Ranking aside, Florida looks to improve


Kasey Hill drives past a St. Bonaventure defender in Lakeland on Nov. 17.

Ernst Peters/The Ledger
Published: Thursday, December 1, 2016 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 30, 2016 at 9:23 p.m.

To second-year Florida coach Mike White, rankings are nice.

Facts

Today

Who: No. 24 Florida (6-1) vs. North Florida (3-5)

When: 7 p.m.

Where: UNF Arena, Jacksonville

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850

But ultimately, White said the focus should be on what the Gators need to do to improve heading into tonight's basketball game at North Florida.

Earlier this week, Florida cracked the AP Top 25 at No. 24 for the first time in more than two years and the first time under White.

“It speaks to trending in a positive direction,” White said. “It's exciting for our fans and our players, but ultimately it doesn't mean a whole lot. It doesn't have anything to do with the next game or the rest of your schedule. It's never a predictor on how you finish your season or how you'll play or anything like that this time of year.”

Florida earned the ranking with wins over Seton Hall and Miami and a close loss to No. 8 Gonzaga during last weekend's AdvoCare Invitational at Disney World's Wide World of Sports Complex.

“Have been pretty good thus far? Yeah, we have,” White said. “But we're still focused on a daily basis on getting better.”

As a freshman, senior point guard Kasey Hill was part of a Florida team that climbed to No. 1 in the country by early March and reached the Final Four before falling to eventual national champion Connecticut. Hill has weathered UF's rebuilding process since.

“We won a couple of big games, but it doesn't mean anything,” Hill said. “We've just got to keep playing together as a team, and don't let any noise come in and worry about each other.”

As a ranked team, Florida will be a target heading into its first true road game of the season. Florida has some familiarity with UNF's gym, having beaten the Ospreys 97-68 there in the first round of the NIT last March 15. In that game, Florida overwhelmed UNF by converting 16 of 32 from 3-point range. Florida is shooting just 29.2 percent from beyond the arc this season.

“I would hope our guys would walk in there with a little bit of confidence, unlike walking into a place where you've really, really struggled,” White said. “Now, North Florida is a very good program coming off a couple of consecutive (Atlantic Sun Conference) championships, I believe. And so I don't think we can expect the lopsided margin at halftime as we saw last year in the NIT, it was our best shooting night of the year. I don't think we can hang our hat on that but I don't think our guys will go in there lacking confidence, either.”

North Florida returns three starters from a team that finished 22-12 and won the Atlantic Sun Conference regular season title a season ago. Speedy senior UNF point guard Dallas Moore scored 23 points against the Gators last season.

White said it will be important for Florida's whole team to contain Moore, considering how much switching the Gators do defensively on a game-by-game basis.

“We can't just slow him down with one guy,” White said. “We've got to be in those gaps, collectively, slow him down and set our man-to-man defense."

With an older team with four returning upperclassmen who are starters, White said he expects his team to handle being ranked with maturity.

“I can't guarantee you we'll have an incredible mindset now that we are ranked,” White said. “But that's where it should be. And I don't anticipate us veering too far from where we were heading into last weekend with our focus. We have a good group of guys. I'd be surprised if we got out of character tomorrow night.”

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or kevin.brockway@gvillesun.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.

PROBABLE STARTERS

Florida

G . . . KeVaughn Allen . . . 6-2 . . . So. . . . 13.4 ppg . . . 2.6 rpg

G . . . Kasey Hill . . . 6-1 . . . Sr. . . . 8.0 ppg . . . 3.9 apg

F . . . Devin Robinson . . . 6-8 . . . Jr. . . . 12.0 ppg . . . 5.6 rpg

F . . . Justin Leon . . . 6-8 . . . RSr. . . . 6.7 ppg . . . 4.1 rpg

C . . . John Egbunu . . . 6-11 . . . RJr. . . . 9.4 ppg . . . 7.9 rpg

North Florida

G . . . Nick Malonga . . . 6-5 . . . RJr. . . . 2.8 ppg . . . 1.9 rpg

G . . . Dallas Moore . . . 6-1 . . . Sr. . . . 19.1 ppg . . . 3.3 rpg

G . . . Aaron Bodager . . . 6-5 . . . RSr. . . . 5.9 ppg . . . 4.3 rpg

F . . . Chris Davenport . . . 6-8 . . . Sr. . . . 7.1 ppg . . . 5.0 rpg

C . . . Romelo Banks . . . 6-11 . . . RJr. . . . 10.9 ppg . . . 6.6 rpg

Notes: Florida is 5-0 all-time against UNF. … The Gators are playing their first true road game of the season after playing their first seven games at neutral sites. The Gators went 6-9 in true road games last season. … Florida senior point guard Kasey Hill is four assists shy of 400 for his career and one assist shy of passing Taurean Green (397) for 10th on UF's all-time assist list. … Florida redshirt freshman forward Keith Stone is coming off a career-high 15 point, eight rebound outing in UF's 65-56 win Sunday over Miami. Florida senior forward Canyon Barry is averaging 12.1 points off the bench. … The Gators rank fourth in the SEC in free-throw percentage at 76.4 percent. …. Florida junior center John Egbunu posted 12 blocked shots over three games at the AdvoCare Invitational. … UNF has suffered losses to LSU (78-70), Auburn (83-66) and Miami (94-56) this season.

— Kevin Brockway

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