Lack of frontcourt on display in UF loss

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Florida coach Mike White gestures to a ref while asking for an explanation of a foul Saturday against Tennessee in Exactech Arena at the O'Connell Center. [Brad McClenny/Staff photographer]

Despite the early success from long-range, it was Florida’s lack of a legitimate frontcourt that was on full display in Saturday’s 78-67 loss to No. 3 Tennessee.

The Gators threatened and would lead several times throughout the night, but the Volunteers had an answer each and every time: dump it down low.

While Florida’s weapon of choice was the 3-pointer — in the first half, at least — Tennessee was making the Gators pay in the paint. The Vols finished with 34 points in the paint, as the Gators mustered just 12 such points under the basket, and Florida only took six two-point field goals in the first half as opposed 19 attempts from beyond the arc.

Florida was aware of the disadvantage coming into the game, and coach Mike White opted once again to run four guards out on the floor, replacing senior Jalen Hudson with the struggling Keith Stone.

Ultimately, neither player would make a serious impact — Hudson and Stone combined for just six points on 1-for-11 shooting, as the Gators struggled to score inside against the Vols.

In fact, it was 6-foot-9 redshirt sophomore Dontay Bassett who would make the most significant impact at the “four” for the Gators — but, with the result in the rear view, White harped on Florida’s lack of a legitimate power forward.

“We really only have one true four in our program, and that’s Keith Stone. And (former Gator) Chase Johnson was recruited to play the four. Jalen Hudson, he’s a two-guard and Dontay Bassett’s a five,” White said. “We’ve got to get better at that spot. Our fours are sitting behind that arc a bunch as we struggle to score on the interior.”

The Gators wouldn’t score a field goal for the final 3:35 of the second half, and UF’s lack of an offensive threat in the frontcourt resulted in the offense routinely settling for contested shots from long-distance.

Freshman point guard Andrew Nembhard was one of several Gators who struggled with his shot, but the other two Florida freshmen — Keyontae Johnson and Noah Locke — had success against the Volunteers, leading White to praise Locke’s 16-point performance and envision Johnson’s possible future on the floor.

En route to scoring five points and yanking down five rebounds in just 14 minutes, Johnson was one of two Gators to finish with a positive plus-minus against the Vols, with senior center Kevarrius Hayes being the other.

It may not have been the seniors letting down the Gators, but Saturday was seemingly further proof that Florida’s future lies in the hands of the freshmen — even in the depleted frontcourt.

“Keyontae Johnson’s a wing playing some mis-matched-four minutes, doing some four-guard stuff. Got to be careful about telling him he’s a four,” White said. “He’s our best athlete.”


Up next

Who: Florida (9-6, 1-2 SEC) vs. No. 14 Mississippi State (12-3, 0-2)

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Humphrey Coliseum, Starkville, Miss.

TV: SEC Network

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850

29 COMMENTS

  1. Since we lack an inside presence it’s Coach White’s responsibility to get creative and make the necessary adjustments to offset this as best as we can until we recruit more big men and so far he hasn’t really done anything and we are 15 games into the season and I think our inside weakness has been evident to most of us since game one. Well, I’m not a coach so figure it out Coach White – you got bright people working with you. Call Billy D and ask for his suggestions. I don’t know. Play Johnson down low more. Play 2 of Hayes and Bassett or Stokes at the same time and position them creatively around the paint and reduce the 4 guard offense. Maybe it won’t work but at least try some new things besides the same 4 guard offense literally every minute of every game.

  2. Chase Johnson, F, 6-9, 205 lb. Sophomore (Transferred from U.F.).
    Isaiah Stokes, F, 6-8 , 270 lb. Freshman. (Injured too often with knee issues).
    Gorjok Gak, C, 6-11, 245 lb. Junior. (Injured too often with knee and weight issues).
    Kevarrius Hayes, F/C, 6-9, 225 lb. Senior. (Great effort, lacks ball skills on offense).
    Dontay Bassett, F, 6-9, 240 lb. Sophomore. (My personal hope for a ”jewel in the rough”).
    Keith Stone, F, 6-8, 245 lb. Junior. (Too often he thinks he’s only a shooting guard).

