Florida Gators the talk of college hoops off-season

By: Hays Carlyon

Florida’s men’s basketball team has won at least one game in the last three NCAA Tournaments.

Bigger things are expected now.

The Gators landed the best acquisition of the college basketball off-season when graduate transfer forward Kerry Blackshear signed with UF. The 6-foot-10, 242-pound Blackshear starred at Virginia Tech.

He averaged 14.9 points per game last season with 7.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists.

Virginia Tech won 26 games and advanced to the Sweet 16, as Blackshear was named second-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference.

The addition of Blackshear created a dramatic rise for the Gators in the preseason polls. ESPN moved UF from 18th in its early Top 25 to fourth. The common theme among experts is that Blackshear allows UF to challenge Kentucky for Southeastern Conference supremacy.

Blackshear gives the Gators a star and fills what has been the biggest void on the team for the past few seasons: A reliable post scorer. Hopefully, he will feel comfortable while playing.

The Gators backcourt already looked in excellent shape. Sophomore point guard Andrew Nembhard returns after making the SEC’s All-Freshman team last season. Nembhard recorded 196 assists, the fourth-most in program history in a single season. He also averaged eight points a game and became a clutch shooter late in the season.

Sophomore guard Noah Locke returns after connecting on 38 percent of his 3-point attempts last season. He averaged 9.4 points per game.

Sophomore forward Keyontae Johnson became one of the best players on the team in the second half of last season. He scored 8.1 points a game with 6.4 rebounds.

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Blackshear and Johnson should help UF turnaround its rebounding woes. The Gators were minus-1.2 a game last season in rebounding.

Florida also welcomes in a stellar signing class, featuring forward Scottie Lewis. ESPN ranked Lewis as the ninth best player in the country. Guard Tre Mann was ranked 31st in the ESPN 100, followed by forward Omar Payne (41st).

(You can email Hays at haysc@1010xl.com and follow him on Twitter @HaysCarlyon)