After another Round of 32 loss, many Florida fans are growing impatient with the direction of the Florida Gators Basketball program under the direction of head coach Mike White. After getting bounced by 15 seed Oral Roberts, a discussion needs to be had about the future of Florida Basketball, as the Gators have not advanced past the round of 32 since 2018.
White has been with Florida since inheriting a strong foundation of a program once Billy Donovan peaced out for the NBA in 2015. Although Donovan’s final season was so-so with a record of 16-17, he left the program with a respectable roster including two players who would go on to play in the NBA in Chris Chiozza and Devin Robinson.
In 2016-17, Florida made a run to the Elite Eight behind some end-game heroics from Chiozza, and that proved to be the best season that Florida has had in all six years of the White tenure.
On top of those departures, Colin Castleton has also decided to test his NBA Draft stock but still has the option to return to UF.
For Florida, this is year three of three or more transfers leaving the program, a stat that should not be overlooked. Save the “this is how college basketball is now” argument because it does not stand when over half the recruits you have signed have left your program.
When dealing with the possible hiring and firing of head coaches, it is important to realize where your program stands and its expectations. Donovan built Florida into a tier-two college basketball program, not a blue blood, but a new blood contender that has had astronomical success since the turn of the century.
At this point, it is an argument that Florida can still say they are within that tier two of teams after multiple lackluster seasons. Let me be clear, just making the NCAA tournament and finishing 4th-6th in the SEC is not the “Gator Standard.” Not even close.
After Donovan, the standard was raised, like it or not. Florida deserves to be competing at the highest levels at the end of the season, not just getting to the round of 32 and making it to Saturday in the SEC Tournament. Florida deserves to be chasing SEC titles, regular and tournament, and also making it deep into March, year in, year out. Florida deserves to beat FSU at least ONCE in six years. Florida deserves better than a round of 32 finish in three consecutive seasons (most likely would have been four, if not for COVID-19).
Is it time for Florida to move on Mike White?
I want to be clear… White is not a “terrible” basketball coach in the grand scheme of things. However, it is evident after six years that he cannot lead the Gators to where they rightfully belong. Due to the horrific accident that occurred with pre-season SEC Player of the Year Keyonate Johnson, I understand the move to give White one more chance in year seven. It does not help that White has a hefty buyout of seven million dollars after a boneheaded extension in 2019.
Regardless, 2021 will be a make-or-break year for White, as he is tasked with rebuilding an entire roster through the transfer portal after dealing with his inability to recruit at an SEC level (more into this later). So far, he has added three transfers in Brandon McKissic, C.J Felder, Myreon Jones, but still needs an addition in the frontcourt to pair/replace with Castleton.
Diving deeper into White’s issues, the same consistent problems have occurred since he took over in 2015. Blowing large leads, scoring droughts of six-ten minutes, lack of effort, and discipline.
To me, the biggest issue I have with coach White is his inability to build a true culture. You hear the “culture” argument all the time, but Florida lacks a true identity.
I don’t mean to harp on the past, but I grew up watching Florida basketball teams that played their hearts out for their teammates every single time they stepped on the floor. Guys like Patric Young, Will Yeguete, Scottie Wilbekin, Kasey Hill, Casey Prather, Michael Frazier II, and Dorian Finney-Smith all gave 110% each and every game, and they all felt like they were a part of the same unit.
Four of those seniors graduated together, making it to the Final Four before they hung up their sneakers for good at the college level. No doubt it was a special unit, but nothing has resembled such love for the game and passion that they had until this day.
Even with the 2017 Elite Eight run and the tragic events that occurred when Keyontae Johnson went down, no team has shown such comradery and love for the game since. Everyone seems to put themselves first and not care for the team as much as they should. This is reflected on the court, with a lack of hustle and discipline that has continued for years.
It is the little things that White ignores, which is why Florida is no longer an elite basketball team. Clock management and situational basketball are both things that White struggles with, which will not get you far in March. How many times this year did Florida take a shot clock violation or a bad shot after failing to set up a half-court set? Hint: It happened way too much.
Finding successful lineups and players that meshed well on the floor together is difficult for White, who would often play lineups that simply are not compatible and/or do not fit the scheme that he is trying to run.
Instead of White playing up-tempo, in-your-face basketball, he will instead slow down the offense and directly play into his opponent’s hands. Just go re-watch the Oral Roberts game. White does not have a killer, cutthroat instinct to be a great basketball coach.
