Five Building Blocks for the Season
The Florida Gators basketball team finally kicks off the 2015-2016 season by way of a preseason scrimmage against Palm Beach Atlantic on Thursday. The seven o’clock exhibition game is Gator Nation and Coach Mike White’s first opportunity to see how the team will perform against an opponent that they don’t see every day. Coach White has five aspects of their game that he sees as critical to build on heading into regular season play.
1. Foul Line Shooting Percentage
Offensive play is a priority on the list of things White would like to see in the Gators first game and shooting percentage is something that Coach White has been stressing for weeks. And the Gators, more than most, know from experience just how backbreaking an efficient game at the line can be. Coach even commented that last season, Florida had “five or six [games that] could have so easily gone the other way,” but their shooting percentage played a large part in those losses. Additionally, Florida ended last season second to last in free throw percentage against them. Coupled with those close losses, that should impress upon the Gators that if they could improve their play at the foul line, they could be the team consistently pulling out the close wins.
2. Shooting Threes
While on the topic of shooting percentage, Coach White noted that he wants to see his players “just taking and making open threes.” With guard Michael Frazier II, the Gators leader in three-pointers—and one of the most accurate three-point shooters in the country over the past two years—gone, Florida will need someone to step up and fill that void. Asked earlier in the week what players he thought made the biggest jumps in performance, White said that this week that honor goes to Alex Murphy and then to Devin Robinson last week. He continued on Robinson stating, “he’s come a long way, especially on the offensive glass and with his motor, his energy level. He’s shooting the ball at a much higher percentage in practice.” That could be exactly what the Gators need if he can extend that improvement to beyond the arc as well.
3. Valuing the Ball
By this, Coach White specifically means eliminating- or at least reducing- turnovers on offense and forcing more on defense. When asked about the willingness of the team to share the ball, the growing process, and the still present turnovers because of this, center John Egbunu simply stated, “we just got to keep working on it and that’s what we do everyday. That’s why we practice, come in and practice and just try to get better at it.” It’s understandable why White would emphasize turnovers (or lack thereof) as in any sport it leads to momentum shifts, extra possessions for the recipient, and more points. Just being sound in that area alone will be vital for this young team that will be looking for early success to build their confidence throughout the season.
In the Gators’ attempts to force turnovers, they need to be careful not to be too physical and commit avoidable fouls. “It’s just understanding like positioning,” explained Egbunu. “Understanding positioning pretty much would be the key, the key for me and you know not just fouling somebody because I’m tired or something, because of fatigue but making sure I contest every shot and I’m in the right position where the ref can see it and I’m not in any position to pick up a foul.” This statement by Egbunu echoes his head coach’s words of being “intelligent with our pressure” and addresses the issue of the change in officiating as well.
With the rules now weighted more in favor of the offense in an attempt to maintain a fair flowing game, the Gators are going to have to watch carefully where they place their hands, lest they draw more fouls. Coach White even joked “I think we set a record in the first week of practice” referring to just how many fouls they committed. Fortunately, White has had some officials down to a few of the Gators’ practices to help the team reduce that total.
Between turnovers and fouling, many comparisons can be drawn to the football coaching staff’s philosophy. And in Coach Mac’s sport, the favorable turnover differential and the reduction of penalties has led to the unexpected quick turnaround on the gridiron. Coming off of a down season with a new coaching staff in basketball as well, putting priority on these two aspects specifically could result in a similar turnaround for Coach White and his staff.
5. Defending the Glass
White expects the Gators to perform at a higher level rebounding defensively. “I think, [it] could be a factor for us all year. I don’t think we’re overly physically tough. That’s an area of improvement I think we need to make as a team.” In a similar vein to the previous two building blocks, rebounding will be crucial so as to be able to capitalize off of the opponent’s mistakes and end that team’s possession before points are scored. A positive for the Gators, Coach White singled out Kasey Hill and Chris Chiozza- “two little guys with big hearts”- as players that are defending the basketball well, “hawking the basketball with their pressure, using their speed.” And White will need that as he pointed out himself that he is asking his players to pressure for extended periods of time and he will need as many ball hawks as possible come regular season.
With all of these aspects complementing each other nicely and having the previously stated impact, if Coach White can register even mild improvement in every area, his team could be sneaky good. The new philosophy, alongside a heavy dose of new players with potential and something to prove, is the foundation for something great.