Florida Gators set to open season at Navy

Florida coach Mike White knows his team will be the most talented on the floor Friday night, but that’s only part of the matchup.

In White’s first game at the head of the Florida program, the Gators open the year in the second annual Veterans Classic while facing Navy on Friday (9:30 p.m., TV: CBS Sports Network). The Midshipmen don’t have ideal size, having only two players taller than 6-7 compared to eight of those on the Florida roster. The Gators are also more athletic and want to push the pace to use that athleticism in transition.

Those are areas that Florida should be able to find success in its season opener, but White knows that his team depending on its talent won’t be enough.

“I feel comfortable saying that we’ll be more talented, we’ll be a little bit more athletic, we’ll be a little bigger,” White said. “If we can match some of the intangibles that are their biggest strengths, it’ll obviously not only help us on Friday night but it’ll help us this season. It’s a fitting opener for us and this current team.”

Navy went 13-19 last season, going 8-10 in Patriot League action. In last season’s Veterans Classic, the Midshipmen fell 64-59 to Michigan State. Navy increased its win total for the third straight season while winning 13, and it returns four players that started at least 10 games last season. Senior guard Tilman Dunbar is the leading returning scorer after averaging 9.1 points last season.

The Midshipmen graduated Worth Smith and Brandon Venturini, a pair of 1,000-point scorers, following last season. Smith was a member of the All-Patriot League First Team last season. Despite the departure of Smith and Venturini, White still sees a disciplined team that will challenge Florida.

“A lot of challenges,” White said. “It’s a difficult start. People look at Navy and say ‘they’re in the Patriot, you’re in the SEC, that’s a gimme.’ Heck no, that’s not a gimme. This is a very difficult game. It’s a new staff (at Florida), new way of playing, the obvious transition, the seven new players, DeVon Walker’s first game in a long time, Alex (Murphy) being hurt.

“We’ll have one senior out there and just a couple juniors with any experience. Navy will be as disciplined, as tough, as accountable as any team we play all year. They’re soldiers. Our weaknesses are their biggest strengths.”

The Gators will need to channel some of Navy’s discipline on Friday. Florida turned the ball over 23 times, including 15 in the fist half, and went 10-27 from the free throw line. White chalked it up to being Florida’s first time playing at home in front of fans while trying to understand the new up-tempo style the first-year coach has installed.

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