Extend the pressure, increase the speed.
That is what Florida basketball coach Mike White wants his team to do heading into the 2020-21 season. When White talked to the media on Wednesday, he spoke candidly about his desire to push the ball up the floor on a much more regular basis.
“Out of necessity and out of desire, we’re going to extend pressure, and we’re going to play faster,” White said. “Our increase in tempo will be among the national leaders.”
However, the coach heading into his sixth year also acknowledged the work it takes to get to a fast tempo with the basketball. It starts without the basketball.
“I think we’ve got a chance to be much better in the open court, but we’ve got to get in the open court,” White said.
To get into the open court, teams have to win on the defensive end. White, a coach traditionally known for tough defense, allowed 66 points per game in the 2019-20 season. While that total was his second-best average since he took the job at Florida, his offense scored its second-lowest points per game in a season at 71.9. This ultimately put White’s team last season at third in average scoring margin (5.9), right in the middle of his five seasons.
Strong defense obviously makes the job much easier when it comes to putting the ball in the basket for a team that wants to play fast. However, to get in the open court as White said, just stopping the other team from scoring is not enough: Turnovers have to be created somehow.
Last season, the Gators only forced 12.9 turnovers a game, the lowest in White’s tenure.
“We’ve got a lot of work to put in to be a successful, extending-of-pressure defensive team,” he said.
White mentioned rebounding as another point of emphasis for creating easy buckets this season.
“I think we’ve got a chance to be much better on the offensive glass,” White said. “Get some extra possessions, get some easy ones, we’ve got to work to do that.”
White thinks that those attributes may come easier for this team than last season’s because of this squad’s leadership. He said that last year’s team got caught up in personal goals at times instead of team goals.
“I do think we had some lack of buy-in for sure. Not out of defiance but out of having personal focus more on individual stuff,” White said. “I don’t think that we had a super high ceiling defensively last year.”
The return of the orange and blue’s best defenders, sophomore Scottie Lewis and junior Kenyontae Johnson, from a season ago will surely help spearhead the movement to improve on defense. Further, a transfer like 6-foot-11 center Colin Castleton should help the offensive glass part of things.
With a new style of play seemingly the focus for this group that tips off in just over a month, the only guarantee for Florida basketball is change. A change in playing style is imminent, but a change in the culture and the win column remains to be seen.
“We’ve had a good culture around here,” White said. “We haven’t had a championship-level culture.”
Contact Graham Marsh at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @GrahamMarshUF.
Junior Keyontae Johnson (left) and sophomore Scottie Lewis (right) at the Gators' game against Arkansas last season. They are among Florida's returning defensive leaders this season.