Florida basketball: What sophomore guard Riley Kugel returning means for the Gators

Kevin Brockway
The Gainesville Sun
Florida Gators guard Riley Kugel (24) drives to the basket through UCF Knights forward Taylor Hendricks (25)and UCF Knights forward Lahat Thioune (0) during the second half of the NIT tournament Wednesday, March 15, 2023, at Exactech Arena in Gainesville, Fla. Florida lost to UCF 67-49. Alan Youngblood/Gainesville Sun

Riley Kugel has announced his decision to return to his sophomore year with Florida Gators, bringing an experienced piece back to UF's starting backcourt.

The 6-foot-5, 207-pound Kugel put together a highlight video on Twitter to announce his decision.

Kugel earned freshman All-SEC honors last season, averaging 9.9 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.0 assists.

Here's what Kugel's return means to the Gators:

He gives Florida a player capable of creating his own shot

To improve an offense that finished 139th in the country in offensive efficiency, per KenPom, Florida coach Todd Golden discussed the importance of finding and developing players capable of creating their own shot late in the shot clock when offensive sets break down.

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Kugel, with his combination of size, speed and ballhandling ability, can fit that role. His perimeter shooting improved during the course of the season and he's capable of driving to the basket and drawing contact.

Kugel got to the foul line 83 times, second-most on the Gators behind Colin Castleton, who made 155 free-throw attempts.  

Kugel's shot selection has room to grow, as he finished his freshman season shooting 45.6 percent from the floor and 37.6 percent from 3-point range. That should come with maturity and a full offseason with Florida's coaching staff. Kugel didn't enroll until the fall semester of his freshman season but still found a way to work his way into UF's rotation at the start of the season and earn a starting job by the end of the year.

He gives Florida a returning starter

Though Kugel is just heading into his sophomore year, he appeared in 32 of 33 games last season, with 17 starts. The majority of Kugel's starts came during conference play, so he now has a full understanding of the physical and mental rigors of playing an 18-game SEC schedule.

Kugel and rising junior guard Will Richard (10.4 ppg, 39.8 percent from 3) are the two returning perimeter starters Florida will build around in Golden's second season.

He gives Florida a consistent scoring threat

When Colin Castleton went down with a broken hand on Feb. 15 against Ole Miss, ending his season, Kugel became UF's go-to scorer and proved he could handle it.

Kugel scored in double figures in 10 straight games to close his freshman season, matching Bradley Beal, who last accomplished the feat in 2011-12 for the Gators before declaring for the NBA Draft. Kugel scored 20 or more points three times during the stretch, including a career-high 24 points in an 82-74 loss to Kentucky at the O'Connell Center.

Kugel will likely get more attention from opposing scouting reports next season and may need to show some unselfishness and not force shots that aren't there. But if Florida's teammates can step up around him, it should result in more chances for Kugel to put the ball in the basket in the long run.