White noise in the system

Third-year UF coach takes accountability for team's recent struggles

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Mike White
Florida head coach Mike White. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Florida coach Mike White isn’t ducking responsibility for his team’s recent struggles.

The Gators have hit another rut in their up-and-down 2017-18 season, losing a pair of winnable games last week against two teams near the bottom of the SEC standings. In both losses, the Gators squandered double-digit leads in the second half, at home against Georgia and on the road against Vanderbilt.

Overall, UF (17-10, 8-6 SEC) has lost four of its last six games and five of its last seven SEC games after a 6-1 start in league play. Considered an NCAA Tournament lock two weeks ago, the Gators are now in danger of missing the dance for the third time in their last four seasons.

All of this has led to fan angst on social media and message boards directed toward White, who just last season won SEC coach of the year honors and guided UF to its ninth Elite Eight appearance in school history.

“It’s all on us,” White said. “Every year you go into a season and your ultimate goal is for, obviously, to get better every day and take it one day at a time, but at the end of the year you want to at least be close, if not all the way to reaching your team’s potential. It’s been a roller-coaster ride; we’re just very, very inconsistent, offensively and defensively, rebounding it.

“The games aren’t surprises to us, because it’s what we see every day in practice. It’s been a very, very unique year. A lot to learn from, a lot I don’t understand right now. Obviously I haven’t pushed all the right buttons.”

Asked for a message to give to fans frustrated by UF’s recent play, White responded: “If we don’t play well and our fans aren’t real excited about that, that’s good. That’s the expectation here. That’s what we sign up for. It’s the University of Florida, there’s a standard here and that’s one of the reasons we want to be here. All I can tell you is we’re going to keep swinging, period. I’m going to get after our guys today in film. I’m going to watch the last 15 minutes of defensive mistakes, a lot of them in transition, a couple of them free throw line blockouts.”

The good news? Florida can salvage its season if it can pick up a few statement wins in the final two weeks against the most challenging part of its SEC schedule. Florida next plays Wednesday night against No. 19 Tennessee, then hosts No. 12 Auburn on Saturday. Florida would likely need to win at least two of its final four games to feel secure about an NCAA Tournament bid heading into the SEC Tournament. After this week, Florida will close regular-season play with games Feb. 27 at Alabama and March 3 at home against Kentucky.

Florida is 4-1 against ranked teams this season, but has lost nine games in which it has been favored, setting up its precarious position down the stretch. The biggest issue for Florida right now is finishing — from finishing shots to finishing off games. White counted six point-blank layups that were missed during the Vanderbilt loss. Florida has squandered five double-digit leads in the second half and lost four of those games, against Duke, Clemson, Georgia and Vanderbilt. The Gators also failed to hold a 12-point second-half lead against LSU, but rallied to win down the stretch.

“We did a decent job the first 20 minutes again the other night,” White said. “We just, for whatever reason, can’t sustain it. Looking at the clock, it’s almost over — there’s 15 minutes left in the game, guys. My goodness. The whole mentality there should have been let’s get up 13, let’s get up 15, let’s get another stop. That was last year’s group. The competitiveness level is so different. It’s about holding on and hoping we can win by 1. That can’t be what it’s about.”

In three seasons at UF, White is 65-34 overall and 31-19 in SEC games. This year, Florida has been hamstrung by lack of frontcourt depth. The Gators were hoping senior center John Egbunu would be back by now, but the return of the 6-foot-11, 265-pound big man remains in doubt as he continues to rehab from a torn ACL. Freshman forward Chase Johnson has been out since early December after suffering his second concussion in a six-week span, while freshman center Isaiah Stokes has had weight issues in recovering from ACL surgery.

As a result, Florida has struggled to score in the paint and ranks last in the SEC in rebounding margin (minus-1.1).

“He’s done just about everything you can do,” Florida junior center Kevarrius Hayes said of White. “I feel like at this point it’s on us, as players, to kind of get it together for him — and for ourselves, to see exactly how far we can go as a team.”

