The narrative of the Florida Gators men’s basketball team this fall is of a struggle to live up to sky-high expectations — one that, fairly or unfairly, has judged this team against its preseason ranking and found it lacking.
The Gators’ opponents this Tuesday night in Brooklyn (7:15 p.m., ESPN2 or WatchESPN), the Providence Friars, know a bit about not living up to expectations.
Ed Cooley’s program, long a fringe NCAA Tournament team, was expected to bounce back to that level after narrowly missing the dance and heading to the NIT a year ago. Fourth-year senior and tweener forward Alpha Diallo was expected to lead the Friars, with fellow senior Maliek White and UMass transfer Luwane Pipkins helping out with scoring on the wings.
That ... has not really happened, as Providence has struggled to a 6-5 record despite facing just one team in the KenPom top 100. Losses to Long Beach State and Charleston in a Thanksgiving week tournament were maybe the worst of the year for Providence, which hasn’t won a game by more than four points since November 19.
But Florida is, of course, its own work in progress. And despite running fairly clean offense against Butler in Indianapolis 10 days ago, the Gators found themselves on the wrong end of a double-digit defeat, thanks to some hot shooting and smart offense on the Bulldogs’ part after a slow start.
For Mike White’s team, finding a sustained level of intensity at both ends that survives even shooting slumps is as key as it has ever been. And while Providence doesn’t seem likely to clamp down on the Gators, Florida will be playing in its fifth different venue over its first 10 games, which seems unlikely to help a team with iffy outside shooting find its stroke.
Florida should still be able to scrap hard enough for a win on this night even if shots don’t fall in volume. But the Gators putting on a show on the national stage would be an immense help in the expectations game.