White: Focus for Gators should be on defeating FSU rather than winless stretch

Graham Hall
UF basketball writer
Florida forward Colin Castleton shoots a mid-range jumper in the first half Sunday against Stetson in Exactech Arena at the O'Connell Center.

The Florida men’s basketball team has regularly scheduled games early in the season against high-quality non-conference opponents, and the 2020-21 season was expected to be no different, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

But the Gators (3-0) didn’t end up playing against then-No. 4-ranked Virginia, nor did UF travel to UConn or Oklahoma; instead Florida played Army, Boston College and Stetson University — three programs that, while competitive, don’t give the Gators a chance of picking up a coveted Quadrant I win. 


Who: No. 25 Florida (3-0) at No. 21 Florida State (2-0)

When: 11 a.m. Saturday


Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850

Aside from the resume aspect, the schedule changes means the Gators haven’t faced a team of No. 21 Florida State’s caliber when UF faces off against the Seminoles in Tallahassee at 11 a.m. Saturday. 

“Definitely feel less tested," UF coach Mike White said. "Fortunately we had a closer one versus Army than we would have anticipated, so we got a little bit of a test there. I think you have to credit our guys against BC, I didn’t anticipate that developing the way that it did. A BC team that I think is very talented and had gotten off to a pretty good start at least in how competitive they were against high-level teams.

“At least we got a few games under our belts and other teams are sitting there having only played one or two games. It’s a strange year. Scheduling is very unique obviously this year. So what do you do? You just try to get better today, you have a good one, you have a really good one tomorrow. We’ll try and introduce the scout today. I’m sure most of our guys watched the game last night and we’ll be ready to go.”

White’s referring to Florida State’s 69-67 overtime win Wednesday night over Indiana, which saw freshman Scottie Barnes hit the go-ahead shot with 1.8 seconds left on the clock to give FSU its 10th consecutive overtime victory. 

Meanwhile, the Gators are coming off a dominant 86-40 win over Stetson University, marking the second-fewest points allowed in White’s tenure. Florida is even more well-rested than it planned — or hoped — to be, too. The Gators were close to finalizing an impromptu game Monday with Southern University, with the game planned for a 7 p.m. tipoff Wednesday according to a source, but the 11th-hour scheduling attempt fell through. 

Barring something unforeseen or another setback related to COVID-19, White said it likely won’t be the first time UF attempts to coordinate an addition to the slate this season. 

“A little disappointed (we didn’t play Wednesday), but we’re going to have cancellations all year, and we’re going to have makeup games. We anticipate that,” White said. “We’re working on scheduling right now, in fact, even as we prepare for the next game. We’re all doing it. Even on game day, I’m sure, we’ll be considering scenarios and corresponding with other programs about potential opportunities down the road

The 'Noles, meanwhile, may just be 2-0, but both wins indicate coach Leonard Hamilton again has a roster brimming with talent. 

Senior M.J. Walker has carried the scoring load early, but Barnes, possibly the top power forward prospect in the 2020 class, has combined with 7-foot-1 sophomore center Balsa Koprivica to give FSU a frontcourt full of potential. 

“Great college basketball game. Just tremendous talent with Scottie Barnes finishing it up with an enormous play,” White said of the FSU-Indiana contest. “Some veterans in RaiQuan Gray and Anthony Polite, and I think Balsa has made a big jump from Year 1 to Year 2. Great length. One of the better defensive programs in all of college basketball, as we know, similar to a couple teams in our league. Tremendous rebounding team. They’ve got an incredible era going on there at home, with what they’ve been able to accomplish over the last few years. Tall task for us.”

Although there’s no dancing around the fact White doesn’t need to be reminded of Florida State’s capabilities on offense, nor does he need to watch a midweek victory over the Hoosiers to see the school out west’s defensive prowess. He’s winless in five tries against the ‘Noles — that doesn’t stop those around White from reminding him, however. 

“I think you talk to people in the industry, of course, you talk to friends, you talk to family. ‘Hey, I understand that, I know that, thanks for the reminder’,” White said. “You run into a fan every once in a while, ‘Hey, beat the 'Noles.’ I’m sure people run into Leonard saying, ‘Hey, keep beating the Gators.’ It is what it is.”

Rather than approach the contest as a chance to reverse the program’s fortunes in a rivalry, White wants the Gators to check their emotions and focus on simply executing their game. 

After all, maintaining focus on the game itself rather than the surrounding storylines is ultimately the real test for the Gators. 

“If it’s about more than Saturday, then it’s about too much. It’s this team against their current team. That’s all it is,” White said. “We’ve got to defend well. We’ve got to value the basketball. We’ve got to execute better than they do offensively and defensively to have a chance. Our guys don’t need to be thinking about anything more than that.” 

Florida guard Tre Mann attempts a fall-away layup Sunday against Stetson at the O'Connell Center.



11 Keyontae Johnson F  6-5   229  Jr.   19.7 ppg  6.0 rpg

10 Noah Locke G  6-3  203  Jr.    11.3 ppg  2.3 rpg

23 Scottie Lewis G  6-5  189  So.   10.7 ppg  5.7 rpg

1 Tre Mann G  6-5  190  So.   15.3 ppg  3.3 rpg

0 Colin Castleton F  6-11 231  Jr.    6.3 ppg    3.7 rpg


1 RaiQuan Gray F   6-8   260   RJr.   10.0 ppg  7.0 rpg

5 Balsa Koprivica C   7-1   240   So.   12.5 ppg  6.5 rpg

2 Anthony Polite G   6-6   215   RJr.   8.0 ppg 5.5 rpg

4 Scottie Barnes G   6-9   227   Fr.    8.5 ppg  5.0 rpg

23 M.J. Walker G   6-5   213  Sr.    18.0 ppg  2.5 rpg