The Todd Golden era officially begins Monday night when the Gators host the Stony Brook Seawolves in the O'Connell Center. For Gator fans, it's a breath of fresh air for a program that has been stuck in mediocrity for the past seven years and there is a lot of things to be excited about with this team. So without further adieu let's get into it, starting with my projected starting lineup and rotation for the Gators this season.
Guard Kyle Lofton
A 6-foot-3, 188-pound graduate transfer from St. Bonaventure, Todd Golden and his staff know exactly what they're getting in Lofton, as they already announced he will start Monday night in the season opener. A guy who has averaged an NCAA-best 38.1 minutes per game over the course of his career, Lofton is a true floor general who can give you major minutes night in and night out. Not only is he just a great leader, though, but Lofton can also score the basketball. He is coming off of a season where he averaged 12.8 PPG and 5.9 APG and boasts a career 42.1% clip from the field to go along with an 82% clip from the free throw line. Kyle has played in many big games over his career and don't think he won't continue to be the epitome of consistency for the Gators this season.
Guard Will Richard
A 6-foot-4, 206-pound sophomore wing who transferred to UF via Belmont this season, Richard will be called upon to score the ball in his first season in the orange and blue. Coming off of a fantastic freshman season at Belmont where he averaged 12.1 PPG and 6 RPG on a superb 46.8% clip from the field, Richard knows how to score and is exactly what the Gators have been missing in a scoring wing over the past few years. Along with his skilled offensive game, Richard is also very impactful defensively, averaging 1.2 steals and nearly a block per game last year for the Bruins. A true two-way wing, Richard will be leaned on to be a consistent contributor on both ends this season and expect to hear his name called a ton.
Guard Kowacie Reeves
A 6-foot-6, 192-pound sophomore wing who is coming into his second season as a Gator, Kowacie Reeves is expected to make a huge leap in his game this season. Though having just averaged 5.5 PPG on 37.9% shooting from the field last season, Reeves showed flashes of greatness which was highlighted by a 21-point 6 rebound performance in the first round of the SEC Tournament. Now in his second year in Gainesville, Reeves will be called upon to take on a much larger role and be more of a consistent scoring threat than he was last season. Look for Reeves to make a lot of noise this season and perhaps play his way onto one of the All-SEC teams come year's end.
Forward Alex Fudge
A 6-foot-9, 200-pound sophomore forward who transferred into UF via LSU this offseason, Fudge is a guy who is looking to come into his own in his first season as a Gator. Despite just averaging 3.3 PPG and 3.2 RPG as a freshman for the Tigers, Fudge is an extremely athletic guy who is just waiting to burst out. He hails from Jacksonville, Florida and was a high four-star prospect coming out of Lee High School, where he averaged 17.9 PPG, 12.2 RPG and a staggering 5.7 BPG as a senior on his way to all-state honors. Fudge will be a crucial part of the Gators success this season and they'll look for him to bring an edge on the defensive end.
Center Colin Castleton
A 6-foot-11, 250-pound fifth-year senior who has been the unquestioned leader of this team for the past two seasons, Gator fans know exactly what they're getting in Castleton. After coming off a season where he averaged 16.2 PPG and 9.0 RPG and earned second-team All-SEC honors, Castleton was named by multiple media outlets to the preseason All-SEC first-team. A guy who gets it done on both ends of the floor, Gator fans can expect Colin to continue to be the engine of the offense this season and is looking to make the jump to being a top player in the country.
Key Rotational Players
Guard Trey Bonham
A 6-foot, 170-pound junior guard who transferred to Florida via VMI this offseason, Bonham is a guy who averaged 11.3 PPG, 3.6 RPG and 2.9 APG on 48.7% shooting from the field and 36.9% shooting from beyond the arc over his first two seasons in college. He will be relied upon to relieve Kyle Lofton of the ball-handling duties and provide steady shooting off of the bench.
Forward CJ Felder
A 6-foot-7, 240-pound senior forward, Felder is heading into his second and likely final season in Gainesville. After averaging just 3.5 PPG and 2.3 RPG last season, Felder will be a key rotational big man off of the bench who has a ton of experience and is a presence on the defensive end.
Center Jason Jitoboh
A 6-foot-11, 300-pound senior center, Jitoboh hasn't exactly been a consistent contributor offensively throughout his Gator career. However, what he does provide is fantastic rim protection on the defensive end and the ability to come off of the bench and relieve Colin Castleton, while chipping in a bucket here and there.
Guard Niels Lane
A 6-foot-5, 215-pound junior guard/wing, Lane is arguably the best defender on this roster. His relentless effort and tenacious play makes him extremely valuable off of the bench and not only is he a lockdown defender, but he can get to the rim and score the basketball when needed. Look for him to play a major role this season and maybe get a start here and there.
Guard Myreon Jones
A 6-foot-3, 177-pound graduate student entering his second year in Gainesville, Jones is coming off of a season where he averaged 8.3 PPG and made 62 three pointers, good for second on the team. Though he struggled with inconsistent play at times last year, Jones will play a key role off of the bench and will hopefully provide good shooting ability.
Two additional guys to keep an eye on are freshman guard Riley Kugel and freshman center Aleks Szymczyk. Kugel, a four-star out of Orlando, is an extremely skilled and long guard that can score the ball in bunches. Both of them could very easily play their way into some decent minutes as the season progresses.
The major factors that this team has that the Gator teams of the Mike White era lacked is depth and scoring. Getting skilled transfers such as Lofton, Richard and Bonham will provide a spark offensively and give us more consistent scoring options outside of just Colin Castleton, something the Gators have been lacking the past couple of years.
I expect this Gator team to surprise a lot of people this season and I think anything less than an NCAA Tournament berth and at minimum round-of-32 appearance is a disappointment. A new era of Gator basketball is beginning and personally, I think we are headed in the right direction. This team is going to be fun to watch all year long so strap in and enjoy the ride.
Feature Photo Credit: UAA Communications