Nov. 25, 2019, marks the last time the Florida Men’s Basketball team coveted a spot in the Top 25 College Basketball Rankings. Over the past year, the landscape of college basketball and beyond has shifted. A global pandemic on its precipice halted conference tournaments and ultimately March Madness for the 2019-2020 college basketball season. Gone are the familiar faces of that Gator team in Andrew Nembhard, now a member of the No. 1 ranked Gonzaga squad and Kerry Blackshear who graduated.
More than a year later, the 2020-2021 squad has continued to face its own internal set of obstacles in the new season. Losing the SEC Player of the Year and the identity of the offensive scheme is less than ideal. But, more importantly, losing the heart and glue to the team in Keyontae Johnson put the Gator’s backs against the wall. Five games postponed and a few conference matchup hiccups, Florida has emerged on the other side with a new identity, new motivation and heart to play for the ones who can’t. Plus, a Top 25 birth.
How they have responded with both grit and grace has elevated Head Coach Mike White’s team to two top eleven wins against then sixth-ranked Tennessee and most recently eleventh ranked West Virginia. The No. 22 Gators have set up a four-game winning streak and join SEC members Alabama, Missouri and Tennessee in the Top 25.
What Has Changed:
But, with still over half the season left to play, the Gators aren’t satisfied. According to White, the postseason is not even on the horizon yet.
“We are not even close to thinking about the post-season,” he said. ” We have to get better and we are a different team and making changes on the fly”
The adjustments are beginning to click as the offense has shifted. The focus has transitioned away from Johnson. Now, they try a speedier type of play with Tre Mann, Tyree Appleby and Noah Locke all getting in on the action from the guard position. Plus, Florida has also been experimenting with a bigger lineup. Current SEC Player of the week Colin Castleton and forward Omar Payne have come together to form a tall order to defend. Castleton’s performance on Saturday earned him SEC honors and boosted his team in the second half to ensure the road win against the Mountaineers.
— Southeastern Conference (@SEC) February 1, 2021
Florida’s next test comes on Wednesday as they face South Carolina at home for the first time all season. A quick turnaround for the squad could send them to their fifth win in as many games. Following that, another formidable opponent LSU is lurking in the distance this upcoming Saturday.