“I don’t want to say we’re trying to be exactly like West Virginia – although if we were, we’d be pretty good.”
Florida Gators basketball head coach Mike White was brutally honest when discussing his team’s Saturday matchup against No. 9 West Virginia.
The Mountaineers come into Gainesville ranked in the top 10 in turnovers forced (1st, 19.8), steals (1st, 10.8), 3-pointers allowed (1st, 4.5), 3-point percentage defense (2nd, .268), offensive rebounds (2nd, 16.7) turnover margin (6th, +5.3) and rebounding margin (tie-9th, +10.1).
It’s a product of their coaching, says White, and their mindset that is continually imitated but not oft matched.
“I think year in and year out, Coach Huggins’ teams are gonna play as hard as any team in college basketball,” says White.
“They’re always gonna be incredible on the offensive glass and he has sold out over the last three or four years — I’m not sure exactly when he changed it — but it’s remarkable what he did. He decided one summer I’m gonna change the way we’re playing and they revamped the roster. We as a staff have tremendous respect for what they’ve accomplished, and being able to do that is amazing.”
White does point out that when scouting a team that they’re obviously in the forefront of the mind, and that as a program they try to imitate Billy Donovan first and foremost. But with the Mountaineers, White has a better example than usual to illustrate to his team what they’re trying to accomplish on the floor; for that matter, just trying to get the ball on the floor.
This Florida Gators basketball team has prided themselves on defense, but they’ll get a taste of their own medicine (and White hopes a glimpse into their future) with West Virginia’s press.
“I would say getting the ball in-bounds, period,” White points out when describing the most dangerous parts of WVU’s press.
“I mean, we can’t talk about formations and responsibilities and who needs to be where and where the ball needs to go and all of those things until we get the thing in and beat the five-second count. Those guys, they have length on the ball and aggression and they do it every day, so they’re really good at denying passes and getting deflections – thing that we try to pride ourselves on as well. They’re just better at it. We hope to be in that neighborhood over time as we continue to implement our system here. But getting the ball in-bounds is really important, and then we’ve got to get it over the halfcourt within 10 seconds. That’s the next goal. We’ve got to simplify things.”
Once down on the offensive side of the floor, the Gators will have an interesting conundrum to sort through. Do they go with a 3-guard lineup (Chris Chiozza, Kasey Hill, KeVaughn Allen with Brandone Francis-Ramirez rotating in) to compensate somewhat for forward Justin Leon’s “probable absence” due to concussion or do they load up in the paint against one of the best rebounding teams in the country?
“[Potentially the 3-guard lineup] mainly because of Justin Leon’s probable absence. That more than anything, and while you’re at it, you’re playing West Virginia, and so you might as well strongly consider playing three guards at least at times. We’ll see. They’re equally as efficient on the offensive glass, so that’s scary as well. They’re elite in four or five different areas…One through five we’ve gotta play as physical as we’ve played all year for us to hold the physicality in the road. We’re not gonna be able to be more physical than them, but just to be in the fight.”
Should that fight come out in Florida’s favor though, both White and the players understand the significance of the win.
“A win over West Virginia, regardless of what they’re ranked, would be a huge win for this team, for this program, but that’s a lot easier said than done. We better play really, really well, again just to have a chance.”
The Florida Gators basketball team will get that chance at noon on Saturday in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. The game is sold out but resale tickets are available at Ticketmaster.com. It will be broadcast on ESPN and as always follow along on GatorCountry.com for full updates and information.