    So Florida Men’s Basketball presently has only has 3 healthy bigs. And so Coach Mike White, like Steveob above says, ”has to get creative” with the U.F. big men this season. My problem is Coach White and his staff have had this same problem for 2 consecutive years (bigs in the paint) at Florida.
    You can make the argument that 1/2 of Coach White’s career at U.F. has been plagued by ”lack of quality big men play.” That’s either really bad luck for these U.F. Men’s Basketball coaches (in addition to their very little ”on the fly adjustments” by these coaches, so far with the bigs). Or it’s a serious lack of ability to foresee the future Florida big man problems and weaknesses of your team. Only Coach White knows the truth. We, Gator fans, can only go by the ”eye test,” and that has not been very pretty lately for the bigs. Especially since Casey Prather, Justin ”JUMPING” Leon, and Big John Egbunu left the Univ. of Florida Men’s Basketball Team. However, I am keeping my fingers crossed that these Florida coaches can recognize, react, and readjust what they’re doing, and then make some magic happen in the paint for the U.F. big men. Hopefully then, this team goes on a winning streak in SEC league play.
    Go Gators!

    • (Obvious) Correction: It is Isaiah Stokes, F, 6-8 , 270 lbs. that has the ”knee problems, along with a weight problem.” Gak has only a knee problem, and that is quite enough. But IF ONLY Stokes could get healthy, I could see him as another ”Meat Hook!” The one and only Demitirus Hill. I’m giving away my age, but for you ”young Gators,” Demitirus Hill was instrumental in the Florida Gators’ 1st EVER Final Four appearance, way back when I wore a young man’s clothes in 1994.

          • Joe, no kidding!!!!! Brinkley ranks right up there with Cheryl Teages on my “Old Farts Fantasy” list. Even my lovely wife of 43 years agrees with me on that! I’m betting at least one of these beauties is on Gator-6’s list as well (if he’s allowed to have one).

          • Joe, how can you say that??!! Billy Joel is such a hunk!
            Imagine if he had no fame and fortune. Think there would be a Brinkley in his sphere?

          • Ha!!! Good one, gelco. However, I’m gonna let your characterization of The Piano Man as a “hunk” go without comment and take it for it’s intended sarcasmic (I know, it’s not a real word, but it should be.) value. To answer your question, though, maybe David Brinkley, but certainly not Christie!

        • Thanks Dan! I am a half a century old now, and it’s is a great song from my childhood. And some of us Gator fans are truly blessed to have witnessed what we have, the changes from mediocrity to winning in football & basketball.
          We’ve watched 5 Final Four appearances, and so many Elite 8’s, I can’t even count them. Thanks to Coach Billy ‘D’ & Coach Steve Spurrier for teaching us Gators how to win. So when we ”want more,” well, sue us for caring too much!
          Go Gators!

          • Amen brother! UF was basically irrelevant in most college sports when I was growing up in Florida. What Spurrier and Donovan accomplished in their respective times has had a lasting effect. UF is ONLY school to hold NC’s in both football and men’s basketball in the same school year. Add to this what O’Sullivan accomplished in baseball puts UF as one of only 4 schools that have won NC’s in the 3 major men’s team sports. That short list also includes UCLA, Ohio St. and Michigan. Pretty good company I would say. And yes, I would love more, as long as we do it the right way. Go Gators.

          • With you, gi. I hope you and Dan will join me in what Pat Dooley calls “negative rooting” for (against?) Michigan during March Madness, so hopefully, Sully can win another CWS this summer and allow UF to be the first school to win multiple NC’s in all three major sports. Go Gators!

    • gi, put me in the camp of “bad luck. I think the list of bigs is itself evidence that CMW has tried to address the front court issues, but has simply been bitten by an injury bug infestation. At the risk of dredging up bad memories, it’s reminiscent of Mac’s QB issues. CMW had Egbunu until his knee injury during the Elite Eight season, and Mac had Grier until the PED suspension in 2015. After those unfortunate incidents, it was all downhill. CMW seems to be gaining momentum in recruiting and is competing for 5 stars with the Blue Bloods. I think he’ll get the problem fixed, but it won’t be this season.

