Florida’s 2019-20 season was a crazy one. From lofty preseason expectations to an early slide, all the way to some crushing losses followed my miraculous victories. From winning the offseason by landing high-profile transfers to having the season end abruptly without any sense of closure. To try and recap the season by myself would be too monumental a task, so instead of breaking things down myself I decided to outsource the work to 27 friends—writers, media, and fans, and asked them a single question each. This way, you get 27 unique opinions about what was one of the most intriguing seasons in recent memory and will all those takes should amount to an incredible recap.
Before we begin, I want to thank all of my friends for helping me with this one—it was beautiful to collaborate with them these last few days. Make sure to follow each one of them and consume their great content moving forward!
Let’s get it started.
Who was Florida’s MVP in your opinion?
This is an easy question, Keyontae Johnson. By league play Johnson was clearly the MVP. He averaged 14.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game in conference play, which earned him to the coaches’ All-SEC first team. He also recorded eight double-doubles this year, five of those coming in the Gators’ last nine games.
One can argue he was Florida’s most dynamic player this season. Not only can he get to the basket but he has also progressed with his long range shot this season. One can clearly see that Johnson was the heartbeat of this team. When Johnson had a good game, the Gators had a good game. Teams simply didn’t have an answer for the Virginia native.
This team came into the season with a lot of hype, and obviously things didn’t end up going according to plan. At what point in the season did you first realize that something was a bit off and this wasn’t a top-10 team?
I’ll say the loss at Connecticut, even though I think that was too early to say for certain the Gators weren’t a top-10 team. Aside from the consequences that come with inexperience, what that game really revealed was Florida’s noticeable lack of depth in the frontcourt. By now, it’s well-known the Gators have seen 5 frontcourt players transfer from the program in the last 16 months. Kerry Blackshear Jr. and two of the aforementioned future post transfers in Dontay Bassett and Gorjok Gak were the team’s only big men with experience entering the season, meaning the Gators would count on freshmen Omar Payne and Jason Jitoboh during conference play; in retrospect, one could call this a daunting task. With Gak and Bassett sidelined, and with Blackshear seemingly bringing everything to the table except formidable interior defense, I thought the team had significant offensive potential yet lacked a defensive alpha dog in the middle. I’ve hesitated to say this publicly, because I try to not let my personal opinion come into play whenever possible, but I think this team sorely missed the presence of Kevarrius Hayes both on the court and inside the locker room. If Hayes were on this team, I think they win 25 games.
Former President of the Rowdy Reptiles
What was the most memorable win for you this season and why?
The easy answer would be Auburn but for me personally the most memorable win would have to be against LSU. I have had a personal vendetta against LSU ever since the hurricane debacle that ended with Burrito Bros. going out of business. At the time I pictured this game as sort of a ticket puncher for the NCAA tournament (RIP) and I walked out of the building that night feeling relieved for Mike White and Co. The rowdies really got into this game and more than made up for the sleepy crowd due to the 9pm tip. Keyontae Johnson was absolutely phenomenal and Scottie Lewis played one of his best games as a Gator. The gator boys held their own against the likes of Trendon Watford and a strong a** effort from Javonte Smart. By far the best part of the night was the look on Will Wade’s face the entire night. He was somewhere between a 6 month old with a dirty diaper and a freshman during their first Chemistry exam for most of the first half. In the 2nd half he had completely given up and stopped coaching his team entirely. I think the “coaching” style and the emotional players on LSU (looking at you Emmitt) makes beating the Tigers my most memorable win of this season.
Florida Grad, Host of The Sixth Man Show
What are your takeaways from Scottie Lewis, and if his time at Florida is done what will you remember from his season?
Do you remember the feeling you had when you first got the notification that five-star Scottie Lewis had committed to the University of Florida? I know I was ecstatic. He’s long, athletic and he could get to the basket. Seemingly, Scottie had all the tools to be an elite college basketball player.