FREE THROWS: White said it wasn’t the plan for Hayes to foul Vanderbilt guard Joe Toye with four seconds left on the shot clock and 10 seconds left on the game clock with Florida down 69-68 in its eventual 71-68 loss at Vanderbilt. Toye, a 62.8 percent free throw shooter, made both free throws. “The plan was if Toye got it early in the possession in the backcourt, we were going to foul him immediately after they got it past half(court),” White said. “I liked our energy. We had them extend it a little bit and obviously after you’ve defended that long, we don’t want to foul. Just a tough one.” Hayes said he was going for a steal on the play. “I was just trying to get the ball away from him,” Hayes said. “I tried to steal the ball and it kind of happened at the wrong time to foul. It was a mistake.” … White said sophomore center Gorjok Gak didn’t play against Vanderbilt due to matchups, not due to knee problems which have hampered him on and off this season. “There’s so much parity with him and Dontay (Bassett),” White said. “Going into the game, it’s a staff decision. First big off the bench. I take votes from the staff, I went with it. We thought Dontay was the guy, probably based on the physicality of Vandy’s bigs: Ejike (Obinna), you know the girth there. And Dontay, he’s worked hard, he’s gotten better. He’s had some good practices.”

 

53 COMMENTS

  1. Truth is this team isn’t improving. The team plays well verses ranked teams but seems to take it’s foot off the pedal verses teams we’re favored. White speaks of fatigue, non communication, lapses, and still same issues crop up. Players say all the right things but doesn’t seem to help. I do feel like the coach is hamstrung with front court’s lack of toughness, ability to create offense and poor rebounding. Hayes doesn’t seem to have improved one iota from last year and Stone seems only to score from afar. I do feel for the coach, for the most part his players seem to lack a competitive spirit or drive. They’re kind of like milktoast.

  2. 3 takeaways from ‘White noise in the system’

    Nice, now White has an excuse tomorrow night. They’ll be UNDERDOGS, not FAVORITES, and they will get smoked by Tennessee — probably over at halftime, particularly since these Gators have a BUNCH of QUIT in them! And thanks to Brockway for including my “nine losses as favorites.” You
    are the man.

    Sick, really pissed with White’s incessant statements like “It’s on me…..we’ve been inconsistent all year…..Ballard didn’t play because of matchups…..Gak didn’t play because of matchups…..they’re not vocal so they’re missing defensive rotations…..we didn’t defend like we needed to defend…..”
    So many times this season the starters have become absolutely unglued and White didn’t go to the bench immediately and often. It’s stupefying!

    Please, people, Mike White is completely overmatched at a Div. 1 school like Florida. Oh, so you think he’s going to be a different, better coach come October, huh?! White is our basketball’s McElwain. He has to be fired sometime shortly after the season — no other solution. I could be sold — maybe — on him keeping his job ONLY if he wins two games in the NCAA tourney — two, not one!

  3. I don’t see how many coaches are going to win with the sub-par horses we have in place. Who exactly on this team has any talent? Chiozzaa is an above average point guard. That’s really it. We have a couple of first year transfers playing significant minutes. We have no inside scoring threat. Opposing teams simply defend the three. College basketball teams need a year or two to develop chemistry. I predicted in early January that we wouldn’t make the tournament based on these facts. I was scoffed at. Now a few people are upset and boyfriend is astro-turfing the comment section under every story with numerous aliases and a Gainesville Sun writer falls for it. Wise up.

  4. I respect that Coach White isn’t ducking the criticism, it says “character” to me, but I was never a fan of his hire and still think we should have gone after bigger fish.

    I get it… he’s had injury issues to his bigs but this is a coach who’s had enough time to recruit bigs and the ones we have right now are so under-developed it’s troubling. Then there’s the coaching strategy decisions during games, which shows a coach who may be as raw as some of his players.

    I said then and will say it again now… you don’t hire coaches from La. Tech to take over a program that was built by a elite coach like Billy Donovan.

    I said Muschamp was a bad hire when we hired him. I said Doug Nussmeier was a bad hire by Mac when we hired mac, and would be the primary reason whether Mac would succeed or fail at UF.

    You know, perhaps sometimes the “sports journalists” should realize that fans are pretty savvy and knowledgeable too.

