After a rough start due to the surging coronavirus pandemic, the men’s college basketball season is finally in full swing as we cross the threshold of the new year into 2021. Now that the conference schedules are fully underway with an added sampling of non-conference results, the overall landscape of the sport appears to finally be taking shape.
Or is it? Recent articles from The Athletic have pegged the Florida Gators as the hardest team in college basketball to rank, as well as voicing its confidence in UF despite the maelstrom of mystery that surrounds the team — including the absence of the Southeastern Conference’s Preseason Player of the Year, Keyontae Johnson.
As it turns out, the entire league is a bit of an enigma among the Power Five conferences, according to John Gasaway’s evaluation published on Dec. 30 for ESPN Insider. He asks if the Tennessee Volunteers are truly a national championship contender, as well as if the Missouri Tigers really belong in the top half of the top 25 and if the Kentucky Wildcats are really as bad as they have looked so far. Gasaway also has a take on where the Gators stand after losing its “Key” player in Johnson.
The Gators try to focus on basketball
Florida has been inactive since Keyontae Johnson collapsed against Florida State on Dec. 12. Johnson is now serving in a quasi-coaching capacity with the team, and Mike White says he has “no idea” if the preseason SEC player of the year will be able to return this season.
It goes without saying that Johnson’s recovery is the best news and the most important event related to Florida basketball in 2020-21. Past that, the question of how good this team can be without him on the floor is a secondary matter.
In their first four games, the Gators achieved success by hitting their 3s and by pressuring opponents into a high number of turnovers. Noah Locke, Tre Mann and Scottie Lewis will now try to keep those trends going in Johnson’s absence.
Since this article was published, the Gators have won two-straight games — against SEC foes no less — and have shown an ability to coalesce as a team despite KJ’s absence. The above-mentioned players have elevated their games and the team has played with a level of cohesion rarely seen last year.
While we still do not really know what we have in this year’s squad, it is no mystery that Florida is putting its heart out on the court each and every game. Hopefully, UF can dispel the doubt and rise to the top of the SEC in time for March Madness.