It has not been that long since Xavier played Florida. Their last meeting was in the NIT at the end of last season, where Xavier won a defensive slog in which Jack Nunge put on an offensive masterclass in just 19 minutes while the other 381 player minutes in the game combined to offer 71 missed shots and 33 turnovers. It was Jonas Hayes’s first game in charge of Xavier; Al Pinkins was at the helm for Florida.
Hired by Florida out of low-major La Tech at just 38, Mike White was out, and - if he invested well, probably set for life - by age 45. Replacing him out of mid-major San Francisco at just 36 is Todd Golden. Golden has just 3 years as a head coach under his belt, putting together a 57-36 record during that time.
It’s rarely a like for like strategic transition from somewhere like San Francisco to the SEC, but Golden’s gameplanning so far has focused more - or just been more successful - on the defensive end. His teams have absolutely smothered the arc in terms of both attempts and success rate. They also crash the glass with immense success and try to speed the game up. They do not force turnovers to a meaningful extent. Their offenses have chucked threes to an almost comical extent; nearly half their attempts have come from behind the arc. Their assist rates and free throw rates have been poor and they’re not much on the offensive glass. Make of all that what you will as he attempts to navigate the jump to the big time.
In addition to having an awesome name, forward Phlandrous Fleming contributed 11.1/4.4/2.1 per game to the cause. He wasn’t a wonderful shooter from inside or outside the arc, but he limited turnovers and was a hellacious defender who could take on just about any assignment and more than hold his own. He has moved on to professional ball. Guard Tyree Appleby led the team in assists last year and averaged 10.9/2.1/3.7. Like Fleming, his shooting line drew down his overall efficiency a bit, but he was a good perimeter defender and nails at the free throw line. He’ll suit up for Wake Forest this season.
Forward Anthony Duruji could shoot and was the team’s second most efficient regular last year; his 63.8% mark from inside the arc was just outside the top 50 nationally. He averaged 8.6/4.1/1.1 per game and appears to be heading to camp with the Charlotte Hornets right now. Guard Brandon McKissic posted a modest 5.8/2.5/1.8 despite starting 22 times. He was a solid defender who shot almost as well from two-point range (53.7%) as he did from one-point range (59.6%). He’s a Newcastle Eagle now.
Nobody else of import departed. To have a coaching change and lose only one really core player who had eligibility remaining tells you... something. It’s always jarring when there’s a max exodus after the staffs turnover; Golden did as well as he could in avoiding that.
Leading scorer/Diet Jack Nunge Colin Castleton returns, bringing his 16.2/9.0/1.5 game line from last year with him. He’s a 6’11” 5th-year guy who crushes the glass at both ends and really defends the rim well. He’s only okay inside the arc - 56.4% - and was 0-9 from deep last season. Grad student guard Myreon Jones is also back; he posted 8.5/2.8/1.6 on .355/.321/.738 shooting last season. He’s not a specifically efficient offensive player, but he defends well without fouling and should be in line for a shot at good minutes this season.
In addition to having remarkable hair, rising sophomore guard Kowacie Reeves averaged 5.5 per game last season. He came on strong in postseason play, averaging 16 PPG and shooting 9-23 from behind the arc in three games. He was a five-star guy out of high school and could be finding his feet in his second year of intercollegiate play.
Three-time All-A10 guard Kyle Lofton joins from St. Bonaventure, where coach Mark Schmidt rode him like Seattle Slew. He played 87% of the available minutes last year despite missing three games in the middle of the year through injury. That was a career low in minutes percentage for him. He played in 22 games in 2022; he went under 38 minutes played in two of them. He is a pure point, excellent in securing and distributing the ball, good at defending, and not much of a shooter (except for from the line). He’ll fill a need right away for the Gators.
Will Richard is a 6’5” forward who averaged 12 and 6 at Belmont last season. He punches above his weight on the glass and is a really good defender for his or any size. He was efficient on the offensive end despite not having a great jump shot. He profiles a little bit like Ben Stanley did before he came to Xavier, for whatever that’s worth. Guard Trey Bonham is joining from VMI; he scored pretty well there, averaging 11.3 per game. He’s got a career .487/.369/.792 shooting line. Ultra-athletic wing Alex Fudge joins from LSU to round out the incoming transfers.
As far as recruiting goes, big man Aleks Szymczyk is coming in from Germany, where the concept of the letter X has not been discovered yet. He’s got a big body and a solid skill set, but he probably won’t be a factor for the Gators this season.
High school teammates Riley Kugel (a 6’5”, four-star shooting guard) and Denzel Aberdeen (a 6’4”, three-star combo guard) join out of a school called Dr. Phillips in Orlando, Florida. Aberdeen dropped 27 in the state final in 2021 to help lead the team to the title; he averaged 14/4/3 as a senior. Kugel is a little bigger and little more highly-rated; he averaged 17/5/3 last year. If they factor this season, it will likely not be in a focal role.
Golden has jumped well up in level of competition and is trying to bring seven new players into the fold while also adapting the returning guys to his style of play. That’s a tall order for any coach, especially one who hasn’t been A-10 coach of the year, three-time Pac-12 coach of the year, and one-time USA Basketball coach of the year. Florida has the talent to compete in the SEC, but this game against Xavier will be early in a long year and also the team’s first trip outside of the state. You overlook a high-major opponent at your own peril, but this one is poised to give the Muskies a shot at grabbing a really good win.