It will be the biggest test of the season for Mike White and Florida basketball as they take on No. 18 Xavier Sunday night.
If there was ever a chance to right the wrongs of a slow start, Florida basketball has it in the palm of their hands.
Tonight, the Gators (4-2) have a chance for early-season redemption when they take on No. 18 Xavier (6-0) in the championship of the Charleston Classic in South Carolina.
Florida basketball has made an impressive run of late, squeaking by St. Joseph’s in the first round and put together perhaps its best outing of the season on a blowout win over Miami in the semifinals.
Tonight, however, will mark an opportunity for the Gators to put losses to Florida State and UConn behind them before returning home to face Marshall on Black Friday.
It could also be a perfect setup for tough games upcoming at Butler, against Providence and No. 15 Utah State as well as a good springboard into the SEC part of play — which begins in just over a month.
While the Gators have leaned on graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr., they have gotten solid play from fellow forward Keyontae Johnson. Johnson, a sophomore, has averaged 12.7 points and 6.8 rebounds a game so far.
Freshman guard Scottie Lewis has been a solid recruit as well, averaging 9.5 points and 3.8 rebounds per game — including a 12-point performance against Miami in the semifinals.
Xavier, on the other hand, is undefeated under second-year head coach Travis Steele. They survived a double-overtime performance against UConn in the semifinals — which is either indicative of how good the Huskies really are or how not-so-good Xavier really is.
The Musketeers have three players averaging in double-figures this season, led by junior forward Naji Marshall and his 16 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.
The biggest issue for the Musketeers is they really haven’t played anyone this season.
They opened the season by blowing out Jacksonville and Siena. They upended Missouri — at home — but really struggled in a 59-56 win over Missouri State at home.
Xavier got past Towson — of whom the Gators beat by six two weeks ago — then the double-overtime win Friday against UConn.
In a sense, when they’ve been challenged, the Musketeers have struggled and they really haven’t faced a team with the height and experience of Blackshear along with the potential guard quickness of Lewis and Andrew Nembhard.
The biggest challenge for Florida basketball is not repeating mistakes made from earlier this season. Don’t put up silly shots and try to keep turnovers to a minimum.
Before Miami, the Gators were dismal from the field — around 31%. But, against the Hurricanes, they were virtually lights-out.
And, if the Gators can maintain that momentum, Sunday could be a good night.