Florida basketball: Why life after Andrew Nembhard looks pretty good at point guard

By Jake Winderman
November 2, 2020
Florida basketball: Why life after Andrew Nembhard looks pretty good at point guard
Basketball

Image Credit: GatorsMBK / Twitter

Whether you feel like Andrew Nembhard transferring to Gonzaga during the offseason will be a net gain or loss for the Florida Gators, his decision to move on from the program leaves a massive hole at the starting point guard position. Yes, the Gators have others who can serve as floor generals, but without Nembhard the team will undergo a dramatic shift. Again, the questions remains whether that will be a positive or negative.

During his two seasons at Florida, Nembhard started all 77 games for which he was eligible. He led the Gators in minutes per game during his freshman (32.9) and sophomore (33.2) seasons, while finishing top five in the SEC in assists per game during both campaigns. 

His methodical style of play helped integrate Virginia Tech graduate transfer power forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. into Florida’s halfcourt offense last season, but it also slowed the pace of play tremendously as UF ranked 237th in average offensive possession length out of 353 Division I teams. The Gators’ slow, plodding offense was helpful in getting a more traditional frontcourt player like Blackshear involved in halfcourt offensive sets, but it took away valuable transition opportunities from Florida’s two most athletic and versatile players, incoming junior forward Keyontae Johnson and sophomore guard Scottie Lewis.

The slow offensive tempo with Nembhard at the helm drew the ire of fans who had seen UF’s most successful teams under head coach Mike White play with more pace on the offensive end. 

With Nembhard now out of the picture, the Gators will rely on three different players at point guard this season. Tyree Appleby, a junior transfer from Cleveland State, will compete with former McDonald’s High School All-American sophomore Tre Mann for the majority of minutes, while sophomore Ques Glover will see more limited action as a reserve. 

“They’re fighting it out,” White said at his first preseason press conference about 10 days ago. “We’ve had a couple of practices where, if we put the starting lineup on the whiteboard after practice, it would’ve been Tre Mann who won the starting job that day. We’ve had a few where it’s been Ques Glover, and we’ve had a few where it’s been Tyree Appleby. These last two, three practices, Tre Mann has been really good.”

All of Florida’s options at point guard this season are players capable of pushing the pace and scoring in transition, something critics of White and the Gators over the past two seasons will be thrilled to hear.

During Florida’s Elite Eight run in 2017, their most successful campaign thus far under White, the team ranked 65th nationally in average offensive possession length. While coaching Louisiana Tech, the school at which White built his reputation before taking the Florida job, none of his four teams ranked below 63rd nationally in that category. Playing with tempo offensively is something White plans to return to this season with Nembhard no longer a part of the program.

“Out of necessity and out of desire, we’re going to extend pressure and we’re going to play faster [this season],” White said. “Our increase in tempo will be amongst the national leaders, in my opinion. … Heading into Game 1, I anticipate a significant increase in level of tempo, but that’s easier said than done.”

If White is looking for a more experienced player to step in and help transition the Gators to the offense he has envisioned for the team, then Appleby will get the first crack at the lion’s share of minutes. While Appleby last played an NCAA game during the 2018-19 season with Cleveland State, he practiced with Florida all last season and turned a lot of heads on the coaching staff. 

Appleby averaged 17.2 points, 5.6 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 1.4 steals while shooting 42% from the field and 38% from three during his final season at CSU. Despite playing on a team that finished second-to-last in the Horizon League with a 10-21 overall record, he still found a way to be effective, landing a spot on the All-Horizon second team, while finishing first in the conference in assists per game, third in three-point percentage and sixth in points per game. 

At 6-foot-1 and 170 pounds, he possesses the quickness to get out and make plays in transition, while having enough size to get in the paint and finish at the rim. His style is similar to a (larger) Erving Walker. Whether it’s a pull-up triple or a catch-and-shoot trey from above the break, Appleby is deadly from downtown and never shies away from pulling the trigger. After drawing the defense out with his shooting, he excels at blowing by his defender with a burst of speed and either finishing acrobatically at the rim or finding an open teammate for a better shot opportunity.

Appleby isn’t the pure passing point guard that Nembhard was during his time with the Gators, but he brings to the table a skillset that will allow the team to play a more familiar and successful style for White.

Mann will be Appleby’s biggest competition for minutes and the starting job. He was more of a combo guard last season, seeing some time playing on the ball but mostly playing off it. Heading into 2020-21, Mann is expected to continue his transition to being more of a point guard, a position we saw him dominate during high school and on the AAU circuit.

Mann came to Gainesville, Florida, with high expectations as a five-star recruit in the Class of 2019. His transition from high school to the NCAA got off to a rough start as Mann shot just 37% from the field and 21% from long range during the nonconference play last year. With varying minutes, Mann was taking every shot that came his way instead of hunting better opportunities. He was trying to meet his personal expectations. However, as the season rolled on, Mann got more comfortable with his role and flowed better with the offense. He shot 33% from beyond the arc in UF’s final 12 games and notched two double-digit scoring outings.

As Mann has continued to improve his offensive skillset this offseason, his body has physically matured as well. He has added 18 pounds to his frame and now sits at 190 pounds. He’s also grown an inch, jumping to 6-foot-5. Between being experienced in the offense, transitioning to a faster pace and gaining size and strength, Mann has a chance to not only take over the starting point guard position by the end of the season but turn some heads in NBA front offices as well.

Mann tested the NBA Draft waters before deciding to return to Florida for the 2020-21 season. An impressive sophomore campaign could be all Mann needs to secure a selection in the 2021 NBA Draft after originally hoping to be a one-and-done player.

The final member of the Gators point guard rotation is Glover, a former three-star recruit who was a late addition to the Class of 2019. Glover showed promise during his freshman season, scoring at least 10 points in four of Florida’s 12 nonconference tilts, including a season-high 14 points vs. Marshall. Unfortunately for Glover, as the season rolled on, he began to see his minutes decrease. He played just 8 minutes or fewer in eight of the Gators’ final 10 games.

Glover’s biggest issue last season was limiting his turnovers when he took over at point guard in certain rotations. He notched at least three giveaways on seven separate occasions and recorded more turnovers than assists in 14 of 31 appearances. If Glover is going to become a key cog within Florida’s rotation, he’s going to need to limit his turnovers and become more effective as a playmaking point guard.

With three options at point guard this season, White and the Gators will have plenty of variety to utilize during their eight-game nonconference slate and 18-game SEC schedule. Replacing Nembhard will be one of White’s biggest challenges this offseason and could be the difference between contending for an SEC championship and falling somewhere in the middle of the league.

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