After finalizing Florida’s win in Oxford, Mississippi, a place where Mike White ranks as Ole Miss’ No. 8 all-time leader in assists, UF’s coach climbed into the team bus.
The first thing he did was check UF’s stats.
Not its points, rebounds or field goal percentage, but UF's RPI — the measurement that the NCAA uses to determine which teams are qualified to enter its tournament in March.
"I’m obsessed with all those numbers," White said. "I’m not going to lie."
White may be even more obsessed with making it to the NCAA Tournament.
His last trip to the tournament was in 1999 as Ole Miss’ starting point guard, where he helped lead the Rebels to their first-ever tournament win.
As head coach at Louisiana Tech from 2011-2015, White failed to reach the NCAA Tournament despite compiling a .716 winning percentage, making it to the NIT three out of his four years as coach.
And now, after Florida missed its first postseason tournament in five years last season, White and UF’s program share a similar passion: making it back to the Big Dance.
White has been glued to the statistics that will get him there.
"During the offseason, you may check out what the weather’s going to be like in Gainesville next week. But with us, we just look at numbers," White said. "There’s so much information out there."
With its schedule and play lately, Florida is in surprisingly good standing heading into the second half of the season, starting tonight against Mississippi State in the O’Connell Center at 7 p.m.
The Gators rank 17th in the nation in RPI, which combines win/loss record and strength of schedule, both important factors in the NCAA’s decision process.
And despite Florida’s No. 5-ranked strength of schedule, its top-20 RPI ranking is fairly unexpected.
UF is the only team in the top 25 and only one of six teams in the top 50 with at least six losses.
"We’ve had opportunities," White said of UF’s current standing in the RPI. "Some we’ve taken advantage of, some we haven’t,"
They’ve included road losses against then-No. 21 Purdue, against then-No. 1 Michigan State — where the Gators were defeated by just six points — and against then-No. 17 Miami.
Despite the negative outcomes, all those games served as positive influences in Florida’s tournament-eligibility standing.
But even though Florida’s coaches are highly attentive to its standing in the NCAA Tournament-eligibility race, they don’t discuss it with the players.
"I don’t know how we’d handle that," White said.
"This team needs to be concentrated on Mississippi State and our attack versus their zone, how we’re going to slow these guys down, our transition defense, our live-ball turnovers, all those things. Maybe in another three weeks, maybe we start talking about that."
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