If fourth-year Florida coach Mike White were to have his say, the Gators would open every season with a tough non-conference opponent.
But that yearning for early competition isn’t an indication the revamped UF men’s basketball team is ready to compete with the country’s elite.
White and the Gators will get the first realistic gauge of where the underclassmen-heavy program is at when UF tips off the season at 9 p.m. Tuesday against No. 17 Florida State in the Donald L. Tucker Center.
The Gators have yet to name a starting lineup, although highly touted freshman point guard Andrew Nembhard was the primary ball-handler in the team’s 95-70 exhibition win over Florida Southern just a week prior. In that contest, UF’s bench contributed 60 points as White tested various rotations against the Moccasins. However, against an experienced Seminoles team coming off an Elite Eight finish last season, White doesn’t expect to rotate quite as often, and he could foresee a situation where someone is on the court for nearly the entirety of the contest.
“When you really study the film from the other night, even from our closed scrimmage, we’ve got some guys playing too many minutes. But you try to do that. You try to give opportunities and make evaluations as much as possible when there’s really nothing at stake other than trying to get a little bit better,” White said. “We’re 0-0 and this one counts, so who knows? We might have a guy or two log 38 minutes depending on how they play.”
Never one to shy away from the reality of the situation, White has denounced Florida’s lack of communication and defensive accountability in the six weeks since the team convened for preseason camp. And, although the team is most focused on the internal preparation, White and the Gators are well aware of the challenge senior guard Terance Mann presents. Mann led all players with 25 points in FSU’s 17-point win over the Gators last season, and added a double-double as a sophomore in the Seminoles’ five-point win.
“Terance Mann is terrific. He just seems like a coach out there on the floor. He seems like he’s got great leadership skills,” White said. “Good at everything. Good driver, good shooter, great feel, rebounder, defender, the whole thing. By committee, we’ve got to (stop) it.”
And it’s no secret FSU has held the edge in the series recently; UF’s seven-game winning streak over the Seminoles spanned from 1965-1968, but FSU has won the last four in the series. He may have picked up a victory over the ’Noles while at Virginia Tech, but Tuesday is the final opportunity for redshirt senior guard Jalen Hudson to help UF avoid a half-decade of futility against an in-state rival.
“We definitely have a bad taste in our mouth all together about Florida State. Just being at the University of Florida, we already have a bad taste, and then they put a whooping on us last year, too. So, we’re just going to be completely ready for them,” Hudson said. “It’s going to be exciting. Season opener at Florida State, it’s probably going to be sold out. It’s definitely super exciting, so I think we’ll be up for it.”
Who: Florida at Florida State
When: 9 p.m.
Radio: AM-850, 103.7-FM, 98.1-FM
FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
KeVaughn Allen; G; 6-2; Sr.; 11.0 ppg; 2.4 rpg
Jalen Hudson; G; 6-6; Sr.; 15.5 ppg; 3.9 rpg
Andrew Nembhard; G; 6-5; Fr.
Keith Stone; F; 6-8; Jr.; 8.8 ppg; 4.3 rpg
Kevarrius Hayes; C; 6-9; Sr.; 4.8. ppg; 5.0 rpg
FLORIDA STATE PROBABLE STARTERS
M.J. Walker; G; 6-5; So.; 7.0 ppg; 4.6 rpg
Terance Mann; G; 6-7; Sr.; 12.6 ppg; 5.4 rpg
Trent Forrest; G; 6-4; Jr.; 7.9 ppg; 4.9 rpg
Christ Koumadje; C; 7-4; Sr.; 6.5 ppg; 4.1 rpg
Mfiondu Kabengele F 6-10 RSo. 7.2 ppg 4.6 rpg
Notes: Florida and Florida State meet in the Fresh From Florida Sunshine Showdown to open the 2018-19 season, the first time since 2000-01 that the teams square off in the opener … Florida has won 27 consecutive season openers, with the last loss coming at South Florida in the 1990-91 season … Two season openers during that streak have been true road games — one at Florida State to tip the 2000-01 season and the other in Mike White’s Florida debut against Navy to open the 2015-16 campaign … UF will look to make its third straight NCAA Tournament this year and will have all but two letterwinners back from a team that finished third in 2017-18 in a deeply competitive SEC … The Gators will play a minimum of 12 games against preseason AP Top 25 teams this season, including seven road contests … KeVaughn Allen, who led the Gators in scoring in 2016-17, is already in Florida’s top 30 all-time leading scorers and looks to return to his prior All-SEC form … Kevarrius Hayes is one of four men to block 60 shots in a season for the Gators, doing so in each of the past two seasons … Reserve big man Gorjok Gak underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in the offseason and a return date has yet to be made public.
— Graham Hall