Gator Country Basketball Mailbag

Throughout the last year or so there have been multiple requests for a Gator Country mailbag article–a chance for users to submit questions regarding Florida basketball. For whatever reason, this seemed like a great time to do it with so many questions surrounding basketball and luckily there were plenty of great questions sent in. Here is Gator Country’s first basketball mailbag, and if you like it there will surely be more in the future!

Gator Country user Macbgator: Who are we currently recruiting that might commit? What bigs are we recruiting?

This is a great question, and one that I recently discussed here that will go into more detail. Long story short–I don’t think the Gators are really recruiting anyone in the 2021 class that could commit. The reason why? Florida’s coaching staff are preparing for next summer when the NCAA’s “one time transfer rule” is predicted to come into effect. That rule would allow players to transfer once without penalty of a redshirt season, something that will drastically change the way roster construction is done.

We know Florida loves the transfer route already, even with the redshirt year, so you better believe they are going to be ready to hit the transfer market HARD when nearly every player will be instantly eligible. In the future the Gators are likely going to recruit far less traditional high school players and will instead by trolling the mid-major conferences, and heck, even the high major conferences, for players whose careers would be better continued in orange and blue.

It’s funny that you mention bigs that the Gators are recruiting because that is a position where I especially think they’ll be looking to bolster in the transfer market. Bigs, more than any position, are tougher to evaluate out of high school. You see misses all the time when it comes to recruiting bigs, and some of the best bigs in the country year to year are lower-rated guys who simply figured it out at the college level. Considering the Gators have missed on Dontay Bassett, Gorjok Gak, and Isaiah Stokes, you better believe they’re looking at a more sustainable option and looking at transfers who have proven they can compete in college is likely the way they are going when it comes to the frontcourt.

Gator Country user Brewski: What’s the seating situation looking like in the O’Dome this year? Assume we are going with reduced capacity like football?

Earlier this week season ticket holders were emailed asking if they would like to renew season seats, so I’ve definitely got to think they’re planning on having some capacity though almost certainly it will have to be reduced, and probably drastically. Obviously the O’Dome is a closed air environment, totally different from football and that really changes things in terms of a safe amount of people. Additionally, some seats are so close to the action and players that you’d have to think those rows will be left empty.

Another difference from football to basketball are the financial implications. For example, football being at 20% means 17,000 people or so, and 17,000 tickets is a whole lot more than 0, so that’s a lot of money for opening up to 20% versus doing no fans. Plus, at 20% capacity in open air most people are feeling generally safe.

On the basketball side, 20% is just over 2000 which is definitely more than 0, but it’s not a gargantuan amount of revenue coming in for what could be a major risk.

There is still plenty of time for things to change between now and the end of November but my guess would be that there are a reduced number of fans in the O’Dome when the season starts.

Gator Country user Belloit: Are basketball players doing anything different from the football team to protect themselves from COVID?

Without being at practices, and without being with players in their daily lives, it’s tough to say for sure but from sources closer to the team the word is that the basketball team has been much more responsible staying away from public places than the football team. I’m not trying to throw stones at anyone on the football side but social media was full of posts of players out and about on the town prior to the outbreak, and I haven’t seen anything like that from the basketball side. Additionally, some of the players have been openly diligent about trying to keep their teammates accountable when it comes to staying safe.

The Gators will still be traveling for games which is going to bring on some risks but the multi-team events should limit contact between a bunch of teams at least a little bit. As well, roster size should play a factor in keeping things safer. The football team’s travel party of players, coaches, and staff is well over 100, and that means well over 100 people that you need to be 100% safe for everything to function. For basketball, that traveling party is less than 25. With so many less people, there are so many less chances of someone catching it and spreading it to the team. So, cross your fingers!

Gator Country user Donnell: What do you think the “bigs” rotation will be at the 4 and 5 spots?

For once it looks like this is actually a bit of a question for the Gators, which has not been the case in recent seasons where they had no depth there.

At the 5, I think Omar Payne starts. He brings the rim protection and athleticism they lacked last year in Kerry Blackshear but thrived with when they had Kevarrius Hayes. Now, Payne is no Hayes, at least not yet, but he does bring some of the shot blocking Hayes brought. Then, I expected Colin Castleton to be the primary backup. He’s the most skilled offensively of the bigs, and also has ridiculous length to also protect the rim well. He also played some hedging ball screen defense at Michigan, a style Coach White loves, and should be comfortable doing it at Florida. I’m sure Jason Jitoboh will find some minutes but man, it’s hard to see exactly how he’ll get in there for long stretches. I’m even anticipating Anthony Duruji will command some minutes at the 5 since Florida wants to be quick and athletic, and also he’s so good that he’ll need to get on the floor and the Gators might not want to move Keyontae Johnson away from the 4 and Scottie Lewis away for the 3. Which does bring me to the fact that I think Keyontae Johnson will start at the 4 (shocking) with Duruji playing every minute Johnson’s not there.

Gator Country user mbfgator: Who would you choose for your starting 5?

From 5 all the way down to one:

At 5 I think Omar Payne starts for the reasons I previously laid out.

At 4, Keyontae Johnson. Because, well, Keyontae Johnson.

