Andy: I wasn't at Florida's 89-42 exhibition win over Division II Palm Beach Atlantic on Thursday night, and I really didn't think I was going to miss much — the Sailfish (the Sailfish) are bad even by Division II standards, having gone 10-16 in 2014-15 and established the program's second-best mark in its short history in doing so.
But, especially given the surfeit of Florida football coverage we've had this fall, I didn't want to give men's basketball short shrift in Mike White's coaching debut in Gators blue and orange — so I asked Florida students and sometime Alligator Army contributors Jonathan Arnholz and Lucas Dolengowski, both of whom have served in some capacity with Florida's Men's Basketball Rowdies student support group and were in attendance on Thursday, some questions about the game.
They were kind enough to provide these wonderfully detailed answers.
What three words would you use to describe Mike White's style after one night, and why?
Jonathan: Somewhat controlled chaos.
This team is going to play very fast and with a lot of energy. And that's smart with the kind of athletes that are on the team this season, and that's not unlike what Billy Donovan's system was. But this team is young, and with so many new guys that didn't play last year the chemistry is going to be a bit wonky at times, especially early on.
The result was bodies flying everywhere and a lot of turnovers. There were several occasions on Thursday where guys bumped into each other. Where two teammates went for the same rebound and neither got the ball. Misfired cross-court passes and mistimed alley-oop attempts. Some of that will get cleaned up as the team gels more and sees more live competition. But some of it comes naturally with a high-intensity system like this - and that's okay.
This system will create a lot of pressure and takeaways on defense and open up great opportunities on offense. Sometimes it will be frustrating, and other times it will be very rewarding. Now it's up to the players to limit those mistakes and capitalize on those opportunities.
Lucas: Chaotic, entertaining, and dunks if I had to choose three words.
And chaos might be this team's mantra: Coach White described the game on Thursday night as "chaotic." That might end up being both good and bad, but it sure as hell will demand your attention. The offense will probably be entertaining and succeed in spurts, and the defense will continue to be frenetic. Prepare for crazy sequences of basketball this season.
Also: Dunks! We will see many dunks! Dunking is encouraged in practice (and players are now allowed to dunk in pre-game and post-halftime warmups), and we saw seven slams against PBA. Expect to see plenty more from John Egbunu, Devin Robinson, Dorian Finney-Smith, Justin Leon, and KeVaughn Allen, all of whom can all flush it with authority. Florida will be fun to watch.
What Gators look like they'll be great fits in White's system? Did anyone look out of place?
Lucas: Personally, I think the roster that White was dealt really fits well with what he’s trying to run, both offensively and defensively. Kasey Hill and Chris Chiozza can absolutely jet and are sneaky good defenders, and the length across the board should be tough in the press — and Florida pressed PBA all night.
Jonathan: I don't think anyone looked too far out of place. But the guy that looked most at home in this system was the budding freshman star KeVaughn Allen.
Allen fits this system well because he plays with what I think of as a "silent energy" - he's fast, intense, and dynamic, but also very calm and precise. Those qualities are going to mesh very well with the controlled chaos style, in terms of creating and capitalizing on opportunities while limiting silly mistakes. I came away very impressed by him.
Lucas: We’ve heard a lot of noise about the quiet freshman from Arkansas this offseason. And, granted, it was one game, but he might be Florida's best newcomer (and pure scorer overall) since Bradley Beal. His first bucket on Thursday was an ultra-confident transition trey, and had some other smooth scores as well.
What was the most exciting moment of the night? What are you excited to see down the road?
Lucas: The most exciting moment of the night was early in the first half when PBA’s Cory Kenning drove into the lane and had his floater flat-out destroyed by Rhamat Alhas ... er, I mean John Egbunu. He probably could have caught the ball in mid-air, in all honesty, but the wow factor of the block was there regardless. It was really Dwight Howard-esque.
In fact: I think Egbunu could be better than Patric Young, at least eventually. Again, it was one game that I’m basing this statement on, but Big John is taller (6'11") and probably more athletic than Big Pat, and he absolutely won’t be afraid to muscle up and shake the stanchion. It will be interesting to see how his low post defense progresses throughout the year, especially in terms of avoiding fouls.
While I'm making comparisons: Brandone Francis-Ramirez is the new Mike Rosario. Playing style? Sort of similar, but Francis-Ramirez is more physical, and will likely be a better defender. Body? BFR has four inches of height on Mike. Attitude, though? CLONES. With BFR being from the Dominican Republic and Rosario from Puerto Rico, both grew up with the showman's flair that comes with their respective basketball cultures, and I love it. Brandone probably talked as much as any of the coaches on the bench, and you can just tell he loves the game of basketball, especially after a year in purgatory.
And, yes, the defense locked down against a severely mismatched opponent, but Thursday’s exhibition got me excited to see a free-flowing and even more fast-paced offense that doesn’t commit 23 (!?!!!?) turnovers. Florida forced a lot of top of the key-to-baseline passes that were picked off, and a lot of the offensive timing just seemed a step or two off. That will come in time, and there's a whole lot of potential.
Jonathan: I was really excited to see a lot of hustle out of this team in just an exhibition game. I specifically remember both Finney-Smith and Brandone Francis-Ramirez (hooray for hyphenated names!) diving out on the floor for loose balls at different points in the game, which is something I love seeing out of these guys.
Now, is that a smart play in an exhibition against Palm Beach Atlantic, a game that saw both Alex Murphy and Justin Leon get hurt, with Murphy maybe getting seriously injured? That's debatable. But it reminds me of the heart and hustle guys like Young and Will Yeguete played with, and that was a big factor in what made those teams so successful. One of the key things that needs to happen to make the Donovan-to-White era transition as smooth as possible is the team buying into the style of play and playing for each other, and these hustle plays were a good sign for that, at least in my mind.
Did this game do anything to change your expectations of any player or the team as a whole?
Lucas: It’s one game so you won’t catch me overreacting, but I was really surprised at the abysmal free throw shooting from the Gators. 10 for 27 is not the performance we were looking for after last season’s charity stripe struggles.
Jonathan: For some silly reason I was expecting the team to be a bit better at the charity stripe this year, but the free throw performance against PBA was dismal and would have been very costly against a better team. There's obviously no way these guys didn't practice free throws constantly in the offseason, so whatever mental thing is affecting these guys needs to be shaken up very soon.
I was also hoping to see more of a killer instinct from the perimeter players this season, and I can't say I saw that in this game. Yes, the team attempted 27 threes, but there were loads more open opportunities that guys passed up that led to worse looks for someone else. In a way, these guys need to be more selfish - if you're that wide open (and your name isn't Egbunu or Schuyler Rimmer), you need to be able to get a good shot off.
I also suspect Florida will not be consistently successful in halfcourt sets unless the starting point guard has at least some potential to pull up and shoot a three. We heard all offseason about Kasey Hill's tweaked stroke, and I really wanted to see him take some shots and try to build up some confidence in this game. But he only attempted a single three-pointer, despite many situations where he could have and probably should have shot from beyond the arc.
Hill's quick as ever, and a great passer, but he can only play the distributor role so well if defenses back off of him when he's outside and clog the passing lanes. He doesn't need to be Michael Frazier or Scottie Wilbekin from deep, but him raising up at least needs to be in the heads of the defenders to prevent them from sagging off him. Hopefully, we'll see more progress in that regard as the season gets underway.