Just which Gator team will show up?

22
1983
Florida guard KeVaughn Allen throws up a shot during the second half Friday night against Arkansas at the Southeastern Conference tournament in St. Louis. Arkansas won 80-72. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

ST. LOUIS — In a cold and grainy city where the only signs that the SEC is staging its premier basketball event are in and around the Scottrade Center, Florida’s basketball team got a break.

The tournament’s TV broadcast shifted to ESPN from the SEC Network so the players could watch the semifinals.

While Florida coach Mike White and a group of UF officials jetted home on a small plane, the team was stranded in the Marriott Grand Hotel (which did not carry the SEC Network; go figure) because their team charter wasn’t available.

Instead, that plane went to Kuwait, leaving the Gators to wait until today to return home.

“It has been a weird season,” White said after landing in Gainesville. “And it has been a weird team.”

The Gators waited in St. Louis with the memory of another sub-par performance haunting them as they watched other teams finish out the tournament.

And as painful as it was, these Gators knew what another one would mean.

The end of this strange season.

Today they will find out where they go and who they will play in the NCAA Tournament and their fans will wonder which team will show up.

The one with enough Quadrant 1 wins to get them into the Big Dance or the one that lost 12 games, some of them to teams that left those same fans scratching their heads in frustration.

White among them.

“The way we played those last three games (of the regular season), that was the best version of this team,” he said. “Then we take a week off and we regress, we revert. I probably shouldn’t be surprised.”

There are two ways to look at these Gators as they get ready for the biggest game or games of this season.

Is it Team Mystery or has White done a masterful job to get this flawed team into the tournament?

At times, this team has looked awesome. But for it to be that way, they have had to play with an incredible level of intensity that isn’t always there.

It wasn’t there Friday night when they were bounced by Arkansas. It was there when they won those three in a row to close the regular season, but vanished in the tournament they had to watch from their hotel rooms on Saturday afternoon.

White talked about it Friday night and again Saturday afternoon after Keith Stone threw some of his teammates under the bus by saying some of them weren’t ready to play.

Which is in itself bewildering.

“We haven’t handled success very well, but on the other hand we’ve handled failure really well,” he said. “So I expect (in the NCAA Tournament) we’ll be back with attention and focus.”

Speaking of Stone, here’s a stat that tells a lot about this team — Stone has had three 20-point games this season and Florida has lost all three of them.

That’s because the book on these Gators is to cut off the head of the snake and that head has four parts — Chris Chiozza, Jalen Hudson, KeVaughn Allen and Egor Koulechov. Defenses focus on them and sometimes leave Stone free to shoot.

In Florida’s impressive three-game winning streak, Stone scored only 18 points because the other guys had big games. During the mind-numbing three-game losing streak that preceded Florida playing its best basketball of the season, Stone had 38 points.

It’s a team that may seem difficult to figure out, but in reality, it is not.

The Gators have to play at a high level on both ends of the court. They are basically playing four-on-five on the offensive end because of a lack of a post presence. Defensively, they have to make up for a lack of length with in-your-face energy.

Sometimes, they do both. Sometimes, they do not.

And all of that makes Florida a team that nobody (at least not today) expects to go far in the big tournament. The 19 SEC games have given whoever Florida plays a blueprint on how to contain the Gators.

But the one way to overcome it is to play with the intensity of a white hot star.

Maybe it’s not Team Mystery as much as it is Team Quiet. The most noise they made Friday night was complaining to the officials.

That was part of the problem, players who let calls get into their psyches.

They are fragile.

They are flawed.

But they will be dancing. We just have no idea where and how long the dance will last.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

22 COMMENTS

  1. Pat: Good summary of the unknown and very interesting. I know Mike White has some ideas of what’s wrong and will not go public with them. I bet they were discussed on that “small jet”.

  2. I’ll be rooting for these Gators just as hard as I was rooting for the Vernon Maxwell and Dwayne Schintzius’ Gators, way back in the 80’s, during their tourney run. Same team, different players, but all GATORS!
    So, I hope this team goes far, but… well, you said it best, Pat… none the less, ”Go Gators!

