GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Mike White took an unusual, maybe even unprecedented, approach to his team’s offensive woes: he scrapped the entire system.
White spent fall practice and the first few weeks of the season allowing his guys to play with few, if any, rules. They had freedom to shoot, permission to drive and the flexibility to improvise.
White was trying to maximize his team’s potential. After all, the Gators returned three starters, added the nation’s most coveted graduate transfer in forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. and had a top-10 recruiting class that featured two high school All-Americans. They opened with their highest preseason ranking in more than decade and were a popular pick to win the Southeastern Conference and make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
White’s loose, laid-back scheme worked to perfection in practice. Florida looked good while playing fundamental basketball: setting screens and back-screens, making cuts and curls, utilizing bounce passes and working the ball around to keep finding a better shot.
Everything changed “when the lights were on.”
“It was like watching 6-year-olds in a soccer game,” White said. “We all know how that looks: everybody chasing the ball.”
Following losses to Florida State and UConn — the Gators failed to reach 60 points in either game — and a nail-biter against lowly Towson, White had seen enough.
“We cut our losses and revamped,” he said. “We decided we needed to add a whole lot of structure quickly, and we could hold more guys accountable in terms of spacing and where the ball should go and who is screening, who is coming off a screen. But that stuff takes time.”
White used the team’s 10-day break during final exams to hone the wholesale changes. The Gators (6-3) are counting on better results beginning Tuesday against Providence (5-5) in the Basketball Hall of Fame Invitational in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“I don’t think there’s a ceiling on what we can become,” Blackshear said. “I think we’ve got to work every day, and it’s not something we can talk about or envision without being able to work every day. If we do that, we’ll get to where we want to go. I’m confident in myself and I’m confident in these guys beside me. We’ll get to where we want to go.”
The Gators won four in a row following their offensive revamp before losing 76-62 at then-No. 24 Butler.
Still, Florida ranks 12th in the SEC and 279th in the country in scoring, averaging 67 points a game. If that number doesn’t improve, it would be the program’s third-lowest since 1952.
The Gators also rank 10th in the league and 307th in the country in 3-point shooting, making 29.1% from behind the arc.
The team’s best 3-point shooter, sophomore Noah Locke, got off to a slow start. And newcomers Blackshear, Ques Glover, Scottie Lewis and Tre Mann are a combined 16 of 71 (22.5%) from long range.
Between the offensive struggles, White’s in-season overhaul, the preseason hype that ended so quickly and a current stretch in which Florida is playing seven of eight games away from home, it’s been an intense start.
“That’s crazy,” White said. “Unique year for sure. We’re all world. Sky’s falling. Got it figured out. No, we don’t. This guy’s the best player in the whole world. Maybe he’s not. I could go on and on.
“At the end of the day, let’s get better today. That’s all we can do, and we all know we’re not a great basketball team. We’re just not. We’re decent, competitive. We got a chance to get better, but we got to get better. How good? Who knows.”