Recapping SEC basketball media day: Florida Gators

With college basketball less then a month away from tipping off, many eyes across that nation will be on one of the sport’s most improved conferences: the SEC. Despite consecutive years of media and fans alike being down on SEC basketball, this season has a different tune to it as the conference is seen to be one of the strongest in the nation and one that could have as many as 7 or 8 bids to the NCAA Tournament. Today was SEC Men’s Basketball Media Day, where representatives from each team met in the beautiful Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee to discuss the season at large. Here are some of the highlights from today’s event.

 

First off, who went for the Florida Gators. Each team brings along player representation, and this year Mike White brought along senior point guard Chris Chiozza as well as junior guard KeVaughn Allen. This gesture may seem minimal, but it shows who he thinks the leaders are on this roster, and demonstrates the responsibility he requires from the commanders of this roster. White has always shown a special connection with his point guards, and the importance of ball security and physicality at the point of attack will be one of the keys to the Gators’ success this season. With Allen being last year’s leading scorer, he will be looked to again to be the number one threat on the perimeter, where his electric first step and his explosive jumping ability will cause fits for opposing defenses.

 

Allen, who was just named to the Jerry West Award watch list (an honor given to the nation’s best shooting guard), was also named to the Preseason All-SEC First Team. He is the first Gator to be on a Preseason All-SEC First Team since 2015 when both Dorian Finney-Smith and Michael Frazier both made the squad. With Allen getting both Jerry West and All-SEC attention all in the same week, his abilities through 2 seasons have not gone unnoticed and he will be the primary focus of opposing team’s scouting reports. The other players named by the coaches are Robert Williams from Texas A&M, Yante Maten from Georgia, Hamidou Diallo from Kentucky, and heralded freshman Michael Porter Jr. from Missouri.

 

One thing that always garners plenty of attention at media day is the Media Poll, where members of the media submit how they think the league standings will end up. Here are the results of the Media Poll, with the Gators coming in at second.

 

  1. Kentucky
  2. Florida
  3. Texas A&M
  4. Alabama
  5. Missouri
  6. Arkansas
  7. Vanderbilt
  8. Georgia
  9. Auburn
  10. Ole Miss
  11. South Carolina
  12. Mississippi State
  13. Tennessee
  14. LSU

 

A few notes from the media poll.

 

Firstly, the top 3 is actually the exact same as it was last year, which shows that The Gators are well-regarded as a consistent force in the conference. Despite losing some production to graduation and to the NBA this past summer, there is recognition of the skill the Gators picked up in the transfer market and recruiting, as well as the maturing of returning players.

 

Secondly, the media showed they value the splash of highly rated recruiting classes over the development of underclassman. Having Kentucky number 1, as well as Alabama and Missouri 4 and 5, it is clear that having highly rated freshmen is extremely attractive to the voters. With next year’s class bringing a bit more flash then this year’s for Florida, it will be interesting to see how they are ranked come next year’s Media Day.

 

Lastly, there are no easy games in the SEC. The conference is going to a battle every single night, and opportunities for big wins are going to be there for the taking at all times for the Gators. With the (perceived) bottom 3rd of the league boasted a team coming off a Final Four (South Carolina), a team that played the Gators TOUGH in Gainesville (Tennessee), and one of the best coaches in the country in Will Wade (LSU), there will be no cupcake games that there seemingly has been the last few years. This means the Gators will have every opportunity for top 25 and top 50 KenPom wins, as well as ensuring the Gators’ RPI will again be super high, coming off last year’s rank of 8th in the nation. This will be extremely helpful for the Gators in seeding for the NCAA Tournament.

 

When coach Mike White had his turn to take questions from the media, there was a special buzz in the room for one of the brightest young minds in NCAA basketball. Even though this will be just his 3rd season with the Gators, he has already established himself as a force to be reckoned with, in both his in-game adjustments and management as well as on the recruiting trail. With last season’s Elite Eight appearance, Coach White not only threw away the monkey on his back that was never making the NCAA Tournament, but also re-established expectations for Florida basketball. Here are some of his comments from today.

 

On making a run this season:

 

“As coaches, you want experience. But more importantly, you want winning experience. And so, coming into this year, we have guys who have been there and done that, and haven’t accomplished the ultimate goal, of course, but had some success.”

 

With experience comes skill, basketball IQ, and poise, so its no question White is excited to have such a veteran group of athletes. With seniors Chris Chiozza, Egor Koulechov, and John Egbunu (when healthy) as well as juniors KeVaughn Allen, Kevarrius Hayes, and Jalen Hudson all as key parts of the rotation, there will be plenty of leadership on the floor at all times.

 

“We’ve got a terrific backcourt. We’ve got some other pretty good pieces that we feel good about, and also just the understanding of what it took to get there.”

 

The comment about having good pieces on the squad was echoed by Chris Chiozza who said “We have much more offensive firepower this year.” He also chipped in “We’re gonna be just as good as we were last year if not better.” Despite graduating about 40 points per game last year between Canyon Barry, Devin Robinson, Kasey Hill, and Justin Leon, those shoes will be filled nicely with some impactful newcomers. Jalen Hudson averaged 8.4 PPG as a sophomore at Virginia Tech before transferring, and his work in the gym during last year’s redshirt campaign has been lauded by coaching staff. Once again dipping into the graduate transfer market, the Gators acquired heavily sought-after wing Egor Koulechov who averaged 18.2 PPG and a blistering 47.4% from the 3-point line at Rice. Finally, freshman guard Deaundrae Ballard is going to fill it up in the mid range and in transition, giving Florida plenty of tools to put the ball in the hoop.

 

Defense was a topic discussed at length by White (which I will dive in to more in tomorrow’s article), and it was punctuated when he was asked about his defensive philosophy:

 

“You try to copy and mimic and simulate the best defenses, not only in the country, but in the world. Us coaches, we’re watching European stuff and we’re watching NBA stuff and you’re watching SEC stuff or college basketball.”

 

Hearing his influences from around the world of basketball are no surprise. Last year the Gators kept opponents on their toes by using a variety of unique defensive schemes such as a 1-3-1 zone, a 2-3 zone, and dizzying switchable man defense that kept the other team stunned. Especially with the roster being a bit undersized until Egbunu’s return, I expect we will see plenty more creative defenses this year that will optimize the stoppers they have while also hiding some of the team’s weaker defenders.

 

With only 26 days until Florida’s first matchup against Gardner-Webb, hoops season is right around the corner and expectations are huge for this Gators team. Be sure to follow along with Gator Country as we build up towards the season and bring you the best coverage all the way along!