Now might be a good time to pose the question.
Mike White will be the first person to tell you if he believes his team isn’t playing good defense.
Has all hope been lost for the Gators men’s basketball team’s season?
Maybe, maybe not. It depends on who you ask.
Ask coach Mike White, and he’ll likely dismiss the notion. No coach or player would ever admit it — nor should they — if their season is virtually over.
Bring up that same question to a disgruntled member of the Florida faithful, and they’ll spew some lines from their dissertation of expert analysis on this season’s woes. “Throw the season away, and throw Mike White away with it!!!” they’ll probably say.
Going as far as calling for the firing of a coach with a 69-37 record and two consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances is an extreme reach. But wondering what UF’s men’s basketball team is even playing for at this point most definitely is not.
Florida had a handful of dismal performances early in the season during non-conference play.
OK, fine. It’s early, and there’s still time to fix those mistakes. No need to panic. The Gators did play one of the toughest non-conference schedules of any SEC team.
But opening league play by blowing a 14-point lead to 7-7 South Carolina? Nearly losing to Arkansas in the same way?
Then, in a game in which almost everyone counted it out against No. 3 Tennessee, Florida stayed within reach of the upset until the last minutes and just unraveled when it counted.
The Gators’ poured a lot of energy into that game. And they were at their best when they found ways to execute on top of all that energy. Then, in the second half, when they couldn’t sustain that same toughness, they were inefficient and eventually fell apart. That’s what’s hurt them this season.
Florida has too many variables working against each other, too many aspects of the team’s game that it can’t figure out how to make coexist.
Intensity and execution can’t be mutually exclusive. Inconsistency and undisciplined play are not options at this point.
“I don’t enjoy saying the same thing every day,” White said on Saturday. “ … Fouling jump-shooters? Are you kidding me? We’re in the middle of January and we’re fouling jump-shooters? Guards rebounding down to help our bigs … We caught a couple plays there in the second half where we needed big plays, and we got one guy going the wrong direction. It’s gotta be more important to us.”
White has repeatedly confessed that his team hasn’t been good enough, or poised enough, to close out games.
“This can’t be a moral victory. We’re the University of Florida,” he said after the Gators’ loss to the Volunteers, “and we did not do our jobs down the stretch.”
But there’s only so much the coach can do. He can’t teach effort. He can’t teach aggressiveness. And he doesn’t suit up come game time. That’s all up to the five guys on the court.
Is all hope for the season lost? No, it isn’t.
The Gators can still string together some quality wins at Tennessee, Mississippi State and against Kentucky.
But they have to figure out what they’re playing for and actually go play for it. And they’ve got to do it quickly.
Alanis Thames is the Online Sports Editor of the Alligator. Follow her on Twitter @alanisthames and contact her at [email protected].