We don’t know exactly what the Gators’ basketball season is going to look like but if the news from Monday is any indication, it’s this.
Florida wants all the smoke.
If you missed the news, Florida scheduled a game with Virginia to be played at the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut. Set to handle a load of games in something that could be considered a “bubble” scenario, the Mohegan Sun will be a popular venue for non-conference basketball games. Word is that the Gators will open up their season at the Mohegan Sun on November 25th against a mid-major opponent to be named later before taking on the Cavaliers on November 27th.
Why is this news of utmost importance? It shows that the Gators aren’t scared of anybody and that they’re willing to play anyone.
Let’s flashback to November of last season when the Gators took on rival Florida State. Florida came out looking unprepared from the jump, as if they brought a knife to a gunfight as the Seminoles dominated them for 40 minutes. That was only the second game of the season for the Gators and they looked awfully unprepared that early in the season. Due to the results of that game, a lot of the conversation around the program was that scheduling marquee opponents early in the season before the Gators have a chance to gel might not be a wise decision.
Fast forward to now, and you have the Gators scheduling Virginia for their second game of the season. The Cavaliers will almost certainly be a preseason top-10 team in the AP poll with a mix of returning talent, incoming transfers, and talented freshman. Point guard Kehei Clark and big man Jay Huff are going to be as good of returning players as there are in the ACC and they get a major influx of transfer talent with Sam Hauser getting eligible after a redshirt season. A 40% three point shooter with size at 6’8” and 225 pounds he can be a matchup problem for just about anyone and brings floor spacing the Cavaliers will need around Clark and Huff. Carson McCorkle, a player the Gators once had major interest in, brings scoring talent and toughness from their recruiting class.
Scheduling an unquestionable preseason top-10 team two games into the season is no joke and tells us they are a supremely confident program. Let’s remember that it’s like the SEC season is going to be more games than normal as college basketball is forced to regionalize, and that means there are fewer opportunities for teams to play out of conference. Considering more SEC games means more quality games it would be easy to play a safe non-conference slate full of cupcakes but by scheduling Virginia the Gators are showing they don’t want to play things safe and see how the chips fall in conference play, they’re looking to establish themselves as a top team in the country.
There is another element of this scheduled game being scheduled that shows Florida’s moxxy.
Mike White has been open about the fact he wants the Gators to play fast, something that has invited much criticism over the last three seasons when the Gators were on the slower end of the tempo spectrum. This offseason in a press conference White reiterated his commitment to playing fast this season, saying it’s “in his DNA.” For that reason fans and media alike are expecting the Gators to play fast, with a healthy dose of skepticism considering the fact this wouldn’t be the first time they were promised a quicker-paced Florida team. If the Gators were to come out playing slow and methodically White would be certain to catch flack, so there will be a lot of pressure for Florida to get out and run.
Here’s the thing, there is no team in the country better at slowing down their opponent than Virginia.
The Cavaliers show immense pride in slowing down their opponents and they’ve made decelerating basketball games an art form. Here is where they have placed nationally in opponent possession length over the past few seasons:
I can keep going.
A decade of grinding games to a near halt, slowing things down to a snail’s pace. Let’s also remember that playing in the ACC the Cavaliers have to play against some of the perennial fastest teams in the country in North Carolina and Duke, so it’s not like they are uniquely positioned to slow teams down or anything.
They simply dictate tempo better than anyone in recent basketball history.
So, the Gators, with a target on their back if they don’t play fast, are going to have to do it against a team who has become synonymous with the ability to slow down opponents.
And the Gators scheduled them knowing this full well.
That is confidence, and Gator fans have to be excited about it. If this is any indication of how the season is going to go, which it very well could, it means the Gators think they can beat anyone. Coach White is someone who has downplayed expectations every year he has been at the helm at Florida and while he still might definitely do the same thing as it comes closer to the season, actions speak louder than words. And this action tells me the Gators mean business this season.