3, Scottie Lewis. He’s going to get pushed by some talented guards but day one I think it will be him.

Playing the 2, Noah Locke. He’s also going to get pushed, but his shooting should keep him in the starting 5.

And at 1, this is where most of the discussion needs to happen. But I’m saying Tre Mann.

Up until a few weeks ago I had spent the entire offseason since Andrew Nembhard transferred saying I thought Tyree Appleby would start. I love Appleby’s pace, shooting ability, and vision, and I thought he, as a fourth year player, would start.

However.

I saw some workouts with Tre Mann in the offseason where played like an absolute monster. Flying up and down the court with the confidence we saw in high school when he was a McDonald’s All-American. He looked longer, something confirmed when he measured at 6’5” when he came to Florida. Then, by all accounts, he was the best guard in camp, a title he still holds.

As much as I love Appleby, it makes sense that Mann would start because according to everyone who has seen him he is finally playing like the player many scouts thought would go one-and-done a year ago. Getting to the rim at will, shooting the ball off the dribble… and to reiterate, he is now 6’5”. So, I think he’ll start at the 1, though it’s worth noting that he is not a great passer or something that’s going to put teammates in the best position to score. If Appleby is playing as good as I think he can be the move might be to go:

Appleby
Mann
Lewis/Locke
Johnson
Payne

Appleby would bring some of the distribution you like to see from your point guard, while also bringing scoring ability. It’s been a long time since Florida has had two players who could break opponents down off the bounce and if Appleby and Mann are on the floor together that would be the case.

There will also be an interesting race for minutes at the 5, and while I like Payne there I think Colin Castleton will definitely make a strong case.

Gator Country user djohnston: Judging by what I’ve read, FLorida will want to push the ball in transition, but what type of half court offense do you envision for Florida? What should we be expecting out of Samson Ruzhentsev? I’ve read he looks awesome but will his minutes be seldom given the competition at the three? What do you think the ceiling is for Florida in terms of SEC standings and the NCAA Tournament?

Thank you for the questions! Ask and you shall receive!

Sounds like Florida is getting back to the dribble drive offense, a continuity-based style of offense where you try to create driving lanes for ball handlers. Ideally a player drives, draws help, and kicks to the open man who can then make a play.

I love Samson Ruzhentsev. He has an absolutely gorgeous jumper and is extremely explosive and the Gators haven’t had a long three-point shooter (he’s 6’7”) in a while. I think he’s definitely ready to contribute at the SEC level but as you mentioned–competition for minutes will be extremely tough. I think he will primarily back up Scottie Lewis at the 3, and honestly I could see him taking some minutes from him. Ruzhentsev could very well be the better shooter, and has better offensive instincts and can create off the dribble a bit which Lewis really struggled to do. Lewis should be the better defender but Ruzhentsev is a bit longer and is pretty athletic himself so he should be able to compete on that end.

Tennessee and Kentucky are looking strong but it’s not out of the realm of possibility the Gators compete for an SEC title. They might have the best player in the league in Keyontae Johnson, they might have the best shooter in Noah Locke, and they have the chance to have the best depth if guys like Tyree Appleby, Anthony Duruji, and Colin Castleton are coming off the bench. When you look at most preseason prognostications the Gators are somewhere between 20 and 35 on most people’s lists. However, if you’re a believer in predictive analytics such as Barttorvik, the computers love Florida. The Gators aren’t going to be relying on unknown freshmen, they have seasoned college players who have produced and that is usually the recipe for winning in college basketball. The metric Barttorvik, historically one of the most accurate college basketball analytics tools, currently has the Gators as the 6th best team entering the season which shows how good they can be. I don’t want to sound like a homer, but I think people are sleeping on this team and they should compete for an SEC title and be somewhere are a 4-seed or higher in the NCAA Tournament.

Gator Country user kylerevou: What is a realistic record for the Gators this year?

That question is really tough to answer based on the fact we don’t know how many games are going to be played. Florida should hypothetically be on track to play 27, but you never know when they or an opponent won’t be able to play and a game could be lost from the schedule.

In the non conference, taking 2 losses could be reasonable. Virginia, Florida State, and West Virginia are all going to be top-20ish teams and you never know what can happen in those early non-conference games, and UConn will be a huge challenge as well.

The SEC is solid this year but not as good as we’ve seen in the past but they will have tough games with Kentucky and Tennessee, ones that could certainly end in losses. South Carolina will be sneaky-good, as will Alabama. LSU is also still LSU-ing, and still has talent on the roster (by any means necessary) and that could be a tough matchup for Florida. I’ll predict the Gators finishing in the top three of the SEC, though it’s tough to say an exact record because I don’t know how many games I think will be played.

I promise you, I’m not trying to dodge the question!

That was the first Gator Country basketball mailbag, and if you enjoyed it then there will certainly be more in the future!

Eric Fawcett
Eric hails from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. His blend of sports and comedy has landed his words on ESPN, Bleacher Report, CBS Sports, Lindy's and others. He loves zone defenses, the extra pass, and a 30 second shot clock. Growing up in Canada, an American channel showing SEC basketball games was his first exposure to Gator hoops, and he has been hooked ever since. You can follow him on Twitter at @Efawcett7.