Previewing the Florida Gators basketball’s big men

Florida has had an illustrious history of producing impactful big men successful at both the college and NBA levels. There is a laundry list of Gators alumni who powered their way through the SEC and went on to dominate the best professional leagues in the world. Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Udonis Haslem, Marreese Speights, Patric Young, Alex Tyus, David Lee, and many others are testaments to the success of the frontcourt program in Gainesville. Though the SEC boasts some of the most talented perimeter players in the country, “football toughness” is still prominent in many teams’ style of play. Due to this, the importance of frontcourt play could be the difference in a lot of tight contests. Here, we will preview the frontcourt situation for the Gators this season.

 

For most teams in college basketball, the number one role for post players is to anchor the defense. While you can hide some weaker defenders on the perimeter, post players who can’t protect the rim are quickly exploited. Shot blocking was a strength of last year’s roster, averaging 4.8 swats per game which made them 30th best in the country. Sending layups into the crowd is awesome, but the intangible act of making players miss at the rim due to proper positioning is just as good as the balls you get a hand on. The ability to protect the basket allowed Mike White to orchestrate high pressure defense on the outside, knowing that if there was penetration, help would be there to mop up the mess.

 

Attaining this same level of interior defense will be huge to the Gators success. Gorjok Gak is set to play bigger minutes this season, particularly early, and he possesses absurd length that gives him the potential to reach shots many people couldn’t. Improving his defensive IQ could make him a force to be reckoned with on the Gators side of the floor. Undoubtedly the most intimidating figure on the backline, John Egbunu’s return will be much anticipated. His 1.5 blocks per game doesn’t tell the whole story, as his goliath frame moving over to contest shots forced many ill advised floaters and rushed shots that he doesn’t get credit for in the box score. Kevarrius Hayes actually averaged slightly more blocks then Egbunu, compiling a 1.6 average. Though less physically stout then Egnunu, Hayes possesses ample length, and uses great anticipation and foot speed to rotate towards dribble drivers. Though rim protection will dip slightly until Egbunu returns, it certainly won’t be an issue for the Gators this season.

 

Rebounding is a place where posts are expected to do the heavy lifting, and it is a place the Gators will really be looking to improve this year. Last season, more then you’d like to see, a good defensive possession was ended in a frustrating offensive rebound for the other team. Though coach White wants his guards to help defensively rebound and start the break, big men cleaning up the glass will be the biggest difference maker. Hayes only averaged 4.3 rebounds per game, and even though he wasn’t playing starter’s minutes for most of the campaign, that number is still less then you’d like to see. Keith Stone, who will be seeing his minutes at the four and maybe even the five, also will need to improve heavily on the glass as he only hauled in 2.3 rebounds per game. Looking to earn minutes, expect 6’9”, 240 pound redshirt freshman Dontay Bassett to be relentless in his pursuit of missed shots. When asked about Bassett, coach White stated “He’s probably as physical as anybody we have.” Having a “garbage man” on the roster who can come in do the dirty work is always valuable, and Bassett is the best candidate to fill that spot. Isaiah Stokes is a wide body who should be able to carve out space and envelop rebounds, but it is still to be seen whether he will take a redshirt. Chase Johnson, though noticeably skinny, has been applauded for his rebounding ability. Egor Koulechov (an accomplished rebounder from the wing on his own right) said about Johnson’s rebounding that “he’s awesome. He’s been out with a concussion but he’s great at that.”

 

The primary options offensively for the Gators are going to be largely on the perimeter. Obviously, point guard Chris Chiozza will command a lot of usage. KeVaughn Allen will be attacking guys off the wing. Egor Koulechov will be running off screens. Jalen Hudson will be showcasing his smooth handle and jump shot. However, if the team is to reach it’s potential, having a balanced scoring load will be necessary. The frontcourt boasts a diversity of skillsets, so lets look at where points could come from.

 

White has always looked to put out multiple 3-point shooters on the floor, and having someone at the power forward spot who can knock down the deep ball is a luxury. Last year Justin Leon cooked from the 3-point line, averaging 39.8%. Devin Robinson, while logging some minutes at power forward, was a 39.1% shooter. Replacing that shooting at the position will be important. Keith Stone has shown touch from the land beyond, and last year’s 32.6% stroke is something you can be certain will be improved upon as he gets more into the rhythm of a normal minute load. Though he is the only returning post with some 3-point ability, a pair of freshman is expected to fill the void. Isaiah Stokes was a very effective 3-point shooter at IMG Academy, where he not only shot corner threes off the catch, but showcased a step back to his left side that became his signature move. 6’9” Virginia product Chase Johnson, who coach White said was “pushing Keith Stone” for minutes, has a velvety looking stroke and is capable of shooting the ball at a high level immediately. Defenders will be wary to crowd him due to his ability to attack off the bounce, so pull up shots from him should be an instant offensive threat.

 

A glaring offensive weakness from the frontcourt last year was playmaking. Not a single Gators frontcourt player was able to average a single assist per game last season, a particularly bad number for John Egbunu who averaged 0.3 assists per game while have having a 17.9% usage rate (one of the highest on the team). Keith Stone was given some touches in the high post to orchestrate offense, especially against zones, but was only able to chip in 0.5 assists per game. Though post players can’t be expected to be the primary catalysts on offense, we have to see better decision making when passing out of the post to keep the offense flowing. Additionally, having frontcourt players who can make plays with their passing ability is one of the best ways to pick apart a zone defense when Florida faces one.

 

This year’s frontcourt is one of the most interesting Florida has had in a long time. Proven veterans combine with anticipated recruits, and the variety in styles is unlike we have seen in years. Though traditional stats will tell a lot of the story on these guys, intangibles will be of high interest to watch as the season develops. Talking on defense, diving for loose balls, and running hard to get back defensively in transition are some of the traits of successful post players, and ones that could get Florida deep into postseason play.

 

What do you think about Florida’s frontcourt situation? Leave a comment here or post on the Gator Country forums.