Florida was announced as a four seed in the East bracket of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday and despite the recent losses, he believes his team is playing pretty good basketball. They are also pumped to be in the field of 68 and playing East Tennessee State at 3:10 p.m. in Orlando on Thursday.
“We’re excited about this last chapter of the season where we all get a clean slate, new opportunities, excited to just be a part of March Madness,” White said at Wednesday’s SEC Teleconference. “It’s exciting to play the quality of opponent that we’re playing in East Tennessee State.”
The Gators made the tournament on the backbone of a great record (24-8) and a schedule that was loaded on the front end, but even better than expected on the back end. Every team that Florida lost to on the season made the tournament including the five losses in SEC play.
The SEC took a step forward getting five teams invited to The Dance and White sees the league heading in the right direction in a big way. Kentucky (2 seed), Florida (4 seed), South Carolina (7 seed), Arkansas (8 seed), and Vanderbilt (9 seed) mark a step up in the number of teams to make the tournament.
“I think the SEC had a great year and I think we’ll only as a conference continue to develop and progress,” he said. “I think that (Commissioner) Greg (Sankey) and (Assoc. Commissioner) Dan Leibovitz and along with some (SEC Consultant) Mike Tranghese expertise, I think those guys collectively have done an amazing job. Not only did we get five in, I thought we got five solidly in. I was pretty pleased with all of our seeds. I thought all of our seeds were very well deserved.
“If you look at it closely, you probably have another 2-3 teams that given another win here or different bounce of the ball there, that could have been right there as well.
“I think we’re at five now and certainly there’s a chance and the expectation is that we’ll continue to get more and more in.”
Tough sled down the stretch…
Despite the three losses in last four games, White doesn’t believe his team is playing poorly, more so, he thinks they ran into tough matchups and away from home to lose those three games. Kentucky on the road, followed by two games against matchup problem Vanderbilt in their home town were never going to be easy.
White said his teams played well for the most part and were just moments from taking a couple of those losses as wins. He isn’t buying into his team being tired and worn out down the stretch, despite the tough finish to the schedule
“It’s hard for me to look at it that way,” he said. “I don’t think we were tired. If you look at it one game at a time at the end and playing at Vandy to finish the season and up 8-9 with the under eight media (timeout), and we just can’t hold on. We played well in that game, to have a chance at Vandy the way they’re playing, the last game of the season, we played well.
“I like to look at the SEC Tournament as just a different set of circumstances. Unfortunately we drew a team that was a tough matchup for us during the season… obviously they swept us. You’re playing Vandy again in Nashville and again we did some good things. We had a chance. We miss a free throw in the last minute of the game that could have won it for us. We missed two shots in the paint in the closing seconds.”
These guys aren’t feeling sorry for themselves… instead, they now know they have some things to work on and getting them corrected means getting over those last humps for victory.
“We try to look at it like the sky has not fallen on us,” he said. “If you find a way to beat Vandy by one point and move on, we’re not having the same conversation.
“I think Vandy hasn’t gotten enough credit for the development they’ve made during the season. They’re just very difficult for everybody. They’ve proven to be for us both offensively and defensively. This is a team that was up 19 at Rupp. That’s hard to do.”
It is time for his team to refocus on wat is ahead, he believes they can and will do that.
“We’ve lost a little mojo of course, but I don’t think we’re a much different team than what we were a couple of weeks ago,” he said. “Obviously different than when we had John, but still very similar. We just have to clean some things up. Moving forward we have to be as sharp as we can be on Thursday. I expect us to be refreshed and play with a bunch of energy.
Close to maximum potential…
There is no doubt that this team has some extra limitations on it with the loss of senior center John Egbunu to injury. They can’t afford foul trouble inside. A team that has a steady dose of inside talent is going to be a difficult matchup. But, he thinks this team can play anyone, they just have to do the little things right all of the time.
“It’s almost like we’re two different teams,” he said. “When we had John, I thought we were pretty close to being maxed out. We were playing really well both offensively and defensively, John was progressing offensively. We were in a great rhythm and playing as well as most teams in the country. When he went out I think there was a learning curve there, there was a process, and I think we’re still going through it.
With this group here, our margin of error has decreased. We’re not as good on the offensive glass. We’re not as good defensively at times, so we’ve got to be even sharper with all of our decisions. We can’t make any mental mistakes. We can’t have any lack of communication. We had a few of those against the Commodores and paid for every one of them.”
Despite the teams limitations, there has been zero let down in his mind with their willingness to give everything.
“In terms of effort, togetherness, buy in, these guys have been great,” White said. “If not all the way maxed out, we’re right there and knockin’ on the door I am proud of this group.”