JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Last year it was Florida. This year it was Florida State. Both teams fell just short of a trip to the Final Four, losing in the Elite Eight. So, looking ahead to the 2018-2019 season, which team is in better shape to make a run?
Let's start with the rosters.
Florida will lose point guard Chris Chiozza, 3-point threat Egor Koulechov, and big man John Egnunu, who played only 1 minute due to injury. Florida will return leading scorer Jalen Hudson (15.5 points per game), Kevaughn Allen (11.0 ppg), Florida's second leading rebounder, Kevarrius Hayes and Keith Stone, who led Florida in 3-point shooting percentage.
Florida also will add three four-star recruits, including Andrew Nembhard, ranked as the No. 7 point guard recruit in the country. Also signed are shooting guard Noah Locke and small forward Keyontae Johnson. Florida could potentially add a graduate transfer, as they did this season with Koulechev.
Florida State loses leading scorer Phil Cofer (12.8 ppg), guard Brian Angola (12.5 ppg), and forward Brandon Allen, who played just 94 minutes all season. Florida State had a consistent starting five most of the year, but the Seminoles deep bench actually outscored its starters during the season.
Florida State has signed only one player so far, shooting guard Devin Vassell, who had offers from Texas Tech, UNF and Stetson. He announced in May his decision to head to Florida State.
Both teams will have to replace key scorers. Both teams also have to overcome disappointment-Florida State for the Elite Eight loss, Florida for a season of promise that never materialized.
Then, there are the coaches. Leonard Hamilton was criticized during the season by Florida State fans, while Mike White is still considered an up-and-coming coach. When you compare the competition, the ACC is going to be a much more difficult league with North Carolina, Duke and Virginia leading the way in a very deep conference. The SEC isn't likely to be as arduous for the Gators, although Auburn showed great improvement this season and Kentucky figures to be picked to win the conference.
My prediction? Both teams will be back in the tournament next year, but while Florida may have a better regular season, without a proven point guard, I'll take Florida State as the team more likely to make a run in the tournament.