Here’s our early projection of Florida basketball’s 2021-22 starting lineup

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The Gators basketball team received fantastic news on Sunday afternoon. Center Colin Castleton announced that he has withdrawn from consideration in the 2021 NBA draft and will return to the school for another season. He emerged from the transfer portal to become a big part of Florida’s identity last season, but many of the other centerpieces of last year’s squad will be missing.

Tre Mann, who was the team’s best player, entered the NBA draft and will not be returning. Noah Locke, who was a deadly catch-and-shoot weapon, transferred to Louisville. The Keyontae Johnson/Scottie Lewis duo is broken up as well; Lewis went pro and Johnson may not play basketball competitively again.

Head coach Mike White did the hard work in the transfer portal over the offseason to bring together a team that has a real chance to outperform the 2020-21 squad. Now that Castleton’s back, we’re ready to make an early projection at who will take the floor next season as Gators starters.

Point Guard - Tyree Appleby

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Height: 6 feet, 1 inch Weight: 170 pounds Stats: 11.3 PPG, 3.1 REB, 3.3 AST Tyree Appleby was a bit of a pleasant surprise last year. He took over starting point guard duties from Mann partway through the season and never looked back. Only an average shooter from the outside, he's surprisingly good in the paint, and will routinely Swiss cheese opposing big men with a dose of his speed and lateral quickness. He has true point guard handles and could become a devastating scorer next season if he plays under control more often or shoots better from the outside.

Shooting Guard - Myreon Jones

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Height: 6 feet, 3 inches Weight: 180 pounds Stats: 15.3 PPG, 2.7 REB, 2.0 AST Myreon Jones is the highest-impact player the Gators snagged out of the transfer portal this offseason. Coming from the Big Ten, the level in competition offered in the SEC not as much as a leap as other players joining Florida's squad in 2021. He's able to handle the ball and could be used that way to create gimmicky looks in the Gators offense, but he was shoehorned into the point guard role at Penn State. There's too many other ballhandlers in line ahead of him to expect too many minutes at the point, but he's a blazing shooter when he get some momentum. He could make a huge impact on offense if he can be a little more consistent from deep.

Hybrid Guard - Phlandrous Fleming Jr.

AP Photo/L.G. Patterson

Height: 6 feet, 4 inches Weight: 210 pounds Stats: 20.1 PPG, 7.4 REB, 2.3 AST Phlandrous Fleming Jr. was nearly the entire Charleston Southern offense in 2020, but don't expect the kind stat sheet stuffing production in the SEC. His volume will certainly go down and his efficiency wasn't astonishing against low-end defenders. Now, facing the best players of his life, there will probably be a speed bump. He plays heavy for a Florida guard, but he could become a sneaky weapon in the Mike White three-guard offense. He can play with downhill gravity, opening up shots for smaller players who can't play with as much physicality or drawing a defender off another player in the post. The Gators didn't have that kind of enabler in 2020 and the plays he is able to unlock could help take them to the next level next season. There's also a chance that Fleming is a better outside shooter in 2021, as his 80.6% free throw rate would indicate he's a better shooter than his 32% accuracy from the arc last year.

Power Forward - CJ Felder

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Height: 6 feet, 7 inches Weight: 230 pounds Stats: 9.7 PPG, 5.9 REB, 0.9 AST The Gators plucked CJ Felder out of the transfer portal as a defensive anchor with some offensive potential. He's not as sure as Myreon Jones to make an SEC impact, but it's not unreasonable to assert that Felder has the highest potential of the incoming transfers. With three years of eligibility left and the flexibility to play both power forward and center, he'll be a good depth piece at the very least. However, he'll have to make good on his potential to keep his starting job. Both Anthony Duruji and Samson Ruzhentsev will be nipping at his heels for playing time and have been in the system for longer than Felder.

Center - Colin Castleton

Height: 6 feet, 11 inches Weight: 231 pounds Stats: 12.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.1 assists There's a world in which Colin Castleton is the Gators' best player in 2021, and it's not hard to imagine it being this one. He's a lot to deal with defensively – it seemed like he threw down a highlight-worthy block every other game last season. Combined with Felder, the Gators have the ingredients for a shutdown defensive frontcourt. He's also a pleasantly skilled finisher who is able to maintain steady hands around the room despite his violent actions in the paint. He doesn't have much of a jump shot to speak of, which makes him a limited player. It's doesn't really matter when he gets hot; he's just too skilled to be contained by other SEC big men.

Next Five

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PG Brandon McKissic - Another big fish from a small conference, McKissic was both a massive scorer and the Summit League Defensive Player of the Year last year. He's probably the backup point guard, despite being a better fit as a shooting guard. G Niels Lane - Lane was sidelined with injury for most of his freshman year, but he's a serious breakout candidate next season. He's able to defend three positions and has enough handles to play the point in a pinch. G Kowacie Reeves - The sole player of the Gators' 2021 recruiting class, Reeves is a high-end four-star prospect who has huge offensive potential. He is particularly good at hitting contested shots and is can be trouble in transition. A hot start could propel him into a starting job. He's the future of the program. F Anthony Duruji - To call Duruji's performance last season a disappointment would be unfair, but not entirely inaccurate. He was never meant as a starter and will be better off as the backup. That's the role he's slated to fill in the 2021 season. F Samson Ruzhentsev - His shooting form is a thing of beauty, but Ruzhentsev gets himself into jams and clearly was undercooked in his limited role last season. The upcoming season is his sophomore year, and he'll be expected to make progress, but there's every reason to believe he can pull it off. [listicle id=40390] [listicle id=39544]

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