    • Pretty funny statement considering that elite coach he is replacing was the head coach at Marshall before being hired at UF. You do realize Donovan was 49-41 over his first 3 seasons right? White is 65-34 while still playing his 3rd season. BD didn’t make it to his first elite 8 until his 4th season while White did it in his second. BD wasn’t an elite coach when he was hired, he became one with experience. Just curious, were you calling him an elite coach after going 13-17 and 14-15 his first 2 seasons? He didn’t exactly leave White a great team either. In his last season they went 16-17, so the fact that White was able to bring them to the elite 8 in his second season is enough evidence to prove he’s a good coach and certainly shouldn’t be having the delusional side of this fan base jumping all over him the second his team has a little adversity. I swear the expectations of this fan base are completely absurd. Mullen better win the next 5 championships or fans like Todd will be claiming he sucks and shouldn’t have been hired either. Such a joke!!

    • What “big fish” would you have as our coach? Be very specific and explain how we would get them to come. The players are mostly responsible, if they are playing hard and not making mistakes that would be one thing. I think they are tired late in games, coach could do something about that, perhaps given our injury issues not that much.

  5. This team is not playing well in the last 10 minutes of games.
    I do not know why.
    I am disappointed that this is not the best team in the last ten years,

    Having said that:
    I do not blame the coach, or players.
    I do not blame them because,
    I do not know what is wrong with this team.
    As fan I only see the team play in games.

    I am sure administration does know what is going on.
    They will handle it, if something needs to be handled.

  6. The good news is that they can salvage the season? There’s not a snowball’s chance of this if they keep playing like losers. There’s no muscle or toughness inside. Guys flying off to double-team a player and leaving a hot shooter wide open for a 3. Standing flat footed while opposing players put up shot after shot inside. No physical toughness, no mental toughness, no chance of extending the season.

  7. ”The games aren’t surprises to us, because it’s what we see every day in practice…” -Coach White.
    And while I am NOT one of the ”Russian moles” (see above) disguised as Gator fans, attempting to disrupt our ”Orange and Blue Democracy”, I am displeased with the ”stamina” and ”basketball I.Q.” of his players at the end of regulation. Because if the coaches ”see it every day in practice”, and they know the back-ups are extremely limited, then RUN WIND-SPRINTS FOR THE STARTERS, ’till they puke in practice.
    Otherwise, it will be more of the same, coming up short at the end of close games, with questionable plays (see: Hayes slapping at the Vandy player for a foul at the end of reg.).
    Ultimately, I’m a big Coach White supporter, and his ”4th most wins in SEC play for the 1st 2 years as Head Coach” is better than all of the other SEC coaches in history (who didn’t coach at U.K.).
    And if your argument is, ”Well, they were Billy D’s guys” then just look what Coach Mike White can do with ”Billy ‘D’ type talent”, an Elite 8 appearance! Let’s give Coach ‘W’ time to get his own talent in the program, and see what he can do with them before we talk about ”firing him”. Because firing Coach ‘W’ is impetuous, idiotic, and a very poor assessment of a coach who’s only in his 3rd year. GO GATORS! JUST DO IT!

  8. I still strongly believe Coach White is one of the best up-and-coming coaches in the country, and that the Gators are extremely fortunate to have him. This is a personnel issue, period. One stat says it all: LAST in the SEC in rebounding margin. LAST! I mean, what more needs to be said?! That means one and done on the offensive end, and on the defensive end (at least) one or two additional chances for the opponent. That’s a problem! But it happens. You’ve got 11 scholarship guys, and THREE big men who aren’t on the floor. It’s tough to coach around that deficiency. He needs other guys to step up but seriously, who?!

  9. White is the same coach who took Florida to the final eight last year and has put together a great recruiting class this year to add to the talent that will return next year. The biggest issue with Florida this year is in the paint due to injuries to Egbunu, Stokes, and Johnson. If those three were playing this year, the storyline would be very different. The future for Florida basketball is very bright with White as the head coach in my opinion. And I fully understand the struggles this year. Chizz literally has no one to assist the ball to when he drives into the paint this year. I panic if Hayes ever touches the ball on offense, and he rarely ever touches the ball on defense unless he is blocking a shot of a 6’2″ guard in spectacular fashion while whiffing on almost every rebound that comes in his direction. No inside post presence makes for obvious challenges in the SEC. Simple as that.

