Florida visits Texas A&M with a chance to turn things around

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Florida forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. (24) faces his former coach when the Gators play at Texas A&M tonight. [Wade Payne/The Tennessean]
Who: Florida (14-9, 6-4 SEC) vs. Texas A&M (11-11, 5-5)
When: 8:30 p.m.
Where: Reed Arena, College Station, Texas
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850

As Florida’s struggles continue, so too does the team’s search for answers.
Namely, when the Gators take the basketball court for an 8:30 p.m. tip-off at Texas A&M today, coach Mike White is, once again, looking for improved maturity after a 17-point loss at Ole Miss — a program at which White spent 11 seasons prior to becoming a head coach.
When it came to shot selection and energy level on the defensive end, White said the team did show improvement in the loss to the Rebels, but the progress wasn’t enough to overcome the offensive miscues, resulting in Florida’s fourth loss in the last six games.
“I thought our defensive intensity was pretty good. I thought Breein Tyree was fantastic, and I thought he would have hit a lot of those same shots against most other teams,” White said. “Offensively, erratic with our decisions. 15 turnovers, many of which were uncharacteristic as of late, the way that we’ve been playing lately. I thought we became a little disjointed when we hit adversity, as we have several times this year.”
Florida’s maturity-level issue has been well-documented, due in part to the No. 6 ranking bestowed upon the team in the preseason, and therefore it’s been a frequent talking point this season — internally and externally.
Some have insinuated White is grasping at straws with line-up decisions, and have used the noticeable dip in freshman forward Omar Payne’s usage since Florida’s 22-point victory over then-No. 4 Auburn as credence to the notion.
In fact, White said the Gators (14-9, 6-4 SEC) use an analytical approach daily.
“Honestly, every day. We just had a few-hour staff meeting, where you’re talking offense, defense, you’re re-examining everything you’re doing. We’re going to A&M, they’re terrific defensively. Most of the offensive conversation is ‘what positions can we put these guys in?’. ‘When this line-up is in, do we like this, do we like that, should we consider changing this to that?’ The amount of threes attempted, the amount of post touches we’re getting, the amount of dribbles we’re taking, our spacing,” White said. “All that stuff, we’re studying numbers. Defensively, probably just as closely, really all season. We’ve got some deficiencies. The way we’ve defended the three this year has been our biggest defensive deficiency, and, as of late, transition defense has taken a step back.”
An area where the Gators did improve, however, was in their energy level — a positive sign for a underclassmen-heavy team such as this, where late-season fatigue can lead to lethargic play on the court.
Which leads to the source of much of the disappointment: the 17-point loss occurred despite solid shot selection and a consistently high energy level.
Sometimes, the shots just don’t fall; when that happens, the Gators have shown a tendency to unravel rather than maintain composure. With the final month of the season set to determine Florida’s postseason, finding an emotional balance may be the catalyst to solving the remaining woes.
“I think our approach going into these last two, we played very hard defensively and that gives you a chance to have some success. Offensively, we, going back to Oxford – I hate saying this, but I’m just going to be honest – we had some looks, man. We had, and that’s not every game. Every game you struggle offensively, you can’t say, ‘Well, we just got to make our open shots.’ We had some looks in Oxford that – we’ve got to make a few of those,” White said. “(This team has) good guys that will come in today with a great attitude, and they’ll be willing to work and ready to go. The immaturities have to decrease. The amount of emotional moments has to decrease. Our level of consistency and stability, mental toughness, have to dramatically increase for this team to max out. And if it doesn’t, it’s not going to happen, it’s just not.”

PROJECTED STARTERS

Florida

Keyontae Johnson;F;6-5;231;So.;13.5 ppg;6.7 rpg

Kerry Blackshear Jr.;F;6-10;241;Gr.;13.8 ppg;8.1 rpg 

Andrew Nembhard;G;6-5;193;So.;11.4 ppg;3.0 apg

Noah Locke;G;6-3;207;So.;10.0 ppg;2.7 rpg 

Scottie Lewis;G;6-5;185;Fr.;8.0 ppg;4.1 rpg

Texas A&M

Emanuel Miller;F;6-7;213;Fr.;5.5 ppg;6.6 rpg

Josh Nebo;F;6-9;245;Sr.;11.4 ppg;6.6 rpg

Savion Flagg;G;6-7;223;Jr.;9.6 ppg;5.3 rpg

Wendell Mitchell;G;6-3;183;Sr.;8.6 ppg;2.6 rpg

Andre Gordon;G;6-2;185;Fr.;7.9 ppg;2.6 rpg

Notes: After injuring his ankle in the team’s loss to Ole Miss, Andrew Nembhard is a game-time decision for Wednesday’s contest at Texas A&M. White said Nembhard didn’t practice Monday and his status for Tuesday’s practice was undetermined … Florida’s match-up with the Aggies marks a reunion of sorts for Kerry Blackshear Jr. with his former head coach, Buzz Williams. Now in his first season at TAMU, Williams coached Florida’s graduate transfer at Virginia Tech for four seasons. “We built a pretty good relationship over that time,” Blackshear said. “Just from being there at Virginia Tech for so long, I understand some of his tendencies, but he also understands mine. He’s going to have a hard-playing group, just like we had up there. They’re playing above their talent. Playing aggressive and playing together. Really good defensive team. We have to key in on that and make sure we come to battle against those guys.” …This will be UF’s first game at Texas A&M in more than two years. The Gators last visited the  Aggies in Jan. 2018, coming away with a win vs. an 11th-ranked team … During conference play, the Gators are shooting an SEC-best .363 from 3-point range, led by Noah Locke’s league-leading .482 clip. 

1 COMMENT

  1. For this upcoming Wednesday night game in College Station, Texas A&M’s home record is similar to U.F.’s (8-3) at 8-4. But the very present problem for Florida is they’re not the ”road warriors” of the past, as the Gators are 2-5 on the road. While this game Wednesday night is a match-up of middle of the road SEC Basketball teams, it’s still a game that must be won. As ”a bad quadrant loss” against A&M will be very hurtful for U.F with regards to the the NCAA Tourney Selection Comm.

    And in my ”Gainesvillian Reptilian” opinion, the very present problem for Coach Mike White’s Gator Basketball team is Blackshear and K. Johnson are the only ones consistently scoring for this Gator team. And while Andrew Nembhard is ranked 3rd on the team in scoring, he’s in serious need of some offensive help. So who will step up? The Gainesville, FL. native son, Tre Mann? Maybe Scottie Lewis? While Scotty Lewis is amazingly talented, offensively he’s very raw. He needs to (much like Glover) get it more under control when on offense. But unlike Glover, Scotty Lewis is a dominant force on the Gator defense. And when, oh when, is Noah Locke going to step up and start scoring more consistently for the Gator Basketball team (avg 9 p.p.g. for 2 years now)? We need you Noah!

    So it’s the middle of February and St. Valentine’s Day is not the only thing coming down the pike. ”March Madness” is coming soon too, and Florida Basketball’s destiny is still in their hands. So, it’s time to ”get up and go” Gators!