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Gators Todd Golden Sets Tournament-Level Expectations for Year One Campaign

Gators head coach Todd Golden sets a barometer for what will define Florida's success in his first campaign.

Photo: Gators Basketball; Credit: University of Florida Athletic Association

The new era of the Gators’ basketball program is already bringing intrigue for the future as Florida looks to return to a state of prominence.

Following up-and-down years characterized by a monotonous style of basketball and underachieving, the program underwent a mass player personnel exodus and leadership overhaul following the 2021-22 season.

On Tuesday, new Gators head coach Todd Golden spoke to the media before the first official practice of the preseason, providing refreshing insight into what that metric for success will be in his first season.

“I think this team has the makings of an NCAA Tournament team,” Golden confidently said. “So that will be a simple barometer that we can use once we get to March to see if we’ve had a successful season or not.”

As a team just over a decade removed from back-to-back national championship victories, the expectations at the University of Florida are high. In the eyes of fans, the Gators should be a perennial tournament team that consistently makes waves in March.

They weren’t that under previous leader Mike White — now at Georgia.

Under White, Florida made the tournament on just four occasions, failing to escape from the first weekend on three of those four attempts. The Gators made an Elite Eight run in 2017.

But, to get to that point of contention, both in the conference and on the national landscape, a plethora of new faces on the roster this season will need to mesh together.

“They’ve been fantastic. It’s kind of a new age and way in college basketball to have a lot of new guys in your program every year with the transfer market and everything. Last year at San Francisco, we had six or seven new guys. This year at Florida, we have seven new guys, but we’ve been with them eight weeks in the summer and now four or five weeks in the fall. 

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"So, it feels like we’ve been together a long time now, but the guys have been great in terms of being team-first guys and supporting each other.”

Over the summer, 13 of the 15 Florida players were on campus, with Kyle Lofton, Trey BonhamWill RichardAlex Fudge and Denzel Aberdeen joining returning contributors Kowacie Reeves Jr.Myreon Jones, Niels LaneColin Castleton — although recovering from shoulder surgery — Jason Jitoboh and CJ Felder in the basketball facility.

The unit built a strong foundation for the future, according to Golden.

“I think we laid a really nice foundation,” he said about the summer practice period. “You know we were able to get pretty much everybody here this summer with the exception of Riley [Kugel] and Aleks [Szymczyk], two freshmen. We had seven or eight weeks with those guys. It felt like a long time, to be honest, and they did an awesome job. Again, we brought in four transfers and Denzel was a freshman.

“The rest of the guys were already here. Everybody sort of bought back into the program when I got the job so the vision was pretty clear and guys understood what our goals are. So, it’s been really good so far.”

Now that the final pieces have arrived, Florida looks to continue building that team chemistry.

The ceiling for this team is unknown, given all the new pieces that occupy spots on the roster. However, what is known is the energetic buzz surrounding the program created since Golden assumed control. 

From the early impression the team provides, reaching the acclaimed second weekend of the NCAA Tournament is not a far-fetched reality that could kickstart Golden’s reign as the king of men’s basketball in Gainesville.

The road to the field of 68 will be filled with trials and tribulations, especially as schematics are implemented rapidly in offseason practice and the season tips off in November. Still, it’s an attainable goal in Golden’s eyes.

Stay tuned to All Gators for continuous coverage of Florida Gators football, basketball and recruiting. Follow along on social media at @AllGatorsOnFN on Twitter and All Gators on FanNation-Sports Illustrated on Facebook.