UF basketball team eager to display lessons learned during break

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Florida forward Keith Stone shoots over the defense of a Michigan State player in the Dec. 8 game at the O'Connell Center. [Lauren Bacho/Staff Photographer]

Ten days have passed since Florida dropped to 5-4 after a 63-59 loss to Michigan State — giving coach Mike White and the Gators plenty of time to process the circumstances surrounding the defeat.

When the UF men’s basketball team returns to the court at 8 p.m. Tuesday to face Mercer in Exactech Arena at the O’Connell Center, White is hoping the lessons learned in the interim will be put into practice come tip-off.

“Our guys have (been) pretty good at taking advantage of this window. They’ve handled their business,” White said. “We’ve gone long and hard. We’ve had some very, very taxing practices and our guys have responded pretty well. We’ve gotten a little bit better. Hopefully it carries over against the Bears.”

It’s no secret the Gators have struggled at times on the offensive end, as all four losses this season have been marked by considerable scoring droughts. After jumping out to a 5-0 lead against the Spartans, the Gators made just one field goal over the ensuing 10:46 of action.

The dysfunction on offense has led to some unexpected changes in the early going.

As seniors KeVaughn Allen and Jalen Hudson continue to struggle, too, White has tinkered with the starting line-up, thrusting freshman Noah Locke in for Hudson after just four games and never looking back.

Locke has responded well, averaging 8.9 points during his five starts — although the sharpshooter added just a lone basket in 20 minutes against Michigan State. After the dust had settled, however, Locke and the Gators were harping on the necessity of playing wisely — especially if the 10-day reprieve didn’t amend the struggles on the offensive end.

“I feel like, as a team, we could have played much more smart towards the end of the game. There was a couple loose balls we should have got,” Locke said. “Those little things, if we had got those little things, I feel like we would have won the game.”

It’s a sentiment White expressed in the immediate aftermath of the loss to the Spartans, saying Florida didn’t deserve to win after failing to dive for a decisive loose ball down the stretch. Practice prior to the match-up with the Bears (4-6) has been fine-tuned as a result of Florida’s inaction, said Locke.

“Every day in practice now we do loose-ball drills, where it’s like we throw it off the backboard or we roll on the ground and we go, like, go get it just with two hands,” Locke said. “Not just dribbling out of it. Just securing it. We do that every day.”

With just three games until the Gators open SEC play on Jan. 5 against South Carolina, White may not be done tinkering with the starting five.

“I think every year you reevaluate yourselves, really in every facet. After a lot of practices, a lot of games — especially when you have a 10-day window — we’ve added some wrinkles. I’m sure Mercer has, too,” White said. “You find windows where you can practice for consecutive days without scouting your next opponent. Who knows? This won’t be the only time all year with a window where we evaluate it.”


Today

Who: Mercer (4-6) vs. Florida (5-4)

When: 8 p.m.

Where: O’Connell Center

TV: SEC Network

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850

PROJECTED STARTERS

Florida

Keith Stone; F; 6-8; 6.9 ppg; 5.1 rpg

Kevarrius Hayes; C; 6-9; 7.2 ppg; 6.2 rpg

Andrew Nembhard; G; 6-5; 7.9 ppg; 6.1 apg

KeVaughn Allen; G; 6-2; 10.3 ppg; 2.4 rpg

Noah Locke; G; 6-3; 7.6 ppg; 1.6 rpg

Mercer

Cory Kilby; F; 6-7; 7.6 ppg; 4.7 rpg

Djordje Dimitrijevic; G; 6-2; 12.2 ppg; 3.1 rpg

Jaylen Stowe; G; 6-4; 11.6 ppg; 5.3 rpg

Ross Cummings; G; 6-3; 13.5 ppg; 2.4 rpg

Ethan Stair; G; 6-4; 10.1 ppg; 6.1 rpg

NOTES: Just when UF gets redshirt freshman Chase Johnson cleared from concussion protocal, it has to be concerned with two more injuries. “Dontay Bassett hyperextended his knee and he’s been out,” coach Mike White said Monday. “He’s not competed and may be cleared by today, and then Deaundrae Ballard had a concussion, and he’s been out. He’s questionable for today and tomorrow as well. Gorjok Gak’s status quo, just rehabbing (from offseason knee surgery) every day.” The Gators play Mercer in Gainesville for the first time since 1979. … Florida took the lone meeting between the teams since then, topping the Bears in Jacksonville two seasons ago while Exactech Arena was under renovation. … UF has won the game following a loss all three prior instances this season. … The Gators rank 2nd in the SEC in scoring defense (61.8) and turnover margin (+5.2) and 3rd in steals (9.2). Freshman point guard Andrew Nembhard is among the SEC leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio (2nd, 3.9) and assists per game (4th, 6.1), while KeVaughn Allen’s two steals per game are tied for 2nd in the SEC. Florida is ranked 7th in KenPom defensive efficiency ratings. … Since giving up 81 points in the season opener, the Gators haven’t allowed an opponent to reach 70 points and have held two foes under 50. … UF has held its last five major-conference opponents at least 19 points below their scoring average entering the game, including holding WVU more than 30 points below its average in the Jimmy V Classic win.

