Florida had a breakthrough second season under Mike White in 2016-17, finishing 27-9 and reaching the Elite Eight for the ninth time in program history.
ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas said he expects Florida to maintain that high level of play next season, despite the losses of point guard Kasey Hill, underclassman forward Devin Robinson and SEC sixth man of the year Canyon Barry.
“It will be a different team, but getting (center) John Egbunu back is really good news because of his size, he played really well last year,” Bilas said. “He’s an excellent player. I think having (center) Kevarrius Hayes back, I think they are going to be really good again.”
Bilas said the big question is whether Florida can get the same leadership compared to last season.
“The players have to do it and I think they, guys will step forward and perform,” Bilas said. “You know sometimes, you need to be needed. But when you’ve got guys like (KeVaughn) Allen and (Chris) Chiozza, those guys have been there before. But they can step forward and play bigger roles, Jalen Hudson, all of them. I think they have a good solid group and guys are going to have develop and step in.”
Florida finished second behind Kentucky in the SEC last season, but with Alabama, Missouri and Auburn among schools bringing in talented recruiting classes in 2017, the league could have even more title-contending teams next season.
“Florida is getting better, too,” Bilas said. “I don’t see Florida taking a step back at all. And I think the fact the rest of the league is continuing to improve is good news for Florida. It’s good news for everybody. You want the league to be more competitive.”
A likely preseason Top 25 team, Florida will get an early test at the PK 80 Tournament over Thanksgiving weekend in Portland, Oregon. The games will be broadcast on the ESPN family of networks. Florida will open play on Thanksgiving Night against Stanford in a bracket that also includes Gonzaga, Ohio State, Texas, Butler, Duke and Portland State.
“Stanford had a rough year last year but they have a bunch of players coming back and they have a really good recruiting class coming in,” Bilas said. “They got Reid Travis back who is a great power forward. But if Florida is able to get past Stanford and I’d expect they would be favored, they would probably face Gonzaga and Gonzaga will be really good again, they’ve got a bunch of transfers …
“If they wound up playing Stanford, Gonzaga and Duke, if it fell that way, those would be three amazing games for Florida and three opportunities to really vault yourself or improve. So win or lose Florida should get a tremendous benefit out of this.”
— The SEC announced opponents for each team for its 2017-18 men’s basketball schedule on Thursday. In addition to playing traditional rivals Kentucky, Georgia and Vanderbilt home-and-away, Florida also will play home-and-away series with Alabama and South Carolina next season. South Carolina is coming off its first Final Four appearance last season, but loses SEC player of the year Sindarius Thornwell and guard P.J. Dozier. Alabama, meanwhile, could be a preseason Top 25 team with forward Braxton Key returning, the addition of 5-star incoming freshman point guard Collin Sexton and the addition of Ohio State transfer center Daniel Giddens. Here’s a look at UF’s full home and away SEC schedule:
— Home: Georgia, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Alabama, South Carolina, Auburn, Arkansas, LSU, Mississippi State.
— Road: Georgia, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Alabama, South Carolina, Missouri, Texas A&M, Ole Miss, Tennessee.