Florida Gators men's basketball gearing up for SEC Tournament opener vs. Texas A&M
Florida men’s basketball coach Mike White doesn’t fixate on what’s out of his control, such as the potential of home-court advantage in Tampa, or the team’s postseason resume heading into the SEC Tournament.
“I don’t know why I’d spend time — it doesn’t matter. Even if I had a strong conviction one way or the other, it doesn’t matter,” White said. “Until the ball stops bouncing, you want to make your case as strong as you can possibly make it.”
The regular season in the books, Florida’s next opportunity to improve its odds of making the NCAA Tournament will come Thursday when the No. 9-seeded Gators (19-12, 9-9) face Texas A&M (20-11, 9-9) in the SEC Tournament, with tip-off set for noon at Amalie Arena.
The winner of Thursday’s matchup between UF and Texas A&M will return to the court Friday to face No. 1-seed Auburn at noon.
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White’s impartiality aside, the consensus is there’s work to be done if the Gators hope to make the NCAA Tournament, starting with the No. 8 seed Aggies. They arrive in the Sunshine State with postseason aspirations of their own — and a high level of confidence on the court they’ll look to carry into Thursday’s early-afternoon bout.
Since downing Florida back on Feb. 15, the Aggies have won four of their previous five contests heading into Thursday’s matchup. This isn’t the same team that had lost eight straight prior to defeating UF by a point in College Station, and the Gators know it.
“They’ve got momentum,” White said. “I think they’re playing better offensively, changing some things up in terms of personnel roster rotations, and they’re defensively very, very good, of course, so we’ll have to obviously play really well.”
On the contrary, Florida senior forward Colin Castleton, who Tuesday was named to the All-SEC Second Team, witnessed an overall drop-off in multiple facets in Florida’s 71-63 loss Saturday to Kentucky.
The Gators emphasized the need for an improved effort on the glass, only to see other aspects of their game dip against the Wildcats. That can’t happen in a tournament setting, where presumably only the victor’s NCAA Tournament hopes will remain alive.
“I think our effort was better with rebounding, but we lost effort in other areas. That’s why we lost the game,” Castleton said. “You can’t just be better at one thing the next game and then take a backseat with something else.”
Colin Castleton misses practice
At a critical juncture, Gators are at anything but full strength. Castleton missed Tuesday’s practice session due to illness, though White would be surprised if he’s unable to compete against the Aggies.
“Knowing Colin as well as I do, if he has to drag himself out there on the court, that’s what he’ll do,” White said. “He’s dealing with a shoulder issue at the same time. He’s played through illnesses and injuries for two years, he’s incredibly physically tough in that regard.”
Castleton’s teammates in the frontcourt, Anthony Duruji and CJ Felder, are ailing, too. Duruji made his return to the court Saturday after two games away from the floor, finishing the loss to the Wildcats with 10 points and five rebounds in 24 minutes, while Felder was held scoreless in his lone minute of action.
In an attempt to keep the duo active and available for the competition aspect, Duruji and Felder have been largely absent for the preparation portion throughout February and into March. With postseason hopes on the line, UF will need its beleaguered frontcourt to continue battling through adversity.
“Anthony Duruji has not practiced much in the past month, CJ Felder has not practiced at all, he’s dealing with a hip injury,” White said. “We’re pretty one-dimensional at times, we can be. It’s either Colin or an open three. It is what it is.
“We’re not surprising Texas A&M’s staff or anyone else with this. We’re not a great — outside of Colin Castleton — a great two-point-scoring basketball team. Certainly working on becoming better, though.”
Florida’s projected starters
Anthony Duruji, F, 6-7, 220, R-Sr., 8.8 ppg, 4.2 rpg
Colin Castleton, F, 6-11, 240, Sr., 16.4 ppg, 9.1 rpg
Myreon Jones, G, 6-3, 175, Sr., 9.0 ppg, 2.7 rpg
Tyree Appleby, G, 6-1, 163, Sr., 11.2 ppg, 2.0 rpg
Phlandrous Fleming Jr., G, 6-5, 205, Gr., 10.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg
Texas A&M’s projected starters
Henry Coleman III, F, 6-8, 243, So., 10.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg
Manny Obaseki, G, 6-4, 189, Fr., 2.9 ppg, 1.4 rpg
Wade Taylor IV, G, 6-0, 186, Fr., 8.1 ppg, 1.6 rpg
Quenton Jackson, G, 6-5, 173, Gr., 14.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg
Tyrece Radford, G, 6-2, 200, Jr., 10.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg
Notes: Castleton posted 15 points and 15 rebounds in UF's one-point loss to Texas A&M on Feb. 15. ... Castleton’s 115 blocked shots for the Gators is tied with Alex Tyus for 10th in program history. Castleton is on UF’s top-10 list after just 49 games, while every other player on the list played in at least 108 games for the Gators. ... White has frequently pointed to the level of difficulty in the SEC, and Florida's schedule backs that assertion up. Florida faced eight ranked opponents in conference play, the most in program history. The previous high was seven, set in 2018-19 and 1999-2000. All 8 foes ranked in the top 18 at the time of the contest.
Who: Florida vs. Texas A&M
Where: Amalie Arena, Tampa
TV/radio: SEC, 98.1 FM/850 AM