A common approach to sports is to “control the controllables.” Teams can only focus on their own effort and attention to detail. They have no way of affecting their opponent’s preparation.
In the 2017-18 season, the Florida men’s basketball team is finding that out the hard way, as it has struggled to overcome its deficiencies while competing in one of the toughest conferences in Division I men’s basketball, the SEC.
When the Florida men’s basketball team isn’t hitting shots, things get ugly.
Florida’s offense, averaging 78.5 points per game this season, showed major signs of regression in Saturday’s 68-50 home loss to Alabama, just days after losing 72-60 to Georgia.
UF (15-8, 6-4 SEC) had a stretch against the Bulldogs in which it missed 20 out of 21 shots, a mark of futility perhaps matched by the Gators’ 17-point second half against the Crimson Tide, the fewest points scored in a half this season by Florida.
The 50 total points scored against Alabama was a season low as well. In fact, UF has more than doubled that total four times this season, scoring in triple figures against Gardner-Webb, North Florida, then-No. 17 Gonzaga and Stanford.
“It’s pretty frustrating,” forward Keith Stone said. “I know the players are mad, I know the coaches are mad, I know the fans are mad, so we just gotta turn around and get better.”
Consistency has been an issue for the Gators all season.
But for all the things White and his players can control as they try to hold things together, the competitiveness of the SEC this year can’t be ignored as a factor in some of the team’s struggles.
One of the barometers used for selecting the 68 NCAA Tournament qualifiers is the RPI (Ratings percentage index), which ranks all 351 Division I teams based on wins, losses and strength of schedule. It’s not the end-all-be-all evaluation system, but it can help show how much the SEC has improved since last year.
In 2017, the final RPI rankings had six SEC teams — Kentucky, Florida, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Georgia — in the top 68. Of those six, only Georgia failed to make it to the NCAA Tournament.
As it stands now, 11 SEC teams — all but LSU, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt — meet that criteria.
Another way of looking at it would be to compare the average RPIs, from last season and today, of all 14 SEC teams. The 2017 league average was around 86. Right now, it’s in the high-40s.
Top to bottom, the SEC is a much tougher league than it was last season.
White said these improvements start with experience and depth, adding that he also thinks there’s more talent and athleticism in the league.
“It’s an incredibly competitive league” he said.
Granted, Florida’s recent struggles can also be attributed to its lack of health. Roughly half of its frontcourt rotation is out with injuries, and its tallest active player, 6-foot-11 Gorjok Gak, has been limited by a knee injury all year.
Despite the peaks and valleys of this season, graduate transfer Egor Koulechov doesn’t want to overreact.
“There’s eight games left,” he said after playing Alabama. “We can win every single game on our schedule.”
“There’s time left. We just have to get to work.”
A video from FloridaGators.com contributed to this report.