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It’s been a rough week for the Florida men’s basketball team, to put it lightly.
The Gators opened the week ranked No. 5 nationally before losing 83-66 to unranked Florida State on Monday night and 65-59 to unranked Loyola-Chicago on Wednesday night.
This after starting the season 5-0, scoring 100 points four times and nearly beating No. 1 Duke.
The latest Gators Mailbag Question of the Day takes a closer look at what’s gone so wrong:
Andrew P. asks … “What happened? Florida went from 5-0 and playing like a Final Four team to (5-3) and playing like they have no business being on a basketball court.”
There is a lot of overreaction within the fan base right now, and understandably so, but it’s worth keeping everything in perspective.
This is not yet a good defensive team, but that didn’t just become the case the last two games. The Gators gave up 87 points to Stanford and 105 to Gonzaga (in double overtime) in wins and allowed 87 in a narrow loss to Duke.
This team has never shown the defense-first mentality that carried the Gators to the Elite 8 last year, and there are tangible reasons for that.
For all his inconsistencies on the offensive end, former point guard Kasey Hill was a defensive spark for that Florida team and forward Devin Robinson had developed into a good defensive player by the end of his collegiate career.
Those guys are gone now. The Gators are rebuilding that defensive mentality, and it hasn’t come together in the way coach Mike White had hoped. He’s the first to admit that, and he’s been rather blunt in doing so this week.
“We are not a very good defensive team. We’re not very tough, and that starts with me,” White said, while also noting the buy-in that mentality hasn’t been there yet.
Another part of the problem is that Florida lacks an interior defensive presence. Kevarrius Hayes hasn’t played his best so far this year, but even when he’s on his game he’s not a physical force inside like injured center John Egbunu. Ditto for Gorjok Gak, who is still developing.
The Gators simply don’t have the guy and won’t until Egbunu’s return from an ACL injury, which is projected for January.
All of that was masked during the 5-0 start by Florida’s offense playing at an elite level. The Gators had a couple bad shooting nights this week. It happens. It will happen again, but there will also be many more nights where two or more of their key offensive players are delivering big stats lines like they did during the strong start.
The Gators shot 8 of 44 from 3-point range these last two losses. They aren’t going to shoot 18.2 percent on average. I wouldn’t worry about the offense.
Egor Koulechov (7 of 26 from the field, 1 of 10 from 3 the last two games) is too talented with too many tools in his offensive arsenal to continue to struggle. Ditto for Jalen Hudson (8 of 22, 2 of 11 from 3 in that stretch). KeVaughn Allen (7 of 22, 2 of 11 from 3 this week) has always been a streaky player who can light up the scoreboard when he’s in the zone.
The defense and the lack of toughness and tenacity White wants to see from this team are real concerns, but concerns he’s sure to address. Given White’s track record so far in his two seasons at Florida, I’d bank on him getting through to his team.
No, the Gators never lost three games in a row last season, but they took back-to-back losses three times. And how did they respond each time, as panic set in for one reason or another?
The first time they answered with seven straight wins to spark their second-half surge. The second time they won their next nine. And the third, after back-to-back losses to Vanderbilt in the regular-season finale and SEC tournament opener dimmed their postseason outlook, they followed with their run to the Elite 8.
This Florida team put a magnifying glass over its flaws this week, but they were there all along.
The offense will return and if White can evoke the same defensive commitment he got out of the team last year, then there’s still a lot of potential for these Gators.
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