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Sunday, November 28, 2021
<p>UF men's basketball coach Mike White smiles after a play during Florida's 104-54 win against North Carolina A&amp;T on Nov. 16, 2015, in the O'Connell Center.</p>

UF men's basketball coach Mike White smiles after a play during Florida's 104-54 win against North Carolina A&T on Nov. 16, 2015, in the O'Connell Center.

What strikes you first is their confidence: their faces calm and smiling, even after an offseason of so much upheaval and uncertainty.

A legendary coach gone, a 38-year-old former Ole Miss point guard brought in to replace him, a projected sixth-place finish in a top-heavy, mostly mediocre Southeastern Conference.

But Florida’s confidence isn’t lacking.

You saw it on Monday night, when the Gators thrashed North Carolina A&T by 50, piling up their largest point total since Nov. 25, 2011.

"2011?" redshirt senior Dorian Finney-Smith said, laughing. "Yeah, it’s been a while."

In his regular season home debut, you saw the quintessential Mike White: pacing the sideline, squatting, shouting, pointing, jumping, shaking.

Shaking his head after a Kasey Hill isolation jump shot led to a brick, jumping high after a John Egbunu block at the rim, turning to confer with his assistant coaches after a defensive breakdown, after a failed offensive set, after a questionable foul.

You saw his quintessential team: running in transition, full-court pressing from the tip-off, quick passing, spaced shooting and points.

Lots of points.

104 points.

"Hopefully that’s something we can maintain," redshirt junior forward DeVon Walker said.

Highly unlikely, but even so, their confidence is undeniable, even if it is unjustified. Even if it was manufactured against a North Carolina A&T team that has qualified for just one NCAA Tournament in the last two decades.

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Regardless, it was important for the Gators to experience the benefits of their system, to catch a glimpse of their highest of upsides. It was important to feed their psyche, to feed their confidence.

"And our swagger," junior Schuyler Rimmer said.

The Gators will be better than their sixth-place SEC projection. They’re too talented, too athletic and they have too many shooters.

Last year, Florida relied on Finney-Smith and guard Michael Frazier II for their three-pointers, the only two starters who shot above 30.5 percent behind the arc.

And of their reserves who received significant playing time, only Chris Chiozza shot above 25.6 percent.

In their win on Monday, eight different players made a three.

UF also shot 53.6 percent from the field, scored 40 points in the paint, and shot 51.7 percent on three pointers.

Even though Florida’s statistics were inflated against a team that went 9-22 a year ago, it was the ideal performance for Mike White’s home opener.

"If (our bigs) can get it going on the same night that we’re hitting threes on the level that we hit them," White said, "it would be the perfect-world picture."

And the players do think they can get it going — every night.

"We know what we’re capable of and I think this should be the criteria that we hold ourselves to," Rimmer said.

It’s obviously unrealistic to set Monday’s performance as the bar for this team, but wholly believable to say that they can finish near the top of the SEC — behind powerhouse Kentucky but alongside a Ben Simmons-led LSU and Vanderbilt — and, after missing out last year, to earn their way back into the NCAA Tournament.

We won’t know how good Florida will be until the post-season, but UF will have opportunities to show it — against No. 13 Michigan State in December, against No. 23 LSU in January and twice against No. 2 Kentucky.

They will likely lose more of those games than they will win.

Still, there is talent here, hope here, confidence here.

Confidence to finish higher than their projections, to once again end their season in the post-season, to experience success with a new, young coach after the departure of a legend.

"Coach challenged us," Finney-Smith said, "and we accepted the challenge."

Follow Ian Cohen on Twitter @icohenb

UF men's basketball coach Mike White smiles after a play during Florida's 104-54 win against North Carolina A&T on Nov. 16, 2015, in the O'Connell Center.

With Billy Donovan coaching in the NBA, Mike White now looks to take over where Donovan left off. Here is Graham Hall's feature from before the season on UF's newest hoops coach (http://www.alligator.org/sports/basketball/article_32effa00-844a-11e5-9c22-8f5fc4a7d18e.html).

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