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Florida vs. Elon, Game Thread: Once more unto the breach

A team almost entirely comprised of transfers will try to make a transitional year a winning one for Florida.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Oral Roberts at Florida Doug McSchooler-USA TODAY Sports

I confess this: I do not have a good read on this Florida Gators men’s basketball team.

Part of that is because of how turnover and attrition have built this team, which emerges from the tumult of the last 18 months in the world — and 11 months of dealing with the fallout of one of the scariest sights ever seen on a college basketball court — as one that may roll out a starting five of transfers more often that not. Florida should start some familiar ones — Colin Castleton and Anthony Duruji seem set to be on the floor for tip-offs — but its top six players might all be ones who did not start their careers in Gainesville.

Florida lost much of its core from last season, too. Castleton, Duruji, and Tyree Appleby are the only players who played more than five minutes for the Gators in the 2021 NCAA Tournament on this roster, and Niels Lane is the only other returnee; gone are Tre Mann, Scottie Lewis, Omar Payne, and even fringe contributors like Osayi Osifo and Samson Ruzhentsev. Add reserve big man Jason Jitoboh to that trio of key contributors and Lane and you have the quintet of players who remain from last year’s squad.

But Florida did not rebuild itself with lightly-regarded transfers. Brandon McKissic starred for his Missouri-Kansas City Kangaroos, much like Phlandrous Fleming did for the College of Charleston, and each earned a rep for tenacious defense. Myreon Jones and C.J. Felder left Penn State and Boston College to join the Gators, fortifying Mike White’s roster with high-major experience.

Though Florida’s lone top-flight freshman, Kowacie Reeves, has brimming potential as a scorer and a long-limbed menace, and classmates Elijah Kennedy and Tuongthach Gatkek profile as players who could grow into the roles vacated by Ques Glover and Osifo, this will be a Gators team that is paced by its seven upperclassman transfers, who have all sounded like mature veterans eager to do the sacrficing and struggling necessary to win.

That level of maturity, if it can be maintained, would likely be a welcome change for White’s program, which has been one of the nation’s youngest in its last few iterations.

Florida’s toughest tests this season do not begin on opening night, with the Elon Phoenix team that comes to Gainesville for this Tuesday night opener likely to be outmatched by the Gators.

The Phoenix had a bizarre-even-for-2021 season last year — starting 3-0 while playing just those three games for almost a month, losing eight straight games, winning seven straight to get to the CAA Tournament final, and then falling for the first time in almost a month and dashing the dream of making their first NCAA Tournament — and while they return scorer Hunter McIntosh and have seen him and Butler transfer Jerald Gillens-Butler on a preseason all-conference team, they are undersized and have not seen a high-major team since November 2019, when they dropped three straight games to Georgia Tech, Michigan, and North Carolina by double digits.

A hot night for the Phoenix — or a cold one for the Gators — could make this game close, but Florida should roll. And for this team, just winning may be most of the goal.