Florida basketball 2017-18 primer, breakdown; Fastbreak: Gators dominate with 116-74 win in opener

By Adam Silverstein
November 13, 2017
Florida basketball 2017-18 primer, breakdown; Fastbreak: Gators dominate with 116-74 win in opener

Image Credit: Tim Casey/UAA

In being so wrapped up with Florida Gators football and its cyclone of a season, there was a lack of preseason coverage for No. 7 Florida basketball here on OnlyGators.com. Consider this a catch-up as we take a look at the team as it stands entering the season and UF’s dominant performance in its season opener on Monday night.

The names you know

Florida opens the season with two healthy returning starters from a year ago and just six players that saw minutes on last year’s Elite Eight team. The good news for the Gators is that most of them are upperclassmen, which gives the team a maturity it has not possessed in a couple years.

Senior point guard Chris Chiozza is a full-time starter for the first time; joined at the hip with junior guard KeVaughn Allen, the duo gives Florida one of the best backcourts in college basketball.

Junior center Kevarrius Hayes was thrust into the starting rotation due to injury a year ago and blossomed in his role, which he will maintain to open this season. The same goes for sophomore C Gorjok Gak, who played way more minutes than expected but steadily improved with each passing game.

Redshirt sophomore G Keith Stone flashed at times in the last campaign but remained relatively inconsistent. He will have an opportunity to flourish with a bigger role after a full offseason of extensive work.

New faces

The first thing you will notice about this Florida team, particularly if you are not a hardcore follower of the Gators, is a lot of new names on the back of jerseys. Seven of Florida’s 13 scholarship players had never shot a basket in orange and blue until Monday night, and five of those seven were not even on the team last season.

Redshirt junior G Jalen Hudson and redshirt freshman G Dontay Bassett are those returners. Hudson sat out 2016-17 as an NCAA-mandated redshirt season after transferring from Virginia Tech, while Bassett fractured his foot early and took a medical redship. Graduate transfer Egor Koulechov is the most experienced of the other six after starting 35 games for Rice a year ago, averaging 18.2 points and 8.9 rebounds while shooting an astounding 47.4 percent from beyond the arc.

The other four – G Mike Okauru, F Chase Johnson, F Isaiah Stokes and G Deaundrae Ballard — are all true freshmen. Among them, Ballard (46 minutes) and Okauru (43 minutes) saw the most action in the exhibition games

Important injuries

Though it may not look like it early in the season, the Gators are actually stacked in the frontcourt. Unfortunately, two of those key players will not be available until 2018. Redshirt senior center John Egbunu, who started for UF a year ago, tore his ACL on Feb. 14 and is expected to return at some point in January. Stokes also tore his ACL in February and shares Egbunu’s timetable. While Egbunu is likely to be a primary contributor off the bench and potential starter upon his return, Stokes may not see the court when he returns. It all depends on how Florida is faring without the two big men by the midpoint in the season.

Chiozza gave Gator Nation a scare in its exhibition opener when he hurt his shoulder early in the game. However, after sitting out most of two weeks, he was the first sub off the bench in Florida’s season opener and should resume his starting role later this week.

Florida vs. Gardner-Webb fastbreak

It was over when … Finding itself down 13-14 eight minutes into the game, Florida outscored Gardner-Webb 39-16 over the final 12 minutes of the opening half behind an explosive three-point shooting performance by Koulechov, who posted 23 points and four boards in just 16 minutes while making 5-of-7 threes in the opening period. Koulechov’s 23 points were five shy of a program record in a single half.

Exceptional effort: Koulechov set a scoring record for a Florida player making his debut, posting 34 points on 11-of-17 shooting while draining 6-of-9 threes and all six of his free throws. The graduate transfer from RIce also added five boards and accomplished that entire stat line in just 26 minutes.

Odds and ends: Florida won its 27th consecutive season opener … the Gators and Runnin’ Bulldogs played for the first time … UF improved to 14-0 against Big South teams all-time … Florida scored over 100 points in its season opener for the first time since 2003 … Hudson impressed with 16 points, making 6-of-8 shots and 3-of-5 threes … Chiozza and Okauru combined for 10 assists with Okauru scoring 11 points while making both of his triples … UF shot 52 percent from downtown and made 78 percent of its attempts from the charity stripe … the Gators had 22 points off 14 turnovers, out rebounded the ‘Dogs 43-29 and had 26 assists on 40 baskets while leading for 37:31 off the 40-minute game

Play of the game: See below off the opening tip.


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