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Florida vs. North Florida, Game Thread: A new dawn

Mike White’s program is poised for its best season yet. Starting hot would do a lot to assuage any fears.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Michigan vs Florida Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

If the Florida Gators are going to be the team that almost every men’s basketball observer thinks they will be in 2019-20, nights like this Tuesday — when the Gators play North Florida in a season opener (7 p.m., SEC Network or WatchESPN) that should be a walkover even if the Ospreys are not your usual early-season pushover — should be showcases for how good the team can be.

They should be nights when Kerry Blackshear has 15 and 10 without being pushed, when Andrew Nembhard has two or three jaw-dropping assists, when the arsenal of shooters the Gators will now bring to each contest gets white-hot for a few minutes, when Scottie Lewis — whether starting or coming off the bench as one of the nation’s most overqualified sixth men — competes with Keyontae Johnson to be simultaneously a highlight waiting to happen and a glue guy who does the dirty work of playing college basketball.

And maybe they will be. Florida should be able to race ahead of North Florida, a program that it has dominated in recent years, despite the Ospreys’ senior-laden lineup and general stability under Matthew Driscoll. Maybe this won’t be a 40-point beatdown, but it could certainly be a 20-point blowout.

But Florida’s fate this season won’t be determined by nights like these — not unless this team woefully underperforms expectations that project it to the second or third weekend of the NCAA Tournament, and to the tops of ladders where nylon gets nipped. Games like this one are going to be about Florida holding its ground and shooting par by winning handily, or about Mike White finding ways to win the other games by playing with platoons and rifling through rotations, conjuring the combinations that will be necessary to come back from deficits on the road in the SEC or in the Round of 32.

For the first time in the White era, Florida is good enough to look at with a microscope on a night-by-night basis even if — or maybe because? — the flaws may be microscopic. And for the first time in the White era, Florida might also be fun enough to be appointment viewing.

We’ll have a better idea about all of that after tonight.

But it’ll be easier to have and discuss those ideas if we watch closely.