Chris Chiozza sprinted up the court, left his feet and glided through the air in a moment that will be shown on Florida basketball telecasts for as long as the program exists. The ball left his hands as he seemed to float, parachuting through the net to give the the Gators a win over Wisconsin and send them to the Elite Eight.
The team lost to South Carolina and missed the Final Four, but this year, the expectations for UF’s men’s team are higher because of that single play. UF’s women’s team, meanwhile, is in the midst of transition.
The team failed to reach postseason play last year and lost its best player, Ronni Williams, to graduation. Coach Amanda Butler was fired after the season and coach Cam Newbauer was hired from Belmont University, where he guided the Bruins to consecutive NCAA tournaments. And in his first year at Florida, he is hoping to exceed expectations. Even if those expectations are low to begin with.
The two teams represent opposite ends of the expectation spectrum, but their goals are the same. Newbauer and the women’s team were picked to finish 12th in the Southeastern Conference at SEC Media Day, so they’re hoping to exceed that low bar. Coach Mike White and the men’s team is ranked No. 7 in the preseason coaches’ poll, so they’re hoping to exceed that high bar.
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The men’s team has the tools to make another deep run, though it lost some key players this offseason. That starts with starting point guard Kasey Hill, who graduated, and starting forward Devin Robinson, who declared for the NBA Draft and is now playing for the Delaware 87ers, the developmental team for the Washington Wizards. The team also lost SEC Sixth Man of the Year Canyon Barry to graduation. But White has brought in some veterans to replace them.
That starts with Jalen Hudson, a 6-foot-6 guard who transferred to Florida from Virginia Tech ahead of last season. He was stuck on the bench while the Gators made their postseason run per NCAA transfer rules, but this season, the junior has already led UF in scoring in both of its exhibition games. There’s also graduate transfer Egor Koulechov, who came to Florida from Rice and is known as a three-point specialist.
White also brought in a four-man freshman class — guards Mike Okauru and Deaundrae Ballard, along with forwards Isaiah Stokes and Chase Johnson — that should contribute right away.
The team’s starting center, John Egbunu, is out with a torn ACL he suffered last season, though he could be back in early 2018. UF returns starting forward Kevarrius Hayes, First Team All-SEC member KeVaughn Allen and Chiozza. Play begins on Monday when the Gators host Gardner-Webb.
“I think we could be better offensively,” White said when comparing this year’s team with last year’s. “I’m not sure we could be quite as good defensively. If this team is as good defensively as last year’s team, we’ll be really good.”
The women’s team’s biggest loss was undoubtedly Williams, who averaged a team-best 19.2 points per game. It also lost senior guard Simone Westbrook, who missed last season with a torn ACL and is no longer on the team for unspecified reasons. However, UF returns senior forward Haley Lorenzen and SEC Freshman of the Year Delicia Washington. It also added three freshmen and will get a boost from transfers Paulina Hersler and Funda Nakkasoglu.
The team opens on Saturday against Georgia State, with Newbauer hoping he can reinvigorate a struggling program right away.
“There hasn’t been many opportunities to talk about what was,” he said. “It’s just who we’re going to be.”