White: Improved SEC presents opportunity

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Florida coach Mike White is not one to shy away from a challenge. This is, after all, a coach who didn’t think twice about replacing a future Hall of Famer in Billy Donovan.

So White views the Gators competing in an improved SEC this season as a chance to regain some confidence after a rough December stretch.

”It just presents so many opportunities, in my opinion,” White said. “Night in and night out we’re going to have games against teams with, for the most part, very good numbers, and we’re going to be playing against a bunch of potential NCAA tournament teams.

“Hopefully, again, if we can continue making progress, we’ll be one of those teams that’s in the conversation, but we’re not there yet. Just the way we’re looking it, we’re just continuing to try to improve.”

The SEC is ranked second or third in the nation in conference RPI based on most national websites, among the top conferences in the country with the Big 12 and ACC. Five different SEC teams, including Florida, have been ranked in the AP Top 25 at some point during the season, while eight different teams are ranked in the RPI Top 40.

While Florida’s RPI sits at 104 per NCAA.com, the Gators are more highly thought of by the advanced analytics site KenPom.com, which ranks UF 35th based on a strength of schedule it rates in the top 10 in the nation. There will be plenty of chances to move up regardless. Florida is playing four of its first seven SEC games on the road, including games at No. 5 Texas A&M on Jan. 2 and at No. 16 Kentucky on Jan. 20.

“The league, I think for the most part we took care of business and improved all of our numbers, improved I think the overall way that this league is perceived nationally,” White said. “And we were probably close to making a bigger bang than we did with a loss here or there. Obviously a couple losses we had didn’t help the league and a few other teams had some really close, tough losses.”

Other notes:

— The SEC is launching collaborative replay for the 2017-18 men’s basketball season. Replays will be reviewed at the SEC Video Center in Birmingham, Ala., to help assist on calls, but officials on the court will still have the final say.

— Florida junior center Kevarrius Hayes ranks fifth in the SEC in blocked shots (2.0 bpg), but White would like to see Hayes stay more disciplined and not leave his feet in his zeal to block shots. By selling out for blocks, Hayes has left himself prone to foul trouble and out of rebounding position. ”It’s just a discipline thing,” White said. “We talk about it, we drill it, we watch video on it. And then we do it again, and then we do it again and we do it every day. He’s more disciplined today than he was a month ago on the interior. We need him to continue to be focused in on those things.”