White looking for improved toughness, defense

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Florida coach Mike White speaks Wednesday during the SEC men's college basketball media day in Birmingham, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Florida’s 25-point win over Florida Southern in the exhibition opener for both programs Tuesday featured a Gator program grappling with issues similar to those from the 2017-18 campaign: lackluster defense and subpar communication, with brief glimpses of potential greatness mixed in.

While it isn’t as simple as that analysis makes it seem, Gators coach Mike White criticized the defensive drop-off in the immediate conclusion of the contest, refusing to pin the lapses on the frequent rotations. And after going over the film with the team, White found another area in which it must improve before the season opener Tuesday at 9 p.m. at Florida State.

Once again, it’s an aspect White faced just last season.

“One thing, since you ask, that jumped out, I didn’t quite see it as it happened while we were live, was shot selection. I just felt we took seven or eight really questionable (shots), and that hadn’t happened with this group yet (in practice),” White said. “We had shot selection issues, especially early on last year, that were cleaned up at the end of the year for the most part, at least. For the first time that I think our guys played in front of people, peers, fans, family, I don’t think we handled it really well.”

Those fond faces will be gone Tuesday, replaced with ones of jeering fans clad in garnet and gold, meaning White has continued to stress the importance of developing toughness. With the No. 19 toughest schedule in the Pomeroy preseason rankings, the Gators have a slim window in which to toughen up.

Like most issues, this is nothing new for White. It wasn’t all scrutiny, however — he did adorn the current Gators with some praise, saying they’re slightly ahead of the curve when it comes to developing that invaluable grit.

“I thought last year’s team had some softness issues. I think we do currently right now. I say we, I’m part of it, I’m leading it. I hate to say ‘My guys are soft’. We’re a bit soft right now,” White said. “I do think that from a physicality standpoint, we’re a little bit tougher than we were this time last year. We’ve got a ways to go, but from a mental toughness standpoint even further of a ways to go.”

But that treacherous non-conference slate — in which the Gators will play the likes of FSU, Michigan State and Oklahoma within the span of 32 days — is one that should do Florida more good than harm.

“If I had a preference I might choose to (open the season) this way. Both of us, leading into the game and after the opener, immediately afterward, will have had the opportunity to hang our hat on a month of practice leading into that game,” White said, before cautioning the team to attack its preparation in the brief window remaining before the season opens Tuesday. “If we have a great week leading into this game, it’s a lot different (than) having an average week leading into a guarantee game and playing a low-major team. It’s a great test for both teams early on in the year. A good measuring stick to see where we both are.”


Tuesday

Who: Florida at Florida State

When: 9 p.m.

TV: ESPN2