I began to learn about Scottie’s game during the second regular season game against the University of North Florida. He played 22 minutes and recorded four points on 0-4 shooting. But it wasn’t all bad news because Lewis did have three blocks and a steal. As the season progressed, I realized what you saw in his second game is what you got. He had a few impressive scoring outings over the course of the season, but overall, he’s not going to “wow” you with his abilities on the offensive end.
If this was his lone season in the orange and blue, I’ll always remember Scottie’s famous way of jumping up from the ground. And at the end of the day, Scottie Lewis is an elite defender, but he has a way to go if he wants to become an elite basketball player.
Gators Breakdown Podcast
There is a lot of discussion about the Gator standard regarding the football program. What standards do you think the basketball program should be held to–and what could they learn from the football program’s embracing of the Gator standard?
It’s really about expectations. Fair, or unfair, for Mike White, the expectations for Florida’s basketball program were heightened when Billy Donovan made Florida Basketball a powerhouse. Is it fair to expect the best of Donovan results? Probably not, but this past year was supposed to be the year where production matched expectations with an experienced coach and a talented team.
In regards to the “Gator Standard” for the football program, that started with Steve Spurrier’s results as Florida’s head coach. The support for Florida football was always there, but Spurrier was the first one to consistently match results with the fan passion, and Florida Football took off to be one of the premier programs in all of the sport. With that came the expectations of being a national contender year in and year out. While the fan passion isn’t comparable from football to basketball, why can’t the expectations be the same for basketball? What is the difference in what Spurrier built as a national power compared to what Donovan built as a national power?
The admin support is there for the basketball program to compete with the nation’s best. Recruiting doesn’t seem to be much of an issue. National perception isn’t really an issue. Donovan built it and I feel the program itself should be a national contender. I completely understand, and acknowledge, Florida Basketball isn’t Florida Football. What was Florida Football before Steve Spurrier? What was Florida Basketball before Billy Donovan? I see no reason why the standard can’t be applied to the basketball program to be one of the nation’s best with the launching pad supplied by Donovan.
Nick de la Torre
You have had the chance to take in a lot of Gators games this year. What did you notice from White’s demeanor on the sidelines and in the post games as the season progressed, and how did it differ from opposing coaches that you saw?
I have always appreciated the candor of college basketball coaches. They are way more forthcoming and honest in open media sessions than most coaches and it’s something I saw quickly with Billy Donovan, as well as Mike White. Early on, White was quick to pump the brakes on the Gators’ preseason ranking and it turned out he was right.
As the season progressed I think you could see some frustration in post-game interviews and on the sideline. It looked like he was trying to get through to the guys and get them to buy into something but the second the team won a game or two games in a row they would buy into their hype and blow a game they should win. I think the biggest point where White looked helpless at times is by the shooting of Noah Locke and Tre Mann. He continually said they were two of the better shooters he ever coached, and yet they would go through huge dry spells even when they were getting good looks.
In the past two seasons, I would watch White and two years in a row I said at some point towards the end of the season, “he hates this team. He’s done with them.” I never got that sense with the 2019-20 group. I think his frustration was only with himself in not being able to truly get through to them in an impactful way that showed on the court.
At the end of the day, however, that’s on him. As a coach, you have to find a way, some way to get through to your team and to individual players. I think that wore on him as the season went on but I never got the sense that he was giving up.
I think at times you’ll see a basketball coach and you’ll have that same thought that I had about White and previous teams, that “oh he’s sick of them.” I’m pretty sure Coach Cal was trying to get thrown out of the game when Kentucky was in Gainesville and he was almost successful! Overall I thought that White behaved this season like a coach that knew he needed to produce. The team was absolutely underachieving and it was weighing on him, he looked more stressed the last month than I had seen him since he arrived in Gainesville.
President of the Rowdy Reptiles
Things didn’t go exactly as planned this season, but that doesn’t mean it was all bad. What encouraged you most about this season?
