Gators star Tre Mann has chance to shine in NCAA Tournament
Florida point guard Tre Mann got off the bus — the Gators opted to stay together and drive from Nashville to Indianapolis instead of flying — to signs letting him and his teammates know they’d arrived at their destination: the NCAA Tournament bubble.
If he needed any reminder, he just had to grab his luggage.
“I packed for a month just in case,” Mann said, “because we were told that the earliest we would come back was, I think, March 19 or March 20, or something like that.”
And, if anyone has backed up that they’re competing as if they don’t want to return prematurely, it’s Mann.
The Gainesville native is averaging 23.5 points per game over UF’s last four contests, nearly eight points up from his scoring average throughout much of his sophomore season — although the Gators have gone just 1-3 in those games, leaving the team in search of momentum at a critical juncture.
Which begs the question: Does the offense now run through Mann, or does he simply need some help from his teammates?
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His head coach, Mike White, leaned into the latter after UF’s practice session Wednesday, saying now’s the time for someone to step up and carry some of the scoring load.
“We’ve gotta have more balance. Thank goodness Tre has been really competitive in those three losses. Our assist-to-turnover ratio has got to be better. Our shooting percentage has gotta be better. We’ve gotta score better on the interior,” White said. “So we’ve got to find ways to help Tre, to complement Tre and the way he’s scoring it and playing at an all-time level of high confidence. We’ve got to get some other guys going.”
Mann, speaking with the media for the first time from the NCAA Tournament, concurred — though there’s no doubt he’s confident that his teammates, who have overcome significant mental and physical strife this season, are capable of answering the call when Florida tips off against Virginia Tech as 12:15 p.m. Friday.
They’ve battled adversity and been written off before — being counted out is nothing new for this team, one that’s been open about dealing with more off-the-court suffering than on it.
“It’s been different games where different players score points or get rebounds, or block shots. I feel like when we put it all together though we’re going to be pretty good. Some shots aren’t falling for some people right now,” Mann said. “Everybody goes through slumps. I have confidence in our guys that they’ll pick it up when it’s time.”
It’s the same teammates who Mann credits with the recent tear he’s on, too — he may be in the spotlight now, but he’s had help along the way.
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Junior forward Colin Castleton was an All-SEC second-team selection, Tyree Appleby has been a reliable backcourt teammate throughout SEC play, and Noah Locke has been a consistent presence on this Florida roster throughout his time in Gainesville despite battling consecutive offseason injuries; furthermore, it seems odd to yearn for further contributions from the roster without mentioning the indefinite absence of Keyontae Johnson, the team’s centerpiece prior to Mann’s ascension into said role.
The credit and context of his supporting cast aside, Mann’s reached this point because of the grind outside of games.
It’s what helped get Florida here, and it’s not going to change Friday — though that shouldn’t have any bearing on whether or not his teammates light up the gym against the Hokies.
“The work he’s put in for years and years and years. He’s a gym rat. He has lived in the gym. At the house he’s got a basketball hoop outside, and if you were to call him during the recruiting process, chances are if he’s not shooting at The Villages high school gym he’s shooting there or he’s shooting somewhere in Gainesville, or he’s in a park or he’s snuck into some gym late at night. He’s earned all this to give him a high level of confidence. Confidence is earned and he’s earned it,” White said of Mann.
“People say, ’What are you doing different with Tre?’ Nothing, this is Tre being Tre. He’s matured and his level of accountability has really increased to allow him to play a lot of minutes, because he’s become a better defender and passer. He’s learned to have more command as a point guard. He’s learned the system, which takes all freshmen a little bit of time. Now he’s just showing everyone what he’s capable of.”
Florida Gators' first-round NCAA Tournament matchup
What: NCAA Tournament, South Region
Who: Florida (14-9) vs. No. 24 Virginia Tech (15-6)
When: 12:15 p.m. Friday.
Where: Hinkle Fieldhouse, Indianapolis