After wild ride, Gators look to future

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Florida guard Mike Okauru goes up for a shot as Texas Tech's Tommy Hamilton IV (0) and Justin Gray (5) defend during the first half Saturday of the NCAA Tournament in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

DALLAS  — Florida grad transfer guard Egor Koulechov often used the term “roller coaster” to describe the Gators throughout the 2017-18 season.

The wild ride came to an end with a 69-66 loss to Texas Tech in the Round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament late Saturday night at American Airlines Center. Florida finished the season 21-13, going 6-3 against ranked teams, but losing 10 games in which it was favored.

The inconsistency of the team could be traced to its inability to generate points and defend inside in the post due to its lack of size, strength and post-scoring ability.

Still, the season had its high points. The Gators swept Kentucky, including knocking off the Wildcats 66-64 at Rupp Arena to post just their fourth win in the building in the last 20 years. Florida knocked off Gonzaga in overtime in Portland in the PK80 Tournament and beat Cincinnati in Newark, N.J., in the Never Forget Tribute Classic.

Florida scored 100 or more points in four of its first six games of the season. But when flaws in transition defense were exposed in an 83-66 loss on Dec. 4 against Florida State, White abandoned the Loyola-Marymount pace and slowed his team down. UF finished the year 223rd in the nation in adjusted offensive tempo, per Ken Pomeroy’s ratings.

“Four or five games this year, the time of possession for us, kind of like a football game, was very, very lopsided,” Florida coach Mike White said. “It’s hard to make shots when you play three fourths of the game on defense. So we had to evolve as a team.”

The Gators ended up improving defensively, finishing second in the SEC and 21st in the nation in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency. But while Florida was able to create points off turnovers thanks to senior point guard and All-SEC defender Chris Chiozza, who ranked second in the SEC in steals at 1.9 per game, UF struggled on the glass. Florida was outrebounded in 13 of 19 SEC games and finished last in the league in rebounding margin (-2.2)

Looking ahead, the Gators will need to find a way to replace Chiozza, their best ball-handler, passer and defender. Chiozza will leave UF as its all-time assist leader at 571. Koulechov, meanwhile, was UF’s second-leading scorer (13.6 ppg) and leading rebounder (6.4 rpg).

“If all 13 of my guys were as tough as these two, we’d still be playing,” White said. “Some of the young guys are going to continue to develop, but these guys pound for pound are absolute warriors.”

In addition, junior guard Jalen Hudson was non-committal postgame about returning for his senior season. The 6-foot-6 Hudson led the Gators in scoring at 15.5 points and scored a team-high 23 points in the Texas Tech loss. White said he still does not know if senior center John Egbunu, who sat out the entire season while trying to rehab from a torn ACL suffered year, will try to apply for a sixth year from the NCAA and return to UF. The 6-11, 265-pound Egbunu would help solve some of UF’s rebounding and post scoring issues, provided he’s fully healthy.

“We have to obviously plan on having a conversation with these guys over the next week,” White said.

White said at this point, he’s satisfied with the big men he has on his roster. That could change if Egbunu chooses not to return. Sophomore center Gorjok Gak has been dealing all season with severe knee pain and will likely undergo a procedure to clean up those knee issues during the offseason.

“I like the bigs on our roster,” White said. “I do. I just think we’ve got to keep developing them. I thought Kevarrius Hayes played his heart out (against Texas Tech). He brings a lot of value. Keith Stone I thought made a lot of progress this year. Being older guys, Kevarrius being a senior, Keith Stone being a redshirt junior as of right now, I know it’s really early but I think our frontcourt will be improved.”

If Hudson chooses not to return, junior guard KeVaughn Allen would project to become the go-to guy on offense as a senior. A preseason All-SEC selection, Allen struggled with his confidence and ability to meet those expectations. His scoring average (11 ppg) and 3-point field percentage (32.8 percent) both dipped from his sophomore season (14 ppg, 37 pct from 3). Allen had to handle more point guard responsibilities backing up Chiozza and finished the year with an assist to turnover ratio of 82 to 44.

Allen could see more time replacing Chiozza at the point next season, but Florida will have other options. Freshman combo guard Mike Okauru showed promise throughout the season, averaging 3.8 points off the bench while shooting 40.4 percent from 3-point range and will likely see more time at the point in 2018-19. White also addressed the position in recruiting by landing his first five-star signee, 6-foot-4 point guard Andrew Nembhard. Like Chiozza, Nembhard is a pass-first point guard with excellent playmaking instincts

Nembhard is one of three Top 100 national signees who will join the Gators as incoming freshmen in 2018-19, a list that includes four-star 6-2 shooting guard Noah Locke and four-star 6-5 wing player Keyontae Johnson. Locke projects as a dead-eye shooter who has shot better than 40 percent from 3-point range facing the best competition in the country in summer AAU events. Johnson is more in the Corey Brewer and Casey Prather mold of UF wing players, a lock down defender with a 40-inch vertical leap. He could provide a finisher in transition the Gators lacked this season.