Getting into the other issues that are more correctable, blowing leads. This problem has cost Florida countless games the past few seasons, and it stems from inconsistent scoring and the lack of true stars in Florida’s program. Basketball is a game of runs, but the inability to hold off teams from coming back down double-digits is embarrassing.
Even in the peak of the Mike White era, Florida had to overcome a blown lead, as they held almost gave the Sweet 16 game away against Wisconsin. Florida held a 68-56 with 5:24 left in the second half and ultimately won by a single point in overtime, 84-83.
Last year in a must-win game in March, Florida blew an 18 point lead with 11:55 left to Kentucky at home.
I could go on with examples, but the point is that this is a habitual issue that has haunted UF basketball for years now under coach White. It is laughable that everyone can see the opposing run coming, yet Florida still gives it up every time.
Part of the reason for the blown leads is the lack of offensive productivity, caused by not having the right scheme/players in the program. Florida has not had a dedicated scorer to run the offense through until Tre Mann, who bailed Florida out over and over down the stretch this past year.
Going back to the portal problems and yearly attrition, it is evident that many of the players are not buying into White and his program, causing them to chase opportunities elsewhere.
Moving on to recruiting, White has done a decent job but lacks the development to get his recruits to the NBA. Mann is the outlier here, as he was a five-star coming out of high school and was a recruiting layup, as he grew up around the Gainesville area.
White has brought in his fair share of guys, many of which do not pan out, as the players are not SEC caliber.
I will look ahead and give White props for landing 2021 G Kowacie Reeves, who should* be a future star at Florida. But that was it for the 2021 class, only one player out of high school.
White has also struggled with finding and incorporating a true big man in his lineup, but I saw progress with Castleton and his performance last season.
Looking past Mann, I will give credit to White for landing transfers such as Jalen Hudson, Kerry Blackshear Jr, and the aforementioned Castleton.
The thing is, both Hudson and Blackshear took a step back once they played in Orange and Blue.
Hudson found success in his junior season, his first at UF, but saw a decline when he came back to Gainesville for his senior season. In his junior year, Hudson averaged 15.5 points and 3.9 rebounds per game, for those numbers to drop to 9.3 points and 2.9 rebounds in his senior year.
As for Blackshear, his case was not as pronounced, but he still regressed with the Gators. In his final season at Virginia Tech, the 6’10, 241-pound big was averaging 14.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. In his senior year at UF, he kept the rebound number the same but saw a decline by 2.1 points per game down to 12.8 per.
For the expectations that the program had for Blackshear coming in, he underperformed and ended up going pro overseas.
The regression and/or lack of development under White is a concern. The fact that Florida has not had a single player get drafted in over six years is astounding. Luckily for White, Mann should be the first Gator in his six years to be drafted to the NBA. I hate making a comparison to Donovan, but Billy D put out 18 draftees in his 19 seasons as the head man (there were more than went undrafted).
Seeing players like Scottie Lewis come in as five-stars and not end up reaching the potential the staff saw in them as high-schoolers is mind-boggling and sad.
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White’s 2020 freshman were underwhelming, as both Samson Ruzhentsev and Niels Lane were both top 150 players and failed to make much of an impact. Osifo was a JUCO guy who is now committed to Jacksonville University.
Going back to 2019, Jason Jitoboh only plays a limited role off-the-bench, giving the Gators a whopping four minutes per game in 2020. Top 45 center Omar Payne is now off to play at Illinois, a one seed in this year’s tournament.
Do you see a trend yet?
It all starts at the top, and now apathy has set in across the Florida fan base. Florida Gator Basketball does not hold the same weight anymore due to the inability to make a run in March and April. No one tends to care anymore, as the results are always predictable with a middle-of-the-pack SEC ranking and an early exit in the NCAA tournament. The energy around the program is lackluster, and the stands are not filling up or sounding the way they used to (this was occurring well before COVID-19).
To sum it all up, there are glaring problems within the Florida Gators Basketball program. The stem of all these problems is the head man in charge, Mike White. From a fan perspective, I hope that White can find a solution to these problems, but it has been far too long with too little success in his tenure at the University of Florida. This past year is a pass for multiple reasons, but Mike White needs to show some improvement in 2021 or needs to be shown the door, regardless of the price tag.
If you made it all the way to the end, I thank you for reading. I am well aware that I may not share the same opinions with you all, but I am welcome to discuss further in the comments or on Twitter at @KeiserDonavon.