This season was filled with some pretty high highs, but also some low lows. A pre season national ranking of #6 followed by losses to teams like FSU and UConn, the Charleston Classic allowed our Florida Gators to prove what they were all about. I was there, alongside some other Rowdies, to watch them win that tournament. Their game against Xavier was one of my favorites to be a part of. We saw them evolve into both an offensive and defensive powerhouse, while demonstrating they were an all around tough team. Although outnumbered in the stands, the gator fans fed off of the players energy, and I think the players fed off of our energy as well. We were even told that us few Rowdies were being too loud, and had to be babysat by security for the entirety of the game. I think the MVP award going to Keyontae Johnson started a long season of understanding how crucial #11 was to this team, and I loved seeing him get the recognition he deserved. Watching the players look so happy at the end of the tournament made me unbelievably thankful that I got to be a Rowdy Reptile, and that I get to see this team do what they love to do. All season I remembered that moment: watching them hold their trophy high over their heads beaming with pride. I believe that’s when Gator Nation knew it was just the beginning.
Corry “Uncle Silk” Knowles
Host of Stadium And Gale Podcast
Basketball has lost some of the casual UF fan interest over the last two seasons, especially among the tradition football-first fan base. What does the hoops team need to do to capture more of the interest of football-first fans?
I think it all boils down to winning and beating your rivals. Scoring and offense is always good as well, winning 10 games with Muschamp and winning 10 with Mullen felt different because we had a legit offense. The scoring droughts and offensive struggle leaves the fan base frustrated, especially with talent not being the issue. Scoring and winning fix everything. We’ll always be a football first school but the product just hasn’t consistently looked good under Mike White. At the end of the day UF is an everything school, the expectation is to compete for titles in everything.
The Alligator Sports Writer
Which player likely to return are you looking forward to watching the most next season and why?
I’m really interested in seeing if Tre Mann is going to live up to his five-star billing during his sophomore campaign. He showed in spurts what his potential offensively can be this season, but unfortunately was not able to really put it all together at any point. His ability to hit a long-range shot to go along with impressive handles and an instinct to get to the rim makes him extremely dangerous if he can be more consistent in his second year. The competition between him and Tyree Appleby at the point guard position, assuming Nembhard leaves, will be very intriguing as well. I think either Ques Glover or Appleby ultimately picks up the starting spot at the 1 with Mann getting the nod at the 2 or 3 positions along with Noah Locke. It really wouldn’t surprise me if Mann ends up averaging double figures in scoring. He can be that good.
Host of Stadium And Gale Podcast
There was a lot of talk this season from the players, coaching staff, and media about the team’s toughness. How do you define toughness in sports and how do you think Florida fared in the toughness department this season?
Mental toughness is the ability to consistently perform at the top range of your talent level and skill level regardless of any competitive circumstances. When you look back at Florida’s basketball season you see a team that often struggled with consistency, lingering on both positive and negative outcomes, and avoiding streakiness. Florida had some big wins on the season – Auburn, LSU, and Xavier – but also had big losses – UConn, Utah State, Mississippi State, Ole Miss – that showcased Florida’s inability to often “put it all together”. We seldom saw Florida at its best and we seldom saw Florida live up to even 90% of the potential they had. At times they looked overwhelmed or underprepared, at times they shot lights out and at times they would go long durations with no points. This season was not a talent issue for Florida, it was a focus and toughness matter.
The Alligator Sports
What is your evaluation of Noah Locke’s season?
I think Noah had a great season toward the end. It took the team to adapt to an extended three-point line but once he and the rest did, the offense opened up and allowed players to attack the paint with ease. I think his and the team’s problem was a lack of sharpshooters. He’s the only player who attempted more than 4 threes per game and he’s the only Gator who averaged above 40 percent behind the arc this season. Tre’s 2.8, Andrew’s 3.5 and Scottie’s 2 attempts per game weren’t enough to keep defenders out of the paint. In fact, nearly all his advanced shooting stats saw an improvement this year. Altogether, I think his per 40 minute average of 43.2 percent from three is a great indicator of how successful he was and had there been a second shooter like him, which isn’t to say it’s easy to replicate but even >35% with volume is good, the team’s season would have had more quality wins.