      • Joe, you’re being more than fair to Coach White for saying you’re in the ”camp of bad luck. ” And I respect that! Also your comparison to Coach Mac and Will Grier’s PED problem (from GNC, LOL) is spot on, too. However, I just don’t fully understand how these Gator basketball coaches, while knowing all of this ”bad luck” was heading their way this season (as Gak’s been hurt since he’s been here, Stokes too, and they knew Chase Johnson was a ”head case”, pardon the pun), and yet the coaches only compensated for all their ”bad luck” by apparently saying, ”…just keep on throwing up the 3’s!” That’s my biggest complaint, these coaches inability to ”improvise, adapt, and overcome” their bad luck. But on a side note, I really dig your ”Snoopy” profile pic.

        • Well, I don’t want to sound as if I’m making excuses for CMW and staff, because I think you’re right that they should’ve seen some of this coming. On the other hand, one way to score in the paint without a good post player is to have one or more players who can drive and slash to the basket like Prather did for the ’13-14 team. Hudson showed last season that he could get past almost anyone, although finishing at the rim was no guarantee. With his 3 point shooting dropping to about 22%, though, his defender can play off him to keep him from driving. Maybe White was counting on that production from Hudson, and I don’t think anyone foresaw him dropping from a 40% shooter to a 22% shooter. I’m not sure CMW has the pieces to make too many other adjustments, but it is his responsibility to figure it out.

          Regarding Snoopy, thanks. That’s my “Joe Cool”, aka “Joe Gator” pic that I have copied and pasted and cropped and edited into the masterpiece you now see. No telling how many copyright laws I’ve violated, but so far, Arnold has turned a blind eye to my misdeeds.

  3. Mike White has a great class coming in next year and it will be interesting to see what he can do with it. My biggest worry with Mike White is that he struggles to put an entire program together. A basketball program includes strength and conditioning, recruiting, player development, assistant coaches, scheming, scouting and in-game coaching. I totally understand a bad season. Sometimes it just doesn’t work and your players aren’t that good or there are injuries. What worries me is the red flags that are coming up all over the program. When you begin having to explain away multiple issues in multiple facets of the program, it is worrisome.

    He is constantly complaining about the desire of this team and their lack of aggressiveness. That is both a strength and conditioning problem and a recruitment problem. We are obviously not recruiting aggressive players that make up for their lack of stars with their heart and physicality. Furthermore, it seems as the S&C program is getting our players bigger, but not tougher.

    This seems to be flowing over in to player development. Our guards are improving their abilities (somewhat) but not their leadership. Most of the time, this player development work is done by the assistant coaches in off-season position practices. I worry that our assistants are either being pulled to tight or are not experienced enough. The assistant coach hiring debacle last year seemed like a blip…or a sign of more internal issues?

    The video of Mike White sitting in the timeout staring at stat cards was pretty embarrassing for him, but its also embarrassing watching all his assistant coaches standing around and staring at him. In other huddles, they have already informed the coach of the match-ups and they are coaching up the players until the head coach is ready to call the play. They all just sat around and stared at each other.

    In year four, White has no one to blame but himself for his personnel. If he lacks a 4-man, its because he did not recruit enough true fours. Transfers and injuries happen and you have to plan for it. Giving him the benefit of the doubt is ok, because he had to follow Billy D and create relationships. However, it still is a red flag. I actually think that he understands this and is doing a much better job on the recruiting trail to fix it.

    I think that Mike White is a good coach and I can’t tell if he is too controlling of his program and does not let his assistants and trainers do their jobs or if he is too hands off and just has under-experienced assistants. Either way, I think White’s biggest weakness is his ability to manage a big-time basketball program. I definitely think he can learn but I think he needs to begin looking big picture at why these issues seem to be happening each year. He needs to look beyond the players and roster and at his program to decide if he has the right people in the right roles. Billy Donovan did this constantly. First he recruited a ton of McDonalds All Americans. He changed his style of play and took the emphasis off pressing as much and relied on the ability of the players. Then he realized that he needed role players and hustle guys to compliment them and create a complete team. Then he brought in Shyatt and some experience to his bench. All those changes brought him success but helped him build all those teams that went to Final 4s and Elite 8s. White needs to figure out his formula and I think he can; I just hope he is not too stubborn to change some things with his program.

