Florida basketball coach Mike White sees a tough challenge when his Gators face 10th-ranked Michigan State today at noon.
More than anything, he sees a team that is what he wants his team to be.
The Gators (5-3) are coming off a defensive clubbing of West Virginia in New York City on Tuesday. Florida is showing through eight games that it has a potential to be an elite defensive team.
Offense is another story.
Michigan State can do both.
The program known for its defense is 16th in the country in scoring at 87.2 points per game and still is a top-25 team in defensive efficiency.
“They execute as well as anybody,” White said. “They are terrific at pounding you. They’re a really good basketball team.
“Michigan State is as tough as any college basketball program as there is in my opinion. I’ve always admired their level of discipline and toughness.
We’ll be very much tested.”
The Spartans (7-2) will offer Florida another thing today — an opportunity.
The win Tuesday night over West Virginia was important, but the Mountaineers were unranked.
You beat Michigan State and it gets people’s attention and gives you a brightly-colored feather for your NCAA Tournament resume.
“It would be big for us to get a win like that,” said senior KeVaughn Allen.
But to do that, Florida cannot rely only on a defense that ranks second in the SEC. The Gators need a little help from an offense that ranks 12th in the conference.
“We’re still trying to find ourselves offensively,” White said. “Shots just aren’t really falling for us. We’re still searching.
“We’re going to continue to try to be a really good defensive team and continue to get better, but we also understand we have to get much better offensively if we’re going to be competitive in the SEC and get to postseason play and make a run. Hopefully we can make a jump in the next couple of months.”
Certainly, the Gators saw good things from Allen on Tuesday, when he scored a team-high 19 points and was aggressive in attacking the basket.
But Allen knows that right now this is a team whose identity is hard-nosed defense.
“Every day, we just stress defense, try to make that our motto,” Allen said. “Whether we’re hitting shots on offense or not we have to keep playing defense. It is harder (when shots are not falling), but you just have to maintain and keep our focus.”
For the Gators, the challenges are everywhere. They have to get better at offensive rebounding, but at the same time have to get back in transition where Michigan State makes a living on fast-break points.
More than anything, they have to continue playing physical and tough the way they did against West Virginia.
“We took a step,” White said. “We’re going to have to be better in this one to have a chance. Our level of toughness and physicality has gotta be as good as its been all year, even better than the other day.”
Who: No. 10 Michigan State (7-2) vs. Florida (5-3)
Where: O’Connell Center
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850
KeVaughn Allen; G; 6-2; Sr.; 10.0 ppg; 2.8 apg
Noah Locke; G; 6-3; Fr.; 8.3 ppg; 1.6 rpg
Andrew Nembhard; G; 6-5; Fr.; 7.3 ppg; 6.5 apg
Keith Stone; F; 6;8; Jr.; 6.8 ppg; 5.0 rpg
Kevarrius Hayes; C; 6-9; Sr.; 7.4 ppg; 6.0 rpg
NO. 10 MICHIGAN STATE (7-2)
Kenny Gains; F; 6-7; Sr.; 7.0 ppg; 10.4 rpg
Nick Ward; F; 6-9; Jr.; 15.9 ppg; 6.0 rpg
Kyle Ahrens; G; 6-6; Jr.; 5.8 ppg; 2.6 rpg
Joshua Langford; G; 6-5; Jr.; 17.1 ppg; 3.7 rpg
Cassius Winston; G; 6-1; Jr.; 16.8; ppg; 7.7 apg
NOTES: The game completes a home-and-home series (delayed by UF’s arena construction) against the Spartans, as Florida played in East Lansing, Mich., in 2015, a 58-52 win for Michigan State, which was unbeaten at the time … Kevarrius Hayes and KeVaughn Allen were the only current Gators to play in that game … Florida ranks second in the SEC in scoring defense, steals and turnover margin … Freshman guard Andrew Nembhard has led Florida in assists in every game. He has 52 assists and only 11 turnovers this season.
— Pat Dooley