In his time coaching at the collegiate level Billy Donovan took a school known mostly for its football program and quietly turned them into a powerhouse on the basketball side of the NCAA coin. Donovan amassed back-to-back national championship victories in 2006 and 2007, and lead the Gators to the Elite 8 in four of his final five seasons at the helm. When the NBA came knocking in 2015, answered the door and joined the Thunder and Florida poached Mike White from Louisiana Tech, but his first five years with the reigns have not been as smooth as Donovan’s final five.
Over Donovan’s final five years, the Gators finished with double digit losses only twice. In White’s first five years, that number has doubled. And since White’s appearance in the Elite 8, the Gators’ final Kenpom has dropped off each year; going from 5 to 22 to 26 to 32, where Donovan would find himself consistently in the top 20 over his final stretch of years; finishing at 17, 10, 2, and 3 before a unusual 34 in his final year. After pushing it up slightly early on, White has begun to play at a slower pace with a similar style to Donovan, but has yet to see similar success because of it.
Things seemed as though Mike White’s tenure at UF would be great early on, as he led the Gators to the Elite 8 in his second season, giving a sense of normality to fans who grew worried after missing consecutive NCAA Tournaments after four straight Elite 8 appearances. However, most of that 2017 team was built by Donovan (only one freshman contributed significant minutes) and as more of Donovan’s guys left the program and White’s joined it Florida has slowly bur surely dropped off from the status we have grown accustomed to. After two solid, but not superb, seasons that both ended in the Second Round of March Madness, White brought in a top-10 recruiting class highlighted by five stars Scottie Lewis (#7 Overall) and Tre Mann (#21 Overall), along with Kerry Blackshear Jr who was the nation’s premier Graduate Transfer. When added to the young trio of Andrew Nembhard, Keyontae Johnson, and Noah Locke, all of which were starters as freshman, White and Co. had high expectations entering the season. AP voters pegged the Gators as the #6 team in the preseason rankings, and Kenpom listed them at #12 in his rankings.
The season did not start off as expected, with two early and unexpected losses to in-state rival Florida State in a game that was never close, and then were upset at UConn by a team that had seen a similar drop off since the 2014 Final Four where they had once squared off. That early stretch set the tone for the season, as a team who once had the sky as their limit tumbled out of the Top 25 two weeks into the season. After struggling to piece together much consistency throughout the year, the Gators wrapped up their campaign at an underwhelming 19-12 (11-7 SEC), highlighted by a championship run in the Charleston Classic. Obviously the season was cut short, and Florida was expected to make the NCAA Tournament as a 9-ish seed, but never seemed to be the contender they were once thought to be.
After relatively underwhelming freshman campaigns, Lewis (8.5 PPG/3.6 RPG) and Mann (5.3 PPG/1.9 RPG) announced their returns to the team after entering the program as potential one-and-dones, and the Gators were expected to return the entire team besides Kerry Blackshear, who graduated. This expectation went of the rails when Andrew Nembhard, arguably the team’s second best player behind Blackshear, announced he too would withdraw his name from the draft, but entered the transfer portal while doing so. White now finds himself attempting to replace his two most productive players, and after back to back top-20 recruiting classes, now has a class outside of the top 30.
There are still many pieces around for White to build something in Gainesville this year. As previously stated, Mann and Lewis are back and can be All-SEC players if they reach their potential, Noah Locke (10.6 PPG/2.5 RPG) and Keyontae Johnson (14 PPG/7.1 RPG), will be solid next to them in the starting lineup. The Gators will likely find themselves on the fringe of the preseason rankings, but after a string of sub-stellar seasons and a fanbase filled with turmoil and a passion to win, Mike White may need to figure things out this season or make way for a coach how can bring Florida back to its status as a power program.