— Graham Hall

13 COMMENTS

  1. Going with a three-guard offense (does not include Hudson) can produce wins if the 4 and 5 will do their jobs on the boards. So far, to me, Hayes has just not shown enough to make this work. Hopefully, someone has lit a fire under his you-know-what because Gators–again–are lacking an inside presence. Will Hayes perform like the Hayes he should be or will he be Gabby Hayes?

    • No offense intended, cattrick, but if you even know who Gabby Hayes is/was, then you’re surely old enough to remember Elvin Hayes. I think that’s too much to ask of Kevarrius, but maybe we could settle for Isaac Hayes. I don’t know if he could play ball, but he sure looked mean and tough in the Rockford Files!

  2. Good article, Graham. But I would also like to know about how the bigs are working on scoring, and ‘O’ rebounding, too. The Mercer game won’t be much of a challenge for the Florida bigs, or it shouldn’t be, since Mercer is starting ‘4’ guards, too. I know how to ”enjoy the journey” as Mark Wise often says. I’d just like to see drastic improvement under the rim: in the paint scoring, and offensive rebounding. No ”one and done” on ‘O’, the problem of droughts of not scoring for U.F. Then ”the journey” will truly be underway.
    But still, ”Go Gators!”

  3. I’m going to make a point. I’m not “bashing” mind you, just offering some constructive criticism and insight.

    I’ve watched two very poor coaches lead our football program in the 7 years previous to this season; Muschamp and McElwain. In that time span, we had only one solid season, in 2012. The rest were pretty unforgettable. Muschamp was a hard-core recruiter (mostly defense), but he didn’t wreck the program per – say, but he didn’t help it either. Then there was McElwain, who actually DID wreck the program, but admittedly put together a very good start in his first season with a Heisman – level QB who got suspended after 6 games (Grier), and then it went to pot after that, but he still managed a 9 win season with the great defensive talent brought in by the coach before him.

    Difference between the two? Muschamp was a solid recruiter, but was oo one – dimensional in his philosophy and interfered in his offenses too much. Sadly, he still hasn’t changed.

    McElwain was a poor organizer hired too many “pals and buddies” to his staff, and was an inconsistent recruiter, but his biggest weakness was that he couldn’t handle the reins of a big – time Division I football program.

    I like Mike White as a person, think he recruits pretty good too, but as an acual “X’s and O’s” coach, I just don’t see it.

    • But, in his past two years as coach we were NCAA bound, Two years ago elite 8, last year, played tough and could have won against a very good team in the second game. Results thus far are positive. This season is very early, we’ll see when conf play starts in Jan.

    • Could be very true as we are in desperate need of an inside game yet we play this 1 – 4 offense ( one guy inside and 4 beyond the 3 point line ) and Coach White has never played two of our bigger guys at the same time when we clearly need points in the paint. That’s X’s and O’s and an adjustment Billy D. would have made a long time ago for at least parts of the game and really makes no sense if you think about it.

  4. White does not breathe fire as a coach. I think he is trying to find the right combination(s). That’s difficult this year because Hudson has disappeared and Hayes has never appeared. And Gak has been on the IR for the past 5 years. And inconsistent shooting and horrible free-throw shooting. White has the capability to find the right formula, but he needs players who can SCORE consistently. The only offense he has not tried (that I have seen) is an up-tempo, full-court press using a 3-guard system. Well, we shall see how the 3-guard works. In my coaching experience, it only works when: 1. the guards can shoot from the outside 2. can play defense 3. have speed in transition and drives to the basket 4. have a big presence at the 4 and 5 spots 5. have a consistent No. 1 who can make the dribble, drive, pass to the open player.
    We have to see how White manages as the SEC season plays out. Right now, I do NOT see a 4 or 5 dominant player and I do NOT see consistent outside scoring. Nems is a pleasant surprise, but is only a freshman. He can’t do it all, but his teammates are putting a lot of pressure on him. I do see this team going 15-16 before the SEC tournament. I hope White proves me wrong. Make that: I hope the inconsistent seniors on this team wake up and realize they are SENIORS and are not playing with any intensity. White knows his X and O’s. Does he know his players?