The college basketball off-season is long and largely lacking in major news developments. Programs are still finalizing their 2017 recruiting classes and sorting out which of their players will return for another season or jump to the professional ranks. We’ve got a long way to go until Midnight Madness. To help pass the time, SI.com is asking and answering three key questions about each of the teams in our Way-Too-Early Top 25. Here’s No. 21 Florida.
1. What happens inside?
The Gators had to adapt their lineup and playing style when center John Egbunu was lost for the year after tearing his ACL in January. Now they may have to compensate for his absence yet again, as coach Mike White has said that he does not expect Egbunu to return to Florida. And with starting four man Devin Robinson declaring early for the NBA (and signing with an agent) and reserve forward Justin Leon graduating, White will have to draw up a largely new frontcourt following this season’s Elite Eight run.
The key returnee will be Kevarrius Hayes, who stepped into Egbunu’s lineup spot after his injury, averaging 6.4 points (on 61.4% shooting) and 5.4 rebounds in 23.2 minutes as a starter. Hayes also ranked 31st nationally in block percentage, swatting 9.3% of opponent’s two-point attempts when on the floor. Hayes will likely be counted on for larger contributions as a junior, but even greater strides will be needed by rising sophomores Keith Stone and Gorjok Gak. The versatile, 6’ 8” Stone appeared on his way to making a major impact last season, scoring 14 points against Alabama and 17 against Georgia in consecutive January games, only for a viral infection to throw his season in disarray and severely limit him the rest of the way. And Gak, who missed a month of SEC play with a foot injury, played some of his best basketball in short bursts off the bench during the NCAA tournament, totaling 10 points and nine rebounds in 32 minutes of action. Top-100 forward Chase Johnson could also push for time at the four, while highly touted forward Isaiah Stokes must first recover from an ACL injury suffered during his senior season at IMG (Fla.) Academy.
2. Who picks up the outside shooting slack?
With Robinson departing for the pros, Florida will have a lot of three-point shooting firepower to replace. KeVaughn Allen led the Gators in triple attempts with 211 last season, but graduating seniors Canyon Barry (125 tries, at 33.6%) and Leon (123, at 39.8%) each contributed heavily from outside, as did Robinson (110, at 39.1%). Those three represented 46.1% of Florida’s three-point attempts in 2016-17, and the most frequent outside-shooting returnees besides Allen are not quite established marksmen (Chris Chiozza at 31.2% and Stone at 32.6%). Former three-star recruit Eric Hester showed some promise in limited minutes as a freshman, shooting 11 for 19 beyond the arc, but he has decided to transfer out of Gainesville for his sophomore season. Help will arrive in the form of Rice graduate transfer Egor Koulechov, who sank 45.8% of his treys for the Owls in 2016-17, as well as 6’6” Virginia Tech transfer Jalen Hudson, who shot 34.6% from three as a Hokie in 2015-16. And look for incoming four-star wing DeAundrae Ballard to also get an opportunity to contribute here early.
3. Is Allen on the verge of stardom?
The Arkansas native’s sophomore season was already something of a breakout, as he led an Elite Eight team in scoring (14.0 points per game) and earned All-SEC first team honors. But given the improvement Allen demonstrated over his first two collegiate seasons, from 39.9% shooting from the floor and 31.5% from three to 43.8% and 37.0%, respectively, while simultaneously taking on a higher volume of his team’s offense, even bigger things could be in store for Allen’s third year in Gainesville. (That his outside shooting increased to 42.2% during SEC play could portend the same.) Overshadowed by the unbelievable dramatics of Florida’s Sweet 16 win over Wisconsin was the fact that Allen, who had slumped miserably for the tournament’s first two rounds, practically carried the Gators to overtime himself, eventually finishing with 35 points. It had not been easy or pretty—Allen started the game 1-for-6—but his light stayed green and his confidence remained intact. He should have plenty of opportunities to display both of those things as a junior, and the Gators could be that much better for it.