The team very clearly played its best offense when he created space by threatening opponents with his shot. I don’t think he was the team’s problem but rather, I feel there was too much of a demand on him to create space for Kerry, Keyontae and Scottie, and that was the offense’s biggest problem.
Gainesville Native, “Lapsed UF Journalism School Alumni”, “Gator Hoops Twitter Pollyanna”, and “Erving Walker Stan”
The word “culture” has been beat to death in college basketball and for that reason I’m out on the term, but I’m all in on a team’s identity. What would you say is the identity of the Florida basketball program?
The Florida basketball program’s identity right now is inextricably tied to its coach, Mike White. That’s both the good news and the bad news.
Mike White seems to me to be exactly what he was as a player: a guy who believed that buy-in, edge, and toughness, especially on defense, was more important than anything else when it came to success.
I also think that Coach White is very honest, humble, goes with his gut and has no problem with making changes and searching to try to fix things, while ideally wanting his teams to be egalitarian offensively.
Those are positive qualities, but mean that the identity of the team can vary wildly because the Coach and staff aren’t married to a particular offensive style they truly believe in.
His Louisiana Tech teams before he came to UF seemed to ALSO have the identity of pressing on defense and a higher-paced offense. However, when Coach White came to Gainesville, for whatever reasons he never seemed to truly believe he could win with that style of play.
During his first four years at Florida, his teams had a defensive identity built around either John Egbunu or Kevarrius Hayes, but this past season without them was in retrospect a transition year in that regard.
The Gators have also had such wildly different types of talented point guards the last 5 years it’s understandable that the identity has been hard to pin down. Could you get much different at the lead guard spot in going from Kasey Hill to Chris Chiozza to Andrew Nembhard to Tre Mann and next year adding Tyree Appleby, not to mention Michael Okauru and now Ques Glover?
Going forward, will Coach White decide on an offensive style and then coach and recruit towards that? Can he look at a roster and decide the best way to exploit matchups (or lineups). Will he and his staff know who their best players and plays are as a season progresses?
Just as one example of an offensive identity thought experiment. It’s arguable that Keyontae Johnson was UF’s best offensive player this past season, but I’m not sure how often the offensive game plan was to feature him or run plays for him and for Johnson to get buckets in the flow of the game. Instead, the plan seemed to be to run plays for and dump it to Blackshear.
What if there had been times or even games where the opposite had been true, and KBJ was getting putbacks or attacking a moving defense?
There’s value in being willing to change and search. However, I think the Gators’ offensive identity next year might benefit from accurately deciding on the right style of play and best plays/players earlier and more definitively.
Who knows, maybe having a player who’s more secure and decisive in who he is offensively like Tyree Appleby is all that’s needed for that. I wish I was certain that would be enough.
Alligator Sports Writer
Which incoming recruit are you most excited for and what hole from this year’s team do you think they fill?
The recruit I’m most excited to see is Samson Ruzhentsev out of Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in Chattanooga, Tennessee. At 6-foot-7, he will bring something to the Gators that they didn’t have this past season: A true small forward. Scottie Lewis had to fill that role this year as part of a small lineup with Keyontae Johnson — standing at 6-foot-5 — playing the power forward. Since both players might opt for the NBA draft this offseason, Ruzhentsev’s size and versatility will be a welcomed addition in Gainesville.
Saturday Down South, Host Of Florida Basketball Hour Podcast
Coach White took a lot of criticism this year. What’s one criticism you thought was totally fair, and what’s one that you thought was unjustified?
One thing that’s not fair is…
I almost went with the common argument among fans that Florida “doesn’t run offense,” because in actuality Florida runs more sets than most teams in the country. But I am going to say player development criticisms are the most unfair criticism leveled at White and the staff.
It’s not just that the list of players who have gotten far better under White is long, thought it is, with players from Chris Chiozza’s gargantuan growth to Keyontae Johnson going from athlete with consistency issues to all-league kid in 16 months demonstrating the way kids in the program improve.