  3. At some point, the Gators that played Friday night will show up, they’ve shown up all year, usually every third game or so; should get a favorable first round draw as a 6 seed, but second round will be very uncomfortable, against a team the likes of Arizona, Purdue, West Virginia, Michigan, Michigan St., Texas Tech, Wichita St., Gonzaga, anyone of whom would expose Florida’s lack of interior play. Like last season, Gators need those power teams in their bracket to lose early. They don’t stand a chance to win it all, but making it to the Sweet 16 would be nice going into next season with a strong nucleus returning.

  4. This Gators team is flawed because of no inside game or height and strength inside. But they went to the final 8 last year with Hayes in the middle. Maybe they can make a run again. Who knows what will happen with this team? But it seems that how Hudson goes is how the Gators go.

  5. Good column. I think we we be at an advantage playing out of conference in the tourney, they don’t know us as well as our SEC foes. I take heart from our game against Baylor, Cincy, the Zags and even against Duke. (ignoring the game against Loyola 🙂 ) By the time they figure us out we will hopefully have a nice lead. I agree with Dewayne, I’m sure coach White has seen things about this team than he keeps within the team…..but I know these kids will continue to be the best Gator team that THEY can be. GO GATORS!!!!

  6. White seems like a good coach, but I cannot believe he does not see the obvious problem and solve it.

    In the games they have lost, the Gators stand around on offense, nobody moving, waiting deep into the shot clock, and then the teams that beat the Gators play tight on those standing outside shooters. There is no threat to the post, and the Gators are left with a covered deep shot.

    Even though the Gators are not the most talented team in the middle (and miss Igbunu), White needs to develop an inside out game involving the post — not just with Cheese driving and passing back to an outside shooter. Pass the ball to the post, with the post passing back out, and repost again if necessary.

    Keep some players moving at all times, and notice how every time a lead has dwindled down, the Gators are standing around and waiting until the last few seconds of the clock. Even with a lead, the Gators need to keep moving and applying pressure as soon as the ball crosses mid court….no more being passive for the first 15-20 seconds of the clock.

    Also, Mike, work with Hayes to learn to receive the pass inside, make a quick, immediate move to the basket, or pass back out within 2 seconds or less. Usually Hayes fumbles the pass, brings the ball down, puts it on the floor, and after about 5 seconds of that has the ball knocked away from him. With a little drilling, he can and must do much better than that.

    Final point about keeping players moving, even if it is just a couple of feet through fakes and jabs, keeping moving like that wears down the defense, while the offense expends much less energy. When the Gators have lost, their opponents are far fresher and stronger toward the end of the game, because they have not had to expend energy guarding Gators who are not doing much except standing during most of the shot clock.

    I know basketball, because I had to play more with my head than I could with my marginal body and athleticism. I remember playing pick-up basketball against (I always volunteered Steve Spurrier in the old Women’s Gym, and Steve (All State Basketball in Tennessee) complimenting me when I made a good move against him. Yes he scored, I scored a few, but I made him work his tail off. That is what the Gators need to learn to do.

    • In a very sincere hope to help…can anyone her help to get Mike White to see my reply. He can choose to disagree, or ignore it…but I just want him to have a chance to consider it…in a very helpfully intended way.

      Mike, just think about it. It at least COULD help the Gators go far in the NCAA.