  10. The absences of Egbunu in particular, Stokes and Johnson are multiplied by Gak’s chronically bad knee — microfracture surgery awaits Gak once the season ends. Hayes is undersized but also plays with only one healthy big behind him, redshirt freshman Bassett.

    Of the healthy guys on the bench three are freshmen. There isn’t a pure point guard behind Chiozza, who benefitted from sharing time with Kasey Hill prior to this season. Koulechev, playing on plantar facilitis, can’t fully plant or spring off his bad foot. Due to our lack of bigs Egor plays a lot in the front court. Allen, who should be an established two guard, is the primary back-up at the point, where his lack of elite quickness shows.

    Give White a healthy roster and watch the program soar once again.

  11. White says, “…..a lot that I don’t understand now.” Mike, yeah, we know exactly what you mean! I just hope that since they all got stiffed and jerked around this season, Gak, Bassett, Ballard and Okauru all consider transferring. None of them deserved the treatment they got this season. Sitting out will be a bummer but their college careers will be much happier away from Gainesville. I think at least two will leave. Good luck to all of them.

  12. Imagine if White was as good at coaching as he is talking the coachspeak bs?!

    Don’t be surprised if this article was “framed” after Brockway and White got together and talked about how to mitigate the heat on White.

  13. Coach White will get better. The Gators will get better. I have no doubt that the vast majority of UF fans are happy with this coach and trust in the future. You can’t win consistently without big men. Period.

    Remember all the grumbling about Billy D. when he couldn’t keep a team alive in the NCAAs?

  14. This team is done. They won’t win a game the rest of the season. They have no heart. The coach has no clue what he is doing. I stopped caring about this team after last game. I won’t even watch them again until they show me that they actually have some heart, guts and desire. Time for a change. Fire this faker, make believe coach and hire a real coach. Maybe then someone with heart and talent will actually want to come to Florida and play for us then.

  15. Just wondering. Will Egbunu be ready to play somewhere, anywhere by October this year? Will Chase Johnson, capable of being concussed simply by hitting his head on his pillow, be out of concussion protocol by next season? Of course, he might transfer. And most intriguing, how does White (if he’s still the coach) ban Stokes from McDonald’s?!

  16. I have to say that this team has been a very difficult watch for me, even when they were putting up 100 a night in the pre-season. The shot selection is some of the worst I have ever seen and I couldn’t believe that they were winning against some of the quality competition they were going up against. Then something happened and it started in the second half of the Duke game. Since that time they have had extreme difficulty in scoring because teams figured out that all they had to do was make it a half court game and the Gators wouldn’t be able to score. They were exposed after that game and have not been able to make the adjustment because the injuries have created one of the most unbalanced teams in the country. There are so many games you see them struggle against mediocre(two Georgia games, etc) competition because they simply can’t compete physically. And c’mon is the Chiozza postup the best offense this team can muster? What happened to K Allen? He has gone backwards since last year and the addition of Egor has hurt the chemistry and development of the other backcourt players on the team. I know he rebounds well for his size and has the ability to defend bigger players but he is usually over matched when he does and he puts up shots he shouldn’t that are often rushed early in the shot clock. There are too many bad shot takers and no bad shot makers.
    What you get from this year’s team that has all the injuries of their bigs combined with the outstanding defense and athleticism of the players they lost from last year’s team, has resulted in the type of play we are seeing now.
    They are going to have to find the toughness to come up with some really good performances over the next couple of weeks or else they will be NIT bound. Coach White is not to blame for most of their troubles, however, there are too many players taking shots that at some point they were told they should be taking and I just don’t think that is the way this team is going to be successful. I am surprised they don’t try to force a faster paced game like they have done in the past. Their half court defense just does not force any turnovers or lead to enough easy baskets.

  17. Bf you’re an idiot. Sometimes coaches just have uncoachable teams….happens all the time. Look at UK this year…you can’t be all roses without some low post guys. I guess White gets zero credit for the Tourney last year ? Go in your hole