It’s that I agree with Billy Donovan’s old take that “so much about how kids improve is about the kid. Do they invest in strength and conditioning? Are they a gym rat that wants a key to the gym to get shots up at 11 PM?” During basketball season, so much of what coaches do is about scouts, preparing for the next time, correcting schematic things. Most development happens in the offseason, and with Preston Greene and great facilities, it’s hard to imagine a better place for a kid to get better if they want to get better.
One thing that deserves criticism is…
I get that this staff has a way they want to play defense. They want to blitz ball screens and hedge and be aggressive. They are a bit more Texas Tech than Virginia.
But I thought Florida lost games this season because it refused to adjust to personnel defensively. I think Florida beats Mississippi State, for example, if they just drop ball screen coverages consistently instead of asking a kid like Kerry Blackshear Jr. to defend pick and rolls so far from the hoop. While plenty went wrong on offense against Ole Miss in Oxford, that’s another game where Florida’s pick and roll defensive scheme was abused.
I think the staff should be criticized for not finding a better balance and putting the players they did have- as opposed to the kinds they want to have– in a position to succeed.
Former Vice President of the Rowdy Reptiles
Which loss this season was most disappointing to you, and why?
Unfortunately the Gators had more losses than most of us would have expected going into the year, and so many of them seemed like complete gut-punches. I think the one that quite obviously stands out is the final game against Kentucky.
The game itself was rough — having an 18-point lead at home is just something you can’t give up, although you knew Kentucky was going to make a run at the end. Being in the stands, it was such a helpless, sinking feeling to see the lead cut little by little each possession, with the traveling Kentucky fans (who had been quiet most of the day) get progressively louder and happier. At the end of the game it was a weird combination of shock and yet being unsurprised as we had seen this team struggle with blowing leads and closing games plenty of times this season.
What makes that loss hurt even more though is knowing that it ended up being the final game of the season. After the game you’re mad and depressed but you still knew that there was still basketball to be played. Something to hopefully wash out the bad taste. We saw enough flashes to know the team could go on a run and beat anybody. Unfortunately that ended up not being the case. Looking back you say that the UK game was our chance to get to the 20-win mark and now we can’t. You could have ended the season on a high note but instead it was just a sad one with no chance at redemption.
So while there were a lot of tough losses (losing to FSU again, the weird ending at LSU, the Butler game myself and some friends traveled to Indianapolis for), that Kentucky loss on March 7th feels like the most disappointing — not just for what happened that day, but for what ended up happening after it.
Bracketologist at SB Nation, Florida Grad
How do you grade the way Florida has scheduled their non-conference in recent seasons? And how would you suggest they schedule in the upcoming year or two?
While many criticisms apply to Florida basketball under Mike White, scheduling is not among them. Since his arrival in the 2015-16 season, Coach White has built upon the scheduling philosophy Billy Donovan employed during his final seasons in Gainesville. To me, the most impressive change has been a move to off-campus exempt tournaments—rarely scheduled during the Donovan era. Events like this season’s Charleston Classic and next year’s Emerald Coast Classic really help teams prepare for tournament play later in the season. White has also been willing to play both true home-and-home series and neutral-site showcases, like December’s impressive win over Providence in Brooklyn. Those matchups help prepare teams for the bright lights and close calls of conference play, while keeping fans engaged and keeping the program in the national spotlight consistently. Given the roster anticipated to be in place for the 2020-21 season, I would advise AD Scott Stricklin and Coach White to keep looking for these opportunities to better prepare the Gators for SEC play and the postseason.
Florida’s tempo has been a big discussion point over the last few seasons. What do you think of the pace the team has played at and how fast would you have liked to see them play this year?
