Preseason Q&A Part Two

It’s time for another instalment of the Question And Answer series at Gator Country where I field questions about Florida basketball from subscribers of the site.


As is tradition–I will do as many parts as required in order to answer all the questions that come my way.

If you haven’t already read part one of the series, you can do so here.


If you want to have a question answered and aren’t yet a Gator Country subscriber, you can do that now and get ready for an excellent season of basketball coverage! Let’s begin.


Juggernautz: Who will be our leading scorer and rebounder?


Right now the smart money has to be on Riley Kugel. He spent the final month of last season leading the way offensively for the Gators and he’s expected to do the same this year–even though he does have what looks to be more talent surrounding him. For whatever it’s worth Kugel was Florida’s leading scorer in the scrimmage with Miami posting 20 points, with Tyrese Samuel just behind him at 19. I don’t expect a frontcourt player to challenge Kugel for Florida’s title of high scorer on the season, but it was nice to see that impact from Samuel. 


Walter Clayton and Zyon Pullin bring some scoring punch but I don’t think Clayton has enough individual scoring ability to lead the Gators, and Pullin is going to be in more of a distribution role. If I had to pick someone other than Kugel to lead the Gators in scoring I’d cautiously go with Pullin, though it could be a number of other players.


Leading rebounder is a much more challenging category. It will certainly be between two guys–Marshall transfer Micah Handlogten and Seton Hall transfer Tyrese Samuel. On paper, Handlogten should have the advantage. He’s got great size at 7’1” and he was top-50 in the country in both offensive and defensive rebounding rate, averaging 9.8 boards per game last season.


Samuel…wasn’t so efficient. He did average 5.9 rebounds per game for Seton Hall, though when you peek behind the curtain you see his 16.7% defensive rebounding rate was actually pretty disappointing for a center. 


You might be reading this thinking “well, then why is this even a debate?”

To me, it’s going to come down to who plays more at center. Todd Golden has been desperate to get two bigs on the floor and he will start Handlogten at center and Samuel at power forward, and if that holds for the entire season–Handlogten should be the leading rebounder. However, whether it be matchups, foul trouble, or simply the adjustment of a freshman coming from the Sun Belt to SEC–there are a number of situations where Handlogten doesn’t stay as a starter all year long. Personally, I think by the end of the season we will see a lot more lineups with Samuel at center than the two-big lineups, though I think Florida’s staff will be determined to make the two-big look work. 


General consensus will be that Micah Handlogten will be Florida’s leading rebounder, but I’ll pick Tyrese Samuel. He’ll need to be a lot better on the glass than he was last year at Seton Hall in order to make it work which might make this a bit of a foolish choice by me, but I’ll stick with it. 


SLOgator: What do you think will be our national ranking at the end of the regular season, and if we qualify for the NCAA tournament, and, if so, how far do we advance?


I do not think the Gators will end the season in the AP Poll top-25, but I think they’ll be outside of it, maybe around 30th in the NET. That would likely put the Gators at somewhere around a 7 or 8-seed in the Big Dance, which is usually on the cusp of what you would say is “comfortably” making it. Given that the NCAA Tournament is nearly impossible to predict, I would then say the Gators would go as far as seed expectation would predict. If they are a 7-seed they’d play a 10–and I’ll say they’ll win that as the favored team. Assuming there wasn’t an upset they’d then play the 2-seed and be expected to lose–and I guess in this completely hypothetical and difficult to predict world I’ll say they lose that. 


Is it possible the Gators could go on a run, even with a lower seed? Absolutely. They’ve got some guards that can get hot, and multiple bigs that will hopefully be able to grind around the hoop and win ugly–something you often need to do in March. But, it would seem kind of foolish to predict anything like that in a bracket we haven’t seen, before we have even seen this team play together. Let’s revisit this in March.


JCMiller910: Eric, how do you see the starting roles playing out especially in the back court? Will we play 3 guards and no true small forward? Please explain how you think the rotations will be. 


I’m becoming a bit of a broken record on the starting lineup questions as I’ll continue to go back to what the Gators started with in the scrimmage:


Walter Clayton

Riley Kugel

Will Richard

Tyrese Samuel

Micah Handlogten


Personally, I think by the end of the season Zyon Pullin will start, and I think there is a chance Thomas Haugh starts in place of Micah Handlogten to get more shooting on the floor and not play so big. That’s just my opinion–I expect the coaching staff to really try and push the starting lineup they started against Miami.


There is absolutely a chance that in order to get Pullin more minutes the Gators would experiment with a backcourt of Zyon Pullin, Walter Clayton, and Riley Kugel. In my opinion, if the Gators truly wanted to get their best five players on the floor together it would look like this:

Zyon Pullin

Walter Clayton

Riley Kugel

Will Richard

Tyrese Samuel


That lineup would be small at the forward positions, but I think there is something to be said about getting your best players on the floor together and letting them figure it out. 


Positional distinctions are cloudier than ever so when you ask about a “true” small forward it’s hard to say exactly what that is–though I would classify Will Richard as “true” small forward. I think he will play a ton of minutes this year as there will always be a place for his shooting and defense in just about any lineup the Gators employ. Florida’s staff thinks there is more to his offensive game than he showed a year ago, and if so he’ll become even more important. 


CandymanfromGC: Where do you think Florida sits in recruiting for ‘24 and ‘25?


Right now it seems like the Gators are somewhat punting on the ‘24 class (outside of guard Isaiah Brown who is already committed), maybe because they missed on some targets (and lost the commitment of 7’2” John Bol) or maybe because they just don’t like the players available. 2024 is thought to be way down from a talent standpoint and if the Gators aren’t a fan of what they are seeing, it’s better to just leave the spot open and go portaling.

Florida is still heavily recruiting center Jayden Quaintance who I think is an excellent, excellent player. He’s the 9th ranked player in the country and because of how young he is will be at least two years away from declaring for the NBA Draft, so whoever gets him will get a one-and-done level talent for at least two seasons. That will be a very difficult recruitment, but Florida is in the mix.


In 2025 the Gators are star hunting right now with offers out to the Boozer twins, Mikel Brown, Koa Peat, Caleb Wilson, and Bryson Tiller–all 5-star guys. In fact, Florida has offered the 2nd, 4th, 5th, and 6th ranked players in the class who all happen to be power forward/center types–so it appears that’s where Florida would most like a stud.


That’s all for now, but look forward to part three of the series coming soon.

Eric Fawcett
Eric is a basketball coach and writer from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. His work has been found at NBA international properties, 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 @ericfawcett_.