Florida basketball is finally back.
The Gators will kick off the regular season Monday night against Loyola Maryland, with tipoff set for 8 p.m. ET at the Exactech Arena at Stephen O’Connell Center.
It’s Year 2 under head coach Todd Golden, and the expectation is for the team to take a step forward under him. Golden brought in several transfer players to replenish the frontcourt and add some backcourt depth. The only returning starters are sophomore wing Riley Kugel and junior Will guard Will Richard.
Loyola Maryland should be a nice test for the new-look roster and a chance for some of the newer Gators to get their feet wet.
Expected Starters: Florida
6-2 / 195
6-4 / 206
6-5 / 207
6-10 / 239
7-1 / 235
Most of the scoring should come from Kugel and Richard against a low-major opponent to open the season. The other three starters are a question mark. The hope is that everything clicks on Day 1, but the odds of that are slim. These things take time.
Micah Handlogten and Tyreses Samuel make up the bulk of that new-look frontcourt for Florida. Getting them to settle in quickly will be key. Then, there’s Walter Clayton Jr., who may need to adjust with two elite scorers on the team. It’s all about finding the right chemistry in an actual game.
Expected Starters: Loyola Maryland
5-8 / 160
6-2 / 185
6-4 / 185
6-10 / 248
6-10 / 235
Deon Perry was Loyola Maryland’s second-highest scorer last year, so expect the 5-foot-8-inch guard to put up at least 10 points against the Gators. The team’s third-highest scorer from 2022-23 is coming off the bench. Jaylin Andrews is a reserve guard who also averaged more than 11 points per game last year and serves as the Greyhounds’ spark plug off the bench,
D’Angelon Stines and Tyson Commander both led the team with 14 points in a preseason exhibition win over McDaniel College, so this group has options.
Key Player: Riley Kugel (Florida)
If the Gators are going to win a lot of games this year, Riley Kugel needs to be a legitimate first-round draft pick from the very start of the season. That starts with Loyola Maryland. Kugel doesn’t need to drop 30, but he has to look like the best player on the court and lead Florida to a comfortable win.
Kugel and Richard know the offense the best because they’ve played in games under Golden before. Look for both to lead the way as the transfers get comfortable.
Key Player: Alonso Faure (Loyola MD)
Alonso Faure might be a bit undersized compared to Florida’s 7-foot-1 center Micah Handlogten, but he carries himself well for a Patriot Conference big man. He’s a double-double threat every night, as is Golden Dike. Both nearly average double-doubles last season, missing the mark by 0.7 points per game each.
If Loyola is going to put up a fight against Florida, it’s going to be because of the big guys.
The Florida Gators haven’t lost a home opener since 1983, when Stetson came to the O’Dome and won, 77-73. The Gators should take this one with relative ease and have enough time to work out some of the early issues that come with a complete roster overhaul.
Prediction: Florida, 78-49
How to Watch
TV: SEC Network+
Radio: ESPN 98.1 FM/WRUF 850 AM
Live Stats: StatBroadcast