White is 69-37 in three seasons at Florida and showed the ability to sustain success by leading UF to its second straight NCAA Tournament appearance. But it will take a more complete roster for the Gators to return to the tournament and make a deeper run next season.

“I like some of our young pieces,” White said. “I like our signees. We’ve got to get back to work, though. We’ve got to spend a lot of time with development and we’ve got to figure out next fall who we can count on, reevaluate everything we’re doing, of course, offensively and defensively with a new team as we do every offseason.”

42 COMMENTS

  1. If only the players could develop like White has developed with his corny, irritating coachspeak.

    Egbunu bringing back his 6 ppg won’t help — it will hinder. He needs to go to Lithuania.

    Hudson will leave. He knows that as long as White is here, Florida’s barely better than a SEC bottom feeder.

    White will “reevaluate everything.” He’s not even capable of doing that.

    The positives about next season? Won’t have to look at Chiozza’s grotesque tattoos and won’t miss Kalishnakov’s team-killing, bad shots every game!

    Wow, just saw that Florida State University made the Sweet 16! My Gators, although much more of a favorite than FSU to make the Sweet 16, did not. Thanks Coach.

    • It’s about damn time! But call me when your ugly ‘Noles win a NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP in round ball, or make a FINAL FOUR, or perhaps win a title in both FOOTBALL and BASKETBALL in the same season (like U.F in 2006). And if you’d check on your own team’s sport’s page more than you do here, you’d realize that hasn’t EVER happened! And it probably won’t EVER happen, in your garnet & gold lifetime.
      Lastly, it really makes you look as weak as your posts, that while U.F. Basketball was defying all your pathetic pre-tourney predictions, you were as Mick Hubert says, ”QUARANTINED!”

    • BF, Overall top seed Virginia, region No. 1 Xavier, blue bloods North Carolina, Michigan State and Arizona also didn’t make the Sweet 16. At least Gators didn’t go one-and-done like a couple of teams listed. Good on FSU. Bring that national title back to the state, fellas.

    • “Wow, just saw that Florida State University made the Sweet 16!”…..even a blind squirrel finds a nut. Don’t hold your breath though…it’s only been 7 years since their last trip to the second weekend. Enjoy the coach there….he’s been to 6 tourneys in 16 years, but then again, he does coach in a football conference….oh, wait.

    • Gator G – Yes, our only consolation as Gators is the rest of their lives, these Nole seniors are going to deal with having a degree (if they get one) from a second tier institution.

      Four years of beating their instate rival followed by a lifetime of explaining – I’ll live with that trade-off.

  2. Funny, BH said my Gators. You talk like a Nole wanting UF’s players to go pro so you don’t have to face them again.

    Young up and comer White went to the Elite 8 last year. Your Nole coach has yet to reach Elite 8 and he is at the end of his career.

    • Since FSU isn’t a basketball school, you wouldn’t have a clue what it means to sweep Kentucky. The Gators have had more appearances in the elite 8 then FSU in the tournament since 2000. Throw in a couple on NCs and finish it off with 5 final four appearances. So you go back to whatever FSU site you came from; otherwise we’ll continue to bask in your Gator envy

  3. The future is bright in Gville for Florida Bball imo. These is no comparison with bball programs between UF & the Noles, with the Gators 2 NCs & multiple final four, elite eight & sweet 16 appearances. The Gators are by far the best national program in the state. Grats to the noles for taking out Xavier that was a good game.

    Coach White did a good job dealing with a lot of injuries & challenges this season. We’ll see if Jalen Hudson & Egbunu come back. If so, the roster will be full & should be healthy to start 2018 season. One of the toughest out of conference schedules this season I’ve seen recently & a much tougher top to bottom SEC. Good solid 2018 recruiting class with potential stars in the guard tandem & a strong swingman. Stokes & Johnson being hurt limited contributions from this year’s class which was needed. Stokes will provide a strong presence in the paint. Okauru definitely shows promise at the point. We should have a good blend next season with seniors thru frosh. Go Gators!

  4. I think it would be a good idea for Mike White to take away all of Allen’s point guard responsibilities. It made him think too much and took away his shooting guard instincts. He spent too much time looking for someone else to pass to. He needs to fill the role that Koulechov is leaving, like he did as a sophomore. One sophomore and two highly regarded freshmen points should be plenty. And he needs to spend time to get his big men, Gak, Stone and Bassett to learn how to play the post and rebound. Funny, how Koulechov at 6/5″ was the best rebounder. Why? Because he knew how to be in the right place at the right time. The others don’t.

    • I think you are spot on regarding Allen. Never considered this until now, but something has to be effecting his play and playing PG makes sense. This kids talent has over the top, but it has been steadily declining each year. Seems he is such an introvert that no one ever seems to understand what’s going on between his ears. Simplification seems like a good option.