Pace took up an outsized amount of the space in the discussion about Florida’s season, I think. But I get why it did so: The idea of pace still perplexes many college basketball viewers and because Florida’s idea of playing with pace could be perplexing at times. After starting the season glacially and then thawing near New Year’s, Florida finished the 2019-20 season at No. 326 in KenPom’s Adjusted Pace, both up two whole possession per game from last year’s No. 344 finish and far more like the final, fairly deliberate teams of Billy Donovan’s last several seasons than the relatively up-tempo ones that Mike White fielded over his first three years.
Given the stark difference between two teams that didn’t crack 65 possessions a game and three that were above 67 possessions a contest, I think it’s fair to cite White’s efforts to put Florida’s offense in Andrew Nembhard’s hands is THE reason for the slowdown. Nembhard has not been a push-the-pace guard through two seasons in Gainesville — and if the rumors that he’ll go pro come to fruition, he won’t get a third shot — and has, for better and worse, slowed Florida’s offense to his preferred pace by going deep into clocks before getting downhill or around a late screen once an initial action is defended. But while Nembhard wasn’t eager to push the ball in transition, Florida also had far fewer such opportunities in 2019-20, as the Gators’ turnover and steal percentages plummeted without the handsy KeVaughn Allen and Kevarrius Hayes poking balls free.
I would have liked to see Nembhard speed things up from time to time, especially given how good Florida seemed to operate when he DID get to full sprint in transition, but I think Florida never quite finding a reliable second point guard (Ques Glover played fast, but too loose, as a freshman) and rarely having the steals numbers to fuel a full-on transition assault makes this a more understandable discrepancy between the ideal and real for me.
What I’m excited about, though, is what could be in 2020-21 if Nembhard departs: Tyree Appleby and Glover (and Tre Mann, if he develops as a distributor) are not going to want to plod.
The Alligator Online Sports Editor
Who was Florida’s defensive player of the year in your opinion?
This was tough because I was tied between Scottie Lewis and Keyontae Johnson. As much as I love watching Lewis play defense, I’m going to have to go with Johnson. Lewis was a machine at blocking shots, but Johnson played 100 more minutes and contributed in other ways defensively. The sophomore dominated the glass defensively, leading the team with 5.4 defensive rebounds per game and more than doubling that of Lewis. Johnson also led the Gators in defensive win shares with 1.6. The Gators lagged defensively when Lewis was off the court, but they were truly terrible when Johnson was on the bench. It’s really close, and I can definitely see an argument for Lewis, but my pick is Johnson.
Right now optimism of the football staff is at a high point, but there isn’t the same trust in the basketball staff. What is something you think the basketball staff could learn from the football staff?
We all watched the Jim McElwain era and wondered why the staff didn’t adapt to the talent they had on the team but that changed quickly when Dan Mullen arrived. We’ve watched him change his offense based off of the roster he has and I think that’s something Mike White needs to. I don’t think you can have one system but rather you should have a system that adjusts to what you have. For example, Scottie Lewis, Keytonae Johnson, Nembhard and Locke are all different players but they all have special talents in their own way.
Former President of the Rowdy Reptiles
What do you think was the best coaching decision the staff made this season?
I think the best decision the coaching staff made this season was allowing Tre Mann to grow as a player. I consistently heard from reports that Mann was an elite scorer and shooter in practice — it just didn’t seem to translate to the games in the first half of the season. He started 8 for 37 (21.6% from three), but the coaches stuck with him and trusted his ability. His next 43 attempts from distance produced 14 makes, good for 32.5%. 6 more total makes doesn’t seem like much, but in the age of analytics a nearly 11% increase is terrific. From December 21 to January 21 (8 games), Mann averaged 13 minutes per game. During the stretch of February (8 games) when Ques Glover was struggling with turnovers, Tre averaged 22 minutes per contest. Florida won 6 of those 8.
Mann clearly improved on defense in the second half of the season too. He was late on a lot of rotations early on. Playing sound defense will get you minutes with Mike White. I’d be hard-pressed to see Tre NOT make a big sophomore leap next season.
Read And Reaction, Host of Gators Breakdown Podcast
When you look back at this season, what will be your memories of Kerry Blackshear Jr.?
