Florida is Quietly Building a Strong NCAA Resume

Posted by David Changas on February 2nd, 2016

Heading into the Big 12/SEC Challenge, Florida had quietly managed to put together a solid NCAA Tournament-quality resume. It may not have contained any wins over top-50 opponents, but the loss column was also largely limited to teams ranked among the top 50. After getting thrashed by Tennessee in early January in Knoxville, the Gators narrowly lost at Texas A&M and Vanderbilt in working their way to a good-not-great 5-3 SEC record. That profile changed on Saturday, however, as Florida enhanced its resume significantly with a resounding 88-71 home win over #9 West Virginia. It’s the kind of win that will pay significant dividends on Selection Sunday, and one that head coach Michael White hopes will become a springboard to even more success in the second half of conference play.

Michael White has Florida positioned for the NCAA Tournament (Rich Barnes/USA Today)

Michael White has Florida well positioned for the NCAA Tournament (Rich Barnes/USA Today)

Florida has lived in the NCAA Tournament for nearly all of the last two decades, missing the Big Dance only twice in the prior 17 seasons. Small note: All that was accomplished with a Hall of Fame coach pacing the sidelines. When Billy Donovan fled Gainesville last spring for the bright lights of the NBA, athletic director Jeremy Foley turned to a coach who was about as accomplished as Donovan when he arrived at the school in 1996. While the early returns on White’s tenure are mixed – the Gators’ pre-conference losses came to Purdue, Michigan State, Miami (FL) and Florida State, prior to the ugly loss at Tennessee — the new head man in Gainesville has since steadily righted the ship. Some questioned his hiring around the holidays, but Florida would easily be in the field of 68 if the season ended today. Most of the focus in the SEC has centered on the rise of Texas A&M, the fall of Kentucky, and the superstardom of Ben Simmons, allowing the Gators to fly well under the radar for the first time in a long while.

White did not inherit an empty cupboard at Florida although his team is not nearly as talented or proven as most of Donovan’s squads from the last 10 years. The emergence of forward Dorian Finney-Smith has been extremely important to the Gators’ resurgence. The 6’8″ senior has put together an impressive campaign, averaging 14.8 points and 8.1 rebounds per contest, good for the team lead in both categories. Additionally, consistent production from freshman KeVaughn Allen (second on the team at 11.9 PPG) has been a big key to Florida’s success on the offensive end. However, it has been the team’s defensive prowess that has made the biggest difference. According to KenPom, the Gators rank ninth nationally in defensive efficiency and they are giving up just 65.0 points per game, good for second-best in the SEC. They are also strong on the glass at both ends of the floor, ranking third in the league in defensive rebounding percentage (70.8%) and fourth in offensive rebounding percentage (34.8%). Playing one of the toughest schedules in the nation hasn’t hurt either.

It remains to be seen whether the energetic White can live up to the incredible legacy that Donovan established at a school that had very little in the way of basketball tradition before his arrival, but if the resiliency and quiet success of his first Florida team thus far is any indication, the future of the program is in very good hands.

David Changas (166 Posts)

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