  5. Mike White did a remarkable job this year. Having three bigs on the bench who never played a minute and still being as competitive as we were is remarkable. As for FSU, even a blind squirrel–well y’all know how that ends. Leonard Hamilton is no Leonard Nimoy. He’ll find a way to blow it before it is all said and done. Then the blind squirrel will be starving again.

  6. I just watched highlights of the 2006 NC game against UCLA to get rid of the sour taste. What a lethal team. One day they will be credited as the greatest team in history and it was because the front court was full of athletic red woods. To this day they are not considered in any top ten poll; but 20 years from now, when still no team has repeated as back to back champions, analysts will go back and look at them. And they’ll realize it was because of Florida’s bigs that year- Noah, Horford, Richards, Moss, and Brewer, along with the most clutch sharp shooter in Florida history in Humphreys, that they would dominate any of the UCLA teams in the 60’s, any of the NC and Duke teams in the 80’s and 90’s and any of the single year champions. It was just tooooo muuuuuuch size. Now go get some Bigs, White.

    • Don’t know about best ever but top 5-10 all-time, unquestionably. That team was the “perfect storm.” Mixed in with talent was a big dose of moxie, attitude, edge and in-your-face, spearheaded by Noah and Brewer — exactly the opposite of Mittens White’s Gatorettes this season.

  7. All in all this was a good season and White is doing a very good job since arriving. He still needs to find a dominant center or bigs that can rebound and score inside. By the way BD had some issues here too. The thing about fsu right now is they are killing us in recruiting. Say what you will but fsu’s bb team is long, athletic and have dominated us like they have in football. That has to change. We have to take back the state and I’m not sure that we have the bigs to do it yet.

    • Dide, I hear u, but as Mr. Blow er Blough says above; individual head-to-head means little (unless u r talking about beating a blue-blood like Ky). Over the years we have by far had the better teams. It’s easy to get psyched for one team/one game; however we have far and away been better than FSU in B-ball. It’s not even close. FSU has some very good players, but they don’t play with heart for an entire season like the gators have and will with White as our coach.

      Having said all that; not having a player like Egbunu in the paint did cost us even though I felt like Hayes was doing yeoman’s work there. Egbunu and Hayes together or spelling each other would have definitely mad us a better team.

  8. Unfortunately I see next year as a rebuild. I don’t think Hudson or Egbunu are coming back for different reasons. Allen should but might not either. Really going to miss Cheese but I think Okauro can be a good player given more minutes. He played with a lot of poise and confidence this year. The recruits we have coming in will not address the front court issues especially rebounding. Hayes is a decent shot blocker but has got to get stronger and work on his offensive moves to be effective at all. Stone is a really good stretch 4 and can be a star and should be a starter next year. Too early to say if Ballard and Bassett will develop into better players and that is the big question mark. Hopefully Chase Johnson and Stokes come back ready to play and pan out. Problem is there are only so many good players 6’8″ and above and the best always fall to Duke, Kentucky, NC, etc. White maybe needs to look overseas to recruit some big guys with skills. Oh well it was still a good year and I enjoyed the ride.

  9. we had a 2-5 record against teams in the sweet 16, so we had to face tough competition all year being a couple of men down. I hate the wait till next year saying, its hard to predict luck, injuries, suspensions….and determining in advance who will outperform expectations is hard and not many people do that either. Still, we have a good coach, a good brand, plenty of upside, and we aren’t that fragile and seem to have plenty of grit, so who knows, maybe another good season lies ahead. I look forward to it.

  10. Recruitment is problematic for Florida. Chiozza wore down as a result of too many minutes without a quality backup to spell him. Off season preparedness falls squarely on the coach. The inability of Hayes to provide offence was another problem. He routinely was outrebounded by smaller teammates. It seems he was not developing his game during the off season. Stone’s potential is encouraging ; as is Okaru. Bassett will be good too.

    • James, Mike White addressed front court needs signing Gak, Bassett, Stokes, and Johnson in the last two classes. He addressed back court needs with Okauru in last year’s class and Nembhard and Locke in the 2018 class. White is making impressive strides in recruiting improving from all 3 stars in 2016, to mostly 4 stars in 2017, to 4 stars and a 5 star in 2018. The class rankings have gone from 69 to 20 to 17. I’d call that very encouraging, not problematic.

  11. Need help at the 5 position. Egbunu? Gak? If that issue is resolved, Gators should be a clutch team for 2018-19, Remember the whole pre-season No. 5 ranking was based upon Egbunu playing the post. As for FSU, let’s see. ONE final four appearance (back in the early 1970s), no national titles and how many ex-FSU players are in the NBA?

    • If just one publication/entity had them number 5 pre-season, name it!

      They WERE number 5 days after the Gonzaga/Duke games and that was WITHOUT Egbunu.

      If White wasn’t the coach, Florida would be getting ready for this week’s games.

      Your “clutch” team will not be in anyone’s 2018-19 pre-season top 20.

  12. If you White haters would go back & check White’s 1st three years record compared to Donovan’s first 3 yrs record…. you’d see we got a diamond in the rough. He’s gonna turn out to be your favorite!!