Mike White on Gators' four seed: “very deserving”

Most of the time when a coach enters the NCAA Tournament on the heels of losing three of their last four games, he is unhappy with the way his team is playing and looking for answers. That doesn’t seem to be the case with Florida head coach Mike White whose team earned the four seed in the East bracket of the NCAA Tournament. Earned is the key word.

The Gators went through a tremendous pre-conference schedule bolstered in the Ratings Percentage Index by playing all of the games away from the friendly confines of the O’Connell Center as it was being renovated.

Despite a tough road schedule and a tougher than expected SEC schedule, Florida managed to be one of very few teams in the tournament that didn’t lose to a team outside of the tournament.

Still, with the finish of the season, and following the injury of senior center John Egbunu, White and his team were a little bit worried about where their status lied when he selection committee went to make the seeds for the tournament.

They found out Sunday that all the hard work early on paid off, and the fact they were playing in tough circumstances and in tough places late in the season wasn’t going to have too much of a bad effect on that standing.

"First off, we watched it as a team in the locker room at the O'Dome,” White said of the selection show. “Having come off two losses, not as cheerful as a program as we could be or we were a week ago. We've known for probably a month that we're in, so kind of anti-climactic. But I tell you, it was exciting to see that we're a four (seed). Whoever we were going to draw, we knew was going to be very, very challenging. And ETSU obviously is going to present a lot of challenges for us. But the fact that our guys earned a four, I thought they were very deserving.”

Better yet, the Gators were hoping to get a chance to play the first couple of games close to home and draw a good crowd of Gator fans to watch. They got that wish as well.

“Most importantly, to be able to play in front of Gator fans in Orlando… It was good news,” he said. “We had a tough week to 10 days. (Sunday) evening was a little bit better for us."

As much as he would like to revive the momentum his team had just a couple of weeks ago, White is insistent that his team has not been paying badly.

“Yeah, we hope so,” he said about wanting a reset on the current season. “We’ve got a fresh start. It’s not like we’re sitting here playing poorly. We just got beat by Vandy at Vandy, and you’re up 12 in the second half and we just didn’t hang on and we made a few mistakes. And then, you get beat by Vandy in Nashville, and we all saw it, we had several opportunities that we didn’t cash in on and it’s not like it was the 200th ranked RPI team in the country that beat us by 16. We’re not that far off.”

“I mean, if you hold onto the lead at Vandy and we make one of those shots in the paint in the closing seconds or make our last free-throw attempt, which would’ve sealed the game, we’re sitting here and the conversation’s entirely different. We’re talking about how strong we finished. We’re close. Our margin for error has decreased, as we know, so a month ago with John Egbunu getting us a couple extra possessions a game offensively on the offensive glass, one of the most difficult guys in the country to block out, cleaning up some mistakes at the rim, we don’t have that luxury.”

What the losses have done is allow him to easily point out to his team where they can do better and where they have played better already this year.

“A positive is that we’ve been exposed in some other areas,” he said. “We had some miscommunications there in the tournament against Vanderbilt.  we’re in a great rhythm early on, Chris Chiozza makes a free-throw and we’re literally walking around like we’ve already won the game and we’re eight to ten minutes into the game feeling pretty good about ourselves. They’ve already beat us twice, what are we doing here? Matthew Fisher-Davis, boom, huge three right in front of us. It’s a layup for Matthew Fisher-Davis. You wonder why he gets confidence and makes a couple daggers mid second half. That cannot happen. It absolutely cannot happen.

“We had two miscommunications in the first half by veterans, which led to two more threes. We lose sight of Riley LaChance down the stretch. We’re down two and Riley LaChance fades the opposite corner and we just lose sight of the best shooter in the SEC. We just stand up and look at the ball. Again, we could get away with some of that earlier on. We can’t, we’ve been exposed. We’ve been a very disciplined defensive team. We’ve got to be off the chart disciplined now. We have to. Our attention to detail has to be through the roof Thursday and moving forward if we’re gonna advance.”

And now White is in a new scenario for himself. He’s never coaches in an NCAA Tournament. He certainly has some old friends and coaches he can call on to ask questions, and it is something he will probably do as the week progresses.

"Right now it's more about learning ETSU as quickly as possible before we get to our guys at 3 o'clock,” he said. “We want to be as thorough as we can and have our guys absorb as much information about the Bucs that we possibly can in a hurry. But throughout the week, I'm sure there will be a couple guys that I could reach out to. With tournament format, of course, we didn't take advantage of last week. But it's about the first one. I've been there before. I was on the wrong end of the 4-13 (matchup) as a player at Ole Miss. It's not about how the bracket falls and what's next and what could be following that. This is about an opportunity to beat a very good team who's won 25 games, who has really good players. They play extremely hard. This is about ETSU and only ETSU."

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