Who is this, and what’s happened to the Florida Gators basketball team?
The only logical explanation is that Duke took Florida’s soul back in Portland, because things have been all downhill since then.
Well, maybe that’s not logical, but nothing about the last few games really makes sense. If the Final Four was played in the first two weeks of the season, Florida probably would’ve been in it.
Now, it has lost every sense of identity it once had as it’s dropped two home games in the last three days to unranked opponents as the No. 5 team in the country.
Most recently, the Gators fell to the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers 65-59 after coming in as 16.5 point favorites.
“I have no idea what’s happening,” said junior guard Jalen Hudson. “I mean, if I knew, I’d be able to share it, be able to fix it. It’s not one thing. It’s a lot of things. It doesn’t have anything to do with Duke. It’s on us completely. We’re not ready to play. We don’t start the game ready to play, we don’t finish the game, we’re not hitting shots, we’re not guarding, guards aren’t guarding, bigs aren’t guarding. Nobody is doing anything.”
That’s a pretty good way to summarize how Wednesday’s game went. Nobody was doing anything.
Florida seemed to play a little bit harder defensively than it did against FSU, but it still wasn’t a great defensive performance. The Gators outrebounded the Ramblers and forced 15 turnovers, but struggled to consistently get stops.
Led by a 10-for-12 performance for 23 points from Aundre Jackson, Loyola shot 52 percent from the field and 50 percent from three.
Mike White took full responsibility for the lack of ability on defense this team has shown early in the season, saying it all starts with him, but he also said the team has had no buy in to giving the same effort defensively as it does offensively.
“It’s just not our strength right now,” White said. “Physicality, sitting down in a stance, learning how to get stops, stringing together stops—it’s not who we are right now. Two games in a row, that’s who we needed to be, because we couldn’t find the hole. If it hasn’t sunk in by now with our guys, I don’t know that it will.”
That all-around effort and buy in is exactly what earned freshman Deaundrae Ballard his first career start in the game. White rewarded him for his performance against FSU and sent a message to some others to step their games up both offensively and defensively.
The message obviously was not received.
Florida came in averaging the second-most points per game in the country, and no player even made it into double figures.
For the second game in a row, the Gators couldn’t hit the side of a building from deep as they went 2-for-19 on the night.
Another killer came from a 9-for-14 mark in free throw shooting, which really came back to bight Florida late in the game.
All of those things played a role in another off-game for the Gators offensively, but the one thing holding this team back more than anything is play on the interior. Not to say Florida didn’t get a few good looks against Loyola, but having no threat on the inside makes it that much easier for teams to pressure the sharp shooters.
The Gators are in desperate need of getting John Egbunu back, but that’s still likely close to a month away, so something has to click or more of the same is inevitable.
“We need to find ways to score on the interior somehow,” White said. “We’ve gotta get pressure from our frontline guys on the interior. I’ve gotta do a better job of putting them in position … We’ve gotta get stuff going to the rim, we’ve gotta learn how to get fouled more, because when threes aren’t falling for us, not only are we not good enough defensively, we aren’t good enough offensively.”
The Gators, and the rest of the college basketball world, may have been living in a fantasy land for a little while. If they hadn’t already, they received a big reality check on Wednesday night.
This team is not as bad as it’s looked in the last few games, but it’s probably not as good as it appeared to be in the first few games either. Florida just needs to find its medium to get this season back on track.
“I think it’s on every single person in the organization,” Hudson said. “Everybody has to bring more energy, more talk. Obviously, we thought we were on our way to something, and we don’t know where it fell apart. We’ve gotta go back to the beginning in order to build the foundation from the beginning again.”