I was ready for just about any question that Eric threw my way when he asked me to do this. Well, at least I thought I was.
Then he sent me the question: “When you look back at this season, what will be your memories of Kerry Blackshear, Jr.?”
Well, that’s a loaded question. Blackshear, at 6’10” and 241 pounds, was billed as the presence in the middle that the 2018-2019 squad was missing as it got bounced from the tournament in the second round.
Blackshear played pretty well this season, but wasn’t able to quite duplicate the numbers that he put up his junior season at Virginia Tech. His plus/minus was +8.1. He contributed 4.4 win-shares. His offensive rating was 119.0 (team was 107.5) and his defensive rating was 97.9 (team was 98.7). He contributed significant value to the team.
But he also was inefficient. He scored more than two points less per game than last season. He only attempted 177 two-pointers versus 82 three’s (a 2.2:1 ratio) after taking 299 two’s against 63 three’s the year prior (4.7:1). Both his three-point (.333 to .305) and two-point (.545 to .497) percentages dropped significantly.
Looking back, I’m hard-pressed to find a memory of Blackshear on the court. My main memory of the Blackshear era is actually the reaction of fans when he decided to transfer from Virginia Tech to Florida. That moment seemed to point towards Mike White finding his inside man who would ensure the Gators wouldn’t get bullied like they had the previous year. It pointed towards the program getting the player that they needed at the exact time that they needed him.
Sometimes these things work out. Sometimes they don’t. Blackshear was a valuable member of this team and I cringe when I think of what the team’s record would have been without him. But I’m still left wanting a little bit more.
Sports Illustrated, The Alligator
Rebounding has been a problem for the Gators over the last couple of years. Why do you think that has been the case, and how would you like to see it improved?
Floridians rebounding has been an enormous issue in the past few years on both ends of the floor. And when you consider that consistent big-man play has been an issue, it is no surprise. In the 2018-19 season, when John Egbunu never recovered from an ACL tear the year before, Kevarrius Hayes was forced to play the five.
Hayes is simply not a five.
His footwork, body control and build did not work as UF’s big-man presence. Coach Mike White traditionally just doesn’t have good forward and center play. Big men for whatever reason don’t seem to progress under the leadership of this coaching staff.
So, to directly answer the question, UF has had rebounding issues in large part because it’s had issues with big men in the first place, where most of your boards are going to come from.
You’ve gotten an outside perspective of the Florida program since you cover Butler and have seen three Butler-Florida meetings in the last two seasons and you also cover the college basketball landscape nationally. Since you can be totally unbiased, what is your evaluation of where the Florida basketball program is at right now?
I think everyone can admit that this season was a disappointment for Florida. The Gators entered the campaign with high hopes of being a national title contender and they were never able to come close to that ceiling. With that said, though, this campaign likely would have ended with Florida snagging its fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament bid (I had the Gators as a No. 9 seed in my final bracketology projection). Head coach Mike White only missed the Big Dance in his first year at the helm and Florida has finished in the KenPom Top 35 in each year under his leadership.
I’m not willing to say that the program is trending up as this season fell short of preseason expectations, but it is in a better spot than some might think. Can Coach White be the one to take the Gators back to the top? That is a different question, as I would be remiss to ignore the fact that I am genuinely concerned by the massive drop-off in defensive efficiency during this past season after previously strong campaigns in that area under Coach White. On the whole, the program hasn’t plummeted out of the spotlight yet and continues to garner attention on the court and on the recruiting trail. The Gators have been successful as of late…they just need to put it all together for a season and build momentum from there.
In All Kinds Of Weather
What were your impressions of Andrew Nembhard’s season? Break down what you saw from him.
