Mike White

Coach Mike White said the Gators' issues with consistency could cost them a trip to the NCAA Tournament. “It’s been a rollercoaster ride,” he said.

Alan Alvarez de Sotomayor / Alligator Staff

Florida men’s basketball coach Mike White stripped himself of certain formalities before Monday’s practice.

“I’ll just be very, very clear,” he said. “There’s a chance we can play in the NCAA Tournament and there’s a chance we can go to the NIT. Period.”

For a team that held the nation’s No. 5 ranking in early December and currently boasts a 4-1 record against top-25 opponents, the possibility of ending the season excluded from the 68 programs participating in the NCAA Tournament might seem puzzling.

White would agree.

“It’s been a rollercoaster ride,” he said. “We’re just very, very inconsistent, offensively and defensively.”

While the Gators have seen success against some of their tougher opponents, they have struggled in matchups with teams in the bottom half of the SEC’s standings. After last week’s pair of losses to Georgia and Vanderbilt, UF is 4-5 against conference foes with a sub-.500 record.

Tonight, Florida (17-10, 8-6 SEC) will look to prevent its longest losing streak of the calendar year as it takes on No. 19 Tennessee in Knoxville at 9.

The Volunteers (19-7, 9-5 SEC) are led by the physical play of forwards Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield. Williams leads the team in scoring (15.7 points per game), although he only shot 1 of 8 from the field in UT’s most recent outing – a 73-62 loss to Georgia on Saturday.

Schofield is second to Williams in scoring, averaging 12.2 points per game, and leads Tennessee in rebounds (6.1 per game).

“They’re a strong, tough, physical team,” White said. “I think they have a lot of character.”

The Gators will need to adopt a more efficient brand of basketball if they want to steal a win on the road tonight. They currently rank in the bottom half of the SEC in field goal percentage. In Saturday’s 71-68 loss to Vanderbilt, UF attempted 22 more shots than the Commodores and still came up short of victory.

In stretches of offensive stagnation, the Gators turn to senior guard Chris Chiozza as a source of production. His explosiveness and ability to find open teammates can single-handedly carry the Gators at times.

However, in his last five games combined, Chiozza has shot below 30 percent from the field and has seen a decrease in his assist-to-turnover ratio.

White understands that if the Gators are going to turn things around against Tennessee tonight, it starts with Chiozza.

“He’s got a lot of pressure on him,” White said. “He’s got to play well for us to have a chance.”

Follow Benjamin Brandt on Twitter @bhb1227 and contact him at [email protected].

Benjamin Brandt is a sports writer for the Alligator and covers the University of Florida men's tennis team. He has worked at the paper since Fall 2017.