Florida Gators basketball begins its 2015-16 season Friday night when it participates in the Veterans Classic and takes on the Navy Midshipmen in Annapolis, Maryland.
Here’s a look ahead at Friday’s game and the start of the team’s first season under new head coach Mike White: what to know and how to watch Florida-Navy.
Event: Veterans Classic
Location: Alumni Hall – Annapolis, Maryland [Capacity: 5,710]
Time: 9:30 p.m. EST
TV: CBS Sports Network (Tom McCarthy, Steve Lappas, Lauren Gardner)
Channel finder: Click here
Streaming Video: None | Mobile Video: None
SiriusXM: 132/190 | Radio: Gator Radio Network [Affiliates]
Live Updates: @OnlyGators on Twitter
Tale of the tape
|Florida Gators||Navy Midshipmen|
|Head Coach: Mike White||Head Coach: Ed DeChellis|
|Record: 0-0||Record: 0-0|
|Conference: Southeastern||Conference: Southeastern|
Spread: Florida -13 | O/U: 133.5
It is nearly impossible to make a call on a season opener for a team that limped its way through the end of the previous season, has a new coach and has a roster filled with players that have never worn its jersey before in a game. That said, looking at the rosters of Florida and Navy, it becomes obvious that the Gators have nearly every advantage in Friday night’s opener.
The Midshipmen do not boast a lot of size, though they do have experience and, of course, discipline. Though an upset is highly unlikely, the question is whether Navy can keep Florida within the margin.
Defense should prevail in Saturday’s contest, even though White wants the Gators to press the tempo. So while it’s one that should go Florida’s way with the points, expect it to remain under.
ATS picks: 0-0 | O/U picks: 0-0
Named to the Preseason All-SEC First Team on Thursday, it will be redshirt senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith tasked with leading this young Gators team throughout the 2015-16 campaign. To this point, White has called Finney-Smith a model player, one that has taken a leadership-by-action role to help his teammates while a new regime takes over the program. That said, White is still looking for more from his star player, namely consistency in his rebounding and overall defensive effort.
“This team needs him to be an all-league player,” White said of Finney-Smith. “To his credit, he allows us to push him.”
Florida’s biggest individual issue heading into its season opener is ball security, which was incredibly lackluster in its exhibition game. But while that may take some time to improve, something the Gators can get better at immediately is their free throw shooting. Florida went 10 for 27 from the line in the exhibition game with non-point guards hitting just 5-of-20 attempts. That’s not bad, it’s atrocious.
Asked how UF can get better right away at the charity stripe, White paused for a moment.
“Oh my goodness. Pray more, I guess?” he began. “Before we even play our first game, I don’t want to make it a huge deal. I don’t want it to become just so mental with our guys. We shoot a lot of free throws in practice. We shoot them sometimes before practice, sometimes we shoot them after practice, and a lot of times we shoot them after practice when we’re huffing and puffing and we have a full lather. … You just hope that the percentages that you shoot in practice will carry over to games. I’m not ready to jump to a conclusion too early that it’s a major issue for us. I hope we correct it Friday night.”
Injuries and absences
» Active (1): G/F Devon Walker (ACL)
» Questionable (1): F Justin Leon (undisclosed)
» Out (1): F Alex Murphy (foot)
Murphy’s injury in Florida’s exhibition game came at an inopportune time for both the player and the Gators. Not only is he entering his final collegiate season, but he is also one of the few experienced players on Florida’s roster entering the season. Though Murphy was set to be a reserve, the Gators now have yet another hole to fill in White’s first year.
“It’s really unfortunate for Alex. He hasn’t had many reps in and he’s coming in as a fifth-year senior without a lot of experience. Here comes another hit for him,” said White. “He’s really been in a good grove shooting the basketball. He’s as much a leader as we have on this team, brings it vocally to practice every day more than anyone.”
Murphy will be back in 4-6 weeks. In the meantime, White said Leon would get more minutes … except Leon himself is banged up with an undisclosed injury and questionable to play in Friday’s game. That means sophomore Devin Robinson and freshmen Keith Stone and Kevarrius Hayes will both get additional run at the four spot. “Who knows?” said White. “We’re going to play with it.”
» Florida is 1-1 all-time against Navy, 4-1 against service academy teams and 7-1 against teams currently in the Patriot League. The Gators and Midshipmen have not played since 1961.
» White is 101-40 in his career as a head basketball coach on the collegiate level, earning that record in four seasons at Louisiana Tech. He won three-straight league titles with the Bulldogs.
» Only eight of the 16 players on Florida’s roster have ever played a game in a Gators jersey; counting only scholarship players, those numbers drop to six of 12.
» Gators basketball has won 24 consecutive season openers, never losing a single such contest under Billy Donovan.
» Florida last opened a season away from home at the start of the 2000-01 campaign. It was UF’s first victory in such a game since 1966, as it is just 3-7 in road openers since 1950.
» The Gators will play six games in 15 days over the remainder of November.