  4. Same ole same ole
    If you are winning and leading the game in entire game and losing at the buzzer. It is called bad game management, half time adjustment by opposing team hence BAD COACHING.
    All the players Mike White has coached have regressed from day one.

    • Reza, your constant repetitive comment about ALL players regressing under White’s coaching is getting stale. Give it a rest. It’s asinine and diminishes the validity of your comment about late in-game management, which has some merit.

  5. Mike White just has too many players who do not do their assigned jobs on the court well enough to compete with teams like Vols for an entire game. And he does not have currently the same type of athletes that the Vols do. I think he will next year and beyond. And the center recruit coming in next year is a duplicate of Hayes physically, but Omar Payne can dribble, catch, run, score, block, and play defense as a total package unlike Hayes (who is primarily just a defensive player (mostly shot blocker) with hardly any offensive skills including really bad hands and really poor around the basket scoring skills. And Stone cannot jump. Neither can Stone. And Allen is too inconsistent and Hudson is just terrible on both ends of the court. This team just has too many player flaws to be very successful this year. But there are some really talented recruits coming in next year to go with some very good young players this year. And Nembrand is not quick enough or good enough on offense to be an elite PG in the SEC. Teams are starting to back off of him with no fear of his shot, and that is just making it much worse for Florida to get shots off uncontested both outside and inside. Lots of issues with this team. Hope White can figure something out. I think it starts with not playing Hudson much anymore. He is just terrible and hurts everything when he is on the court.

  6. Strong defensive effort! It was an exciting game to watch. I thought there was some good creativity, spacing the floor with the guards to get open looks. UT is a tough match-up for the gators (glad some of those guys are gone next year), other teams won’t have two dominant forwards to contend with. Keep playing great D and enough shots will fall to win games.

  7. It’s a perfect storm…injuries and a key transfer are dooming this basketball team. I am concerned that we just don’t have any quality bigs in the program, even without the injuries. By quality I mean real bangers down low who can provide reliable points in the post. We have to have at least two of them to be a high level team (IMO). Will we ever get there with a Coach White team? I hope so, but I have doubts. I question if he can bring in the quality of low post talent to be truly competitive for titles. Now he can recruit some guards, no doubt. But bigs? I hope this will not be the reason for his eventual demise as our coach. I’m a Coach White fan, I just hope he can put a complete roster together.

  8. White and staff have whiffed in recruiting and developing BIGS since they arrived from LaTech. We probably have the worst front-court roster in the SEC. CMW needs to look in the mirror. This is 100% on him. Also, offensive sets when the game is slowed down are painful to watch. Would like to see White hire an offensive innovator much like the marvelous Billy D. hired a defensive mastermind in Larry Shyatt. Outlook for remainder of 2019 not so bright.

  9. It was expected that 2019 would be a rebuilding and developmental year for the Gators. It is. It’s not helping to have so many of our bigs with injuries.

    Sure, there’s latent scoring ability in the senior leadership of the team. When the shots go down, they can carry a freshmen point guard and give away some size inside. When the shots go down…

    I expect Coach White will have to continue patching together different lineups this season, with the emphasis on defense and small ball. That’s what we have to work with this season.

    • This was not expected to be a rebuilding year for the Gators. Everybody back from an NCAA tournament team with the exception of Chiozza and Egor Koulechov. Nembhard was rated 5 star and Locke and Johnson highly regarded too. There was no inside game last year . There were two instances in the Tennessee game when Hayes had a point guard playing behind him down low and he passed the ball out. You would have seen many Gator point guards in the past that would have taken the Tennessee player to the hoop. The big miss for the Gators was not being able to sign Noah Dickinson former Billy D recruit whom signed with Washington instead, Kast year Dickinson 6’8 235 was first team PAC 10. White was able to keep Hayes, Stone, and Allan, but not Dickinson.