I’m a big fan of year-to-year improvement, and while Nembhard certainly wasn’t bad as a freshman, I do believe he took a step forward in 2019-20. Not a mammoth leap, but certainly a noticeable one. I think Gator fans are going to have to make peace with his jumper; it is what it is from a mechanical standpoint and it goes in enough of the time (30.8% from three) that opponents have to respect it. Besides, that isn’t what he’s here for. He’s here to facilitate the offense, and he does an excellent job at that. His vision as a passer is elite, his execution of passes is just as elite, and although some of his turnovers are objectively irritating, he more than overwrites them with the positive plays he makes. On the defensive side, I thought Nembhard did a great job over the course of the year- he looked lost a few times in some of the games where the whole team never bothered to show up defensively (like Missouri) but the overall net result of his defensive performance was solidly in the black. The main thing I’d like to see him improve on is his free throw percentage. 77.5% from the line isn’t terrible, but ideally you’d like the guy who brings the ball up the floor to be able to put two points on the board if he gets fouled on a drive or in the final seconds of a close game. All things considered, I’d label Nembhard’s sophomore year on the border between very good and great.
The Alligator Sports Editor
Who do you think was the most underrated Gator this season?
Despite Keyontae Johnson’s end-of-season honors, he was the most underrated player for Florida this season. The leap he made from his freshman year to his sophomore campaign was unexpected and hugely impressive and without it, the Gators would have missed out on the NCAA Tournament were it still being held. His shooting percentages jumped across the board and he quickly became UF’s most consistent scoring threat and the second best perimeter shooter on the team. Much of the focus around the team has been on Kerry Blackshear Jr. and Andrew Nembhard this season, but Johnson’s steady play guided Florida where other players on the team rose and fell.
In 31 games, Johnson was the team’s leading scorer 13 times — the most on the team and its leading rebounder 13 times — tied for the most on the team with Blackshear Jr. Johnson turned in nine double-doubles this season with his improved scoring and rebounding and was an improved passer as well. He deserves ample credit for Florida’s successes this past season.
There is a time capsule to be sealed up and opened by Gator fans in the year 2120. You can only put the film from one basketball game this year in the time capsule that will embody Florida’s 2019-20 season. Which game do you choose and why?
I’ll admit – I paused more than once as scrolled through our schedule, looking for the “right” answer.
For differing reasons, I considered the double OT win over Bama . . . the torrid comeback that fell a fraction of a second short against LSU . . . the pummeling of AU . . .the inexplicable loss at Missouri . . . the magical night against Vanderbilt . . . and maddening collapse against Kentucky. But none of ’em fit. Not one of ’em would be my time capsule game.
And then I found it: March 12, 3:25 PM – Georgia (Nashville, TN)/ RESULT: CANCELED.
For whatever Florida did or didn’t do in 2019-2020 . . . and there was a lot of both . . . the season will always be defined by that one word, that final result. It was an ending that put sports in perspective in juxtaposing ways . . . simultaneously showing how important sports is to our daily lives, yet meaningless in the scope of life.
And oddly, in a now trivial way – “CANCELED” kinda fit as season summation. The abrupt ending provided for unresolved questions – what was this team capable of? Could it have gone on a run? Would it have lost in the opening round?
We are left wondering. But didn’t this team have us wondering all season?
And so my time capsule would include footage of a game that didn’t happen . . . showing instead that shocking announcement, and all that happened after.
The triumph after.
Stay safe, my friends. We will get through this.
I will see you next season!
High School Basketball Coach in the State of Florida
(I offered him the chance to be kept anonymous, he obliged)
What is the feel around the state of Mike White and the Florida basketball program?
This would have been the chance to really get kids excited. They know Tre…they know Omar….a Final Four or championship would have been big. A lot of us coaches don’t know why this team didn’t run but we still think White is a great coach who could win championships. Great defensive guy. Florida recruited one of my guys and he really liked what White said and his parents thought he’d take great care of him. And kids love Jordan Mincy and Darris Nichols. It’s noticeable when those two come into a gym and sit next to a bunch of the older assistants you normally see. White talks about playing fast and that didn’t happen and some coaches notice that, but kids don’t. I think he is a great coach and will have Florida winning big soon.
Thank you to all my wonderful collaborators, and go Gators!