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Sunday, January 16, 2022

Column: Don’t expect another Elite Eight from Gators men’s basketball team this season

<p>UF head coach Mike White looks on during Florida's 72-62 loss to Vanderbilt in the Southeastern Conference Tournament on March 10, 2017, in Nashville, Tennessee.</p>

UF head coach Mike White looks on during Florida's 72-62 loss to Vanderbilt in the Southeastern Conference Tournament on March 10, 2017, in Nashville, Tennessee.

Florida men’s basketball coach Mike White is a realist.

He understands the limits of his players, and he’s not afraid to talk about them openly.

When asked last October about UF ranking second in the SEC preseason media poll, White was brutally — almost shockingly — honest.

“I don’t know that that necessarily means you’re going to be much better,” he said matter of factly. “I’m not sure I would’ve picked us second.”

As you can see, sugarcoating things isn’t exactly White’s style. He’d rather sew his mouth shut than give his players credit they don’t deserve.

And while his tempered expectations didn’t stop the Gators from reaching the Elite Eight last season, that hasn’t kept White from once again expressing doubt in his team this fall.

“I think we could be better offensively,” he said a few weeks ago. “I’m not sure we can be quite as good defensively.”

I usually don’t like to make strong predictions about a college basketball team before its season has begun, but in this particular instance, I have to agree with White.

Florida, which plays its first exhibition game of the year Thursday against Jacksonville, is not going to be as good as it was in 2016-17, especially on the defensive end of the floor.

UF, carried by the efforts of forward Devin Robinson, guard Kasey Hill and center John Egbunu, held its opponents to an average of only 66.5 points per game last season, the third-best mark in the SEC behind Alabama and South Carolina.

However, Robinson — who led the Gators in rebounds — and Hill — who led the Gators in steals — have moved on to the pros, while Egbunu — one of the country’s top defensive big men — is still recovering from a torn ACL and is expected to miss the first half of the year.

What remains for Florida? A lot of unknowns.

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Only three players on UF’s roster played over 15 minutes per game last season, not including Egbunu. And, for the third summer in a row, the Gators failed to earn a commitment from any of the nation's top-50 recruits, according to ESPN.

So don’t expect the same postseason magic from Florida next March that it experienced eight months ago. Just ask White, who when questioned about his team’s potential this season, didn’t sound convinced it could earn “the same amount of wins” or go “back to the Elite Eight.”

“I don’t know about many of those things,” he said.

Dylan Dixon is the Alligator’s assistant sports editor. Contact him at ddixon@alligator.org.

UF head coach Mike White looks on during Florida's 72-62 loss to Vanderbilt in the Southeastern Conference Tournament on March 10, 2017, in Nashville, Tennessee.

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