    • Randy – Anybody who has watched 10 minutes of Fla basketball this year can see the same thing so I doubt Coach White doesn’t understand it as well. We’re just limited offensively with Hayes in the middle. He’s not a threat to score with his back to the basket. And yes, inside out drills and post drills can help and no doubt they worked on them in the off-season but he is what he is. It’s tough to develop soft hands and coordination for these big guys. Especially someone of his size. One dribble, drop step, turn and shoot is not his strength. Because he is not a threat to post and score and doesn’t have the soft hands to catch and pass back out it’s more of a liability to send the ball down low to him. Because of that our game is perimeter and when the shooters get cold it can stifle the offense. I don’t think anyone can disagree with your points though. You just need the personal to accomplish

      • Simon – Defenses have figured out to try to punch the ball out of Hayes’ hands every time he touches it down low. If they don’t get the turnover, he is fouled because he can’t hurt them at the charity stripe. He should either quickly kick it out or make a strong move to the basket before they have time to try to punch the ball out. No more hesitating, faking, or dribbling. The downside of the quick strong move is the refs might call an offensive foul. We can’t afford to have a BIG in foul trouble. We especially need him on defense where he is pretty good at blocking shots.

  7. Randy, I think your comments are valid, but your 5th paragraph just explains why Mike White can’t do what you’re asking him to do in your 3rd paragraph. Hayes has bad hands and bad footwork, and although I’m sure they’ve worked with him during his 3 seasons here, it doesn’t seem likely that he’ll be able to develop good hands and good footwork at this point in his career. A fumbled entry pass ruins the timing of a kick-out pass, and as you pointed out, Hayes fumbles a lot of entry passes. Gak isn’t any better at this point, but maybe if his knees get better and he can practice harder, he’ll develop in his last two seasons.

    • Glad that your analysis agrees with mine. However, I do think that there is no evidence that Hayes has been schooled to kick the ball out, not bring it down, certainly not ever put it on the floor. Just tell Hayes that if he fails to do this, he comes out. If he does it next time…he stays on the bench. That is not too hard for him to understand.

      • The problem is that with Hayes on the bench we have no one there to protect the rim. Almost all of the problems you identify are a result of Egbunu and Stokes not being available. Hayes should be a 12 minute a game guy; he’s doing his best, and I appreciate that, but his best, at this point, is not SEC starter level. Take the top two bigs off of any team in the NCAA tourney and they would be an easy out. JMO

      • Randy, I agree that whatever instruction Hayes may have gotten doesn’t show up on the court, but I just can’t believe the coaching staff hasn’t tried to teach him. I wonder if the fact that all the Florida coaches who played in college were guards has something to do with the poor play from the Gator centers. I’m not saying you need to have played the position to know how to coach it, but I think having the experience would help.

    • Glad that your analysis agrees with mine. However, I do think that there is no evidence that Hayes has been schooled to kick the ball out, not bring it down, certainly not ever put it on the floor. Just tell Hayes that if he fails to do this, he comes out. If he does it next time…he stays on the bench. That is not too hard for him to understand.

    • For some individuals positive motivation is the best motivation. I do not second judge White’s judgement on that. The important thing is WHAT is emphasized/taught…not HOW it is taught.

      Even at my age, I would not judge anything as millennial. There are things to be learned from every generation.

  8. I believe this team lacks, in order, inside size and scoring ability, experienced and proven quality depth, and mental toughness. Given the plethora of significant injuries to the big guys and the absence of three of them all year, it’s not surprising that our team at times struggles. Aside from Egbunu it seems Justin Leon is the biggest missing piece from last year’s squad. Leon was a scrappy, garbage collecting, lunch-pail warrior. No one else has stepped into that hole. Hoping our Gators win a few here. It’ll demand a series of outstanding games from Jalen Hudson to do so.

    • If Jalen gets two early fouls, roll the dice and don’t sit him for the rest of the half. He does not have a history of foul trouble like Hayes or Gak. We need his offensive threat on the court throughout the game more than trying to save him for late in a close game. He got benched for the rest of the half with two fouls against Arkansas at the 8:06 mark. Take him out for a couple minutes and then put him back in.

    • Clyde, I agree, although I think Koulechov is the “lunch-pail warrior”, leading the team in rebounding at only 6′ 5″ and often having to guard the other team’s fours and fives. I think you’re right about Hudson, too. Maybe he can carry the team like Robinson did in the first two rounds last year.

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