I’m not going to sit here and sugarcoat it.
The 2019-20 season has been a circus of sorts for Florida men’s basketball.
We’ve seen enough ups and downs to rival a seesaw from this team, and the fans at the O’Connell Center on Saturday witnessed more of the same.
UF’s late-game collapse against Kentucky on Senior Day was just a sampling of the frustrations that have plagued the program since the season tipped off in November.
The Gators are still facing an identity crisis, and when things are falling apart, there’s nobody they can point at to help stop the bleeding.
Against the Wildcats, it was the loss of Kerry Blackshear Jr. in the first half to a wrist injury that helped cause the self-destruction.
UK big man Nick Richards scored 17 second-half points, and Kentucky manhandled Florida on the boards, 19-7.
“Very disappointing the way that we defended and rebounded down the stretch,” coach Mike White said after Saturday’s game. “Defensively, we have struggled to get everybody on the same page in terms of buy-in...we got next week to see if we can figure it out.”
As disappointing as the final 12 minutes of the regular season were for Florida, the first 28 minutes against the Wildcats held incredible promise.
The Gators were dominating the sixth-ranked team in the country. The defense was fast and aggressive, and the offense was fluid and effective.
Yes, UK was missing an important piece in Ashton Hagans, but that shouldn’t take away from the fact that UF looked like the better team for a large portion of the contest.
And that’s why, to me, you can’t count this team out from causing some damage in both Nashville and the NCAA Tournament over the next couple of weeks.
The trials the Gators have weathered throughout the regular season will prepare them for what’s coming in the postseason.
One of the biggest factors will be UF’s experience in neutral-site games this season.
Florida went 4-1 in those contests, earning a championship at the Charleston Classic in the process.
With little time to prepare for opponents in between games during the postseason, it’s difficult for certain squads to perform in that type of environment. The Gators showing they have the ability to win multiple games in a short period of time bodes well for potential success in March.
A second factor is the team’s experience against Quadrant 1 opponents.
Although the team’s record (5-9) isn’t the most impressive, playing against other potential NCAA Tournament teams certainly preps a team for games after the regular season.
On top of all that, this team has shown its potential in spurts during the SEC season.
Impressive wins over Auburn and LSU, along with competitive games against Kentucky has proved to me that Florida has what it takes to advance.
Additionally, White’s postseason experience at UF can’t be ignored either.
Since taking over at Florida, White has taken the Gators to the NCAA Tournament three times in four seasons. His teams have won at least one game in all three appearances, including the Elite 8 berth in his second season in Gainesville.
Now, correctly predicting what this basketball team is going to do is a lot like expecting to win the lottery. But if UF performs up to its billing at a consistent level down the stretch, an appearance in the Sweet 16 is something that could be in this team’s future.
You can contact Evan Lepak at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @evanmplepak.