’s defensive performance against Lynn personally, vowing to get better. Lewis lacks Mann’s shot creation but makes up for it with a much more well-rounded approach to the game. He is athletic, can get to the rim with ease, and will likely be called upon early by White to set the tone on defense. Against Lynn, he logged 26 minutes off the bench, more than starters Keyontae Johnson and Kerry Blackshear Jr, adding 3 blocks, a steal, five points and five rebounds. His offensive contribution will grow throughout the season. Still, his defense will help lead the team and will justify his John R. Wooden Award watch list nomination. 

Breakout Candidate: Keyontae Johnson 

Last season, Keyontae Johnson exhibited tremendous growth throughout the season. He started the final 20 games of the season and averaged 13.7 points and 10.0 rebounds in the SEC Tournament. He may lack height compared to other forwards. Still, the sophomore is strong and athletic enough to punish opposing front court players attempting to jostle for rebounds. He shot a reasonable 36.5 percent from the perimeter last season, and his attempts are expected to increase this year. It will be interesting to see how White continues to take advantage of Johnson’s athleticism. 

Forgotten Man: Ques Glover

Undersized but not underutilized, freshman guard Ques Glover has the potential to lead the team’s second unit while the starters are resting on the bench, owing to his speed and shooting ability. To fully reach his potential, the guard will have to limit his turnovers, as he lost the ball four times against Lynn University in the team’s pre-season exhibition. 

Biggest Storyline: Alex Klatsky’s role as a walk-on

Alex Klatsky is often left out when mentioning the team’s crop of freshmen talent. Owing to his status as a walk-on, Klatsky’s name does attract the attention players the likes of Tre Mann and Scottie Lewis do. Klatsky, though, has the potential to succeed if utilized. He has substantial range and a high basketball IQ. Though he walked on to the program, he can make a name for himself with how he works on the court. 

Best Player: Kerry Blackshear Jr

Two players can be considered the best player on the team: Sophomore point guard Andrew Nembhard and graduate transfer forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. With his ability to command the paint on both ends of the floor and rebound efficiently, Blackshear narrowly edges out Nembhard for the title of the team’s best. Last year at Virginia Tech, he finished the season with All-ACC honors and guided the team to the Sweet 16. This season, he will be an invaluable contributor to a team lacking a presence in the post and rim protection. He will be expected to do everything as the rest of the roster plays off his role as their on-court leader.

Basketball Preview: Pre-season Superlatives

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