Mar 18, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; Florida Gators head coach Mike White reacts after defeating the Virginia Cavaliers in the second round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

UF men’s basketball coach Mike White looks into this upcoming season

After legendary UF men’s basketball head coach Billy Donovan announced that he was going to go to the NBA to become the head coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Mike White came in with big shoes to fill. So far, he has delivered. In just his second season with the team, he led them all the way to the Elite Eight and that was without big man John Egbunu. The team will lose some key contributors including Devin Robinson, Kasey Hill, Canyon Barry and Justin Leon. However, it will also return a good chunk of players that helped it win 27 games last season including Chris Chiozza, Egbunu, Kevarrius Hayes and Keith Stone.

SEC play could be stronger than before

The Gators came in second in the SEC standings last season with a 14-4 record. Having that same success this upcoming season is possible, but it will not come easy as the league will add a plethora of talent.  Three of the top 10 classes of 2017 are in the SEC, per 247Sports. The league will have an abundance of talented freshmen coming in including top-ranked recruit Michael Porter (committed to Missouri), top point guard recruit Collin Sexton (committed to Alabama) and top shooting guard recruit Hamidou Diallo (committed to Kentucky).

White is a huge believer in the SEC this upcoming season, so much so that he believes it could potentially be the best conference in college basketball. In past seasons, the SEC was considered to be among the weakest basketball conferences. But White might have a point for this season. The numbers back him up. Florida and Kentucky were both in the top ten in Kenpom efficiency last year.

As mentioned before, Florida is losing some key players but is also returning a good chunk of contributors while Kentucky will once again be one of the most talented teams in the country as bolstered by its number one recruiting class. Alabama, who has steadily improved under head coach Avery Johnson, will be bringing in a top 10 class and should take a big leap this season. Then there’s Missouri, a team who had a nightmare season last year (8-24, 2-16 in SEC play) but could surprise the country this year thanks to its number eight recruiting class highlighted by Porter.

New faces will contribute to Florida’s season

In order to repeat last season’s success and go beyond, the Gators will need plenty of new faces to step up. Florida is bringing in the 21st-ranked recruiting class. One incoming freshman to look out for is DeAundrae Ballard, a small forward who averaged 27 points and seven rebounds his senior year. Robinson, the team’s starting small forward last year, declared for the NBA this year, giving Ballard a decent chance to become the team’s starting small forward this year as a freshman.

Florida will also receive a scoring boost from Rice transfer Egor Koulechov, who averaged 17.5 points on a true shooting percentage of 58.7 in his two seasons with the Owls. Koulechov will be a big addition to the Gator bench, which is losing a big contributor in Canyon Barry who averaged 11 points off the bench and made 88 percent of his free throws.

Looking ahead

The Gators have plenty of reasons to be optimistic for this season. But they will be entering with a major roadblock as John Egbunu, the team’s starting center and leading rebounder from last season, injured his knee and is not expected to return until January. Hayes, the team’s leading shot blocker from last season, will likely fill that starting center role until Egbunu returns.

The Gators will likely be one of the top teams in the SEC once again, and it has its young, energetic head coach to thank for that.

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