5 thoughts on Florida's heartbreaking, season-ending loss to Oral Roberts
Oral Roberts stunned Florida 81-78 Sunday night in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, denying Florida a 12th trip to the Sweet 16 in program history.
The Gators led most the way and by as many as 11 in the second half. But Oral Roberts closed the game by outscoring Florida 25-13 in the final 10 minutes to win and keep the tournament’s Cinderella story going into the second weekend.
Here are 5 thoughts on Florida’s tournament ending defeat.
Mike White’s decision to slow the game with 10 minutes left backfired terribly
Florida was able to slice up the Golden Eagles with terrific spacing, ball movement and early shot clock offense. The Gators expanded the playbook — running lovely pindown actions, scoring off hard backdoor cuts, isolating well for Tyree Appleby and Tre Mann, and doing enough in their trademark high ball screen offense to keep the Golden Eagles guessing defensively.
The Gators’ first action — typically off a high ball screen but sometimes off a miss and dribble — averaged 1.24 points per possession through the game’s first 30 minutes. That’s magnificent stuff — and playing against a tired Oral Roberts team that plays what basically amounts to a 6 man rotation — Florida had good reason to keep its foot on the pedal.
Instead, Mike White elected to slow down the game, milk clock and — too frequently, wait until there was 20 second left in the shot clock or less to initiate the halfcourt offense. Florida sputtered down the stretch in this system, and worse, slowing the game down allowed the Golden Eagles, who were missing shots short and looked tired early in the second half, to set their defense and breathe as Florida slowed the tempo and shortened the game.
If you have a clear talent disparity, as Florida did Sunday night, you want a faster game with more possessions. White’s decision allowed the Golden Eagles to hang around and ultimately, seize the game in the end.
Turnovers prevented Florida from blowing the game wide open in the first half — and winning in the end
The Gators managed to defend, as a whole, quite well in the opening half. They were caught in some poor mismatches in their matchup zone, but when they played man against Oral Roberts, they produced stops and did a great job of dominating the glass, outrebounding the Golden Eagles two to one in the first 20 minutes.
But Florida committed 9 first-half turnovers, including 2 in uptempo, fast-break situations, and Oral Roberts scored 8 points off those mistakes. The Golden Eagles are a veteran team that doesn’t beat themselves, and Florida — which shot the lights out in the opening half thanks to crisp offense (see above) — kept them in the game by handing them the ball early and often.
It was better for a bit in the second half, but Florida coughed the ball up 8 times in the game’s final 10 minutes — as they watched their 11 point lead evaporate.
Too often this season, Florida couldn’t take care of the basketball– and Sunday night was no different.
Florida’s guards were terrific
Tre Mann, Noah Locke and Tyree Appleby combined for 50 points, 13 rebounds, 9 assists and 4 steals, which is a huge reason the Gators were able to build a double-digit lead.
Florida fans will lament the inability of Noah Locke to bury an open 3 for the lead in the game’s final 30 seconds — and Mann’s late-game miss for the tie. But Mann and Appleby answered the bell most the season after Keyontae Johnson’s collapse and they, along with the enigmatic Locke, were excellent Sunday night in a losing effort.
Overall, White did a fine job in a horrific situation. But this staff needs an “offensive coordinator” — and soon
A Power 6 assistant texted me before the Florida game Sunday night and said Florida would have been a No. 2 seed and playing Oral Roberts on Friday’s first round if the Gators still had Keyontae Johnson. “But he has this opportunity now and has to get it done,” the assistant continued.
I think that’s very fair. This Florida team — with Keyontae Johnson — was a formidable group and likely destined for a top 10 ranking and top 2 seed in a region. Instead, they got a break with a 7 and another when Oral Roberts beat Ohio State. For a while Sunday, it looked like they’d take advantage. They didn’t — coughing up a win that would have gone a long way to silencing a very vocal group of Gators fans who lack confidence in White.
As ever, the truth is somewhere in between the buzzing and vocal minority and the reality. White isn’t going anywhere. He’s respected by the administration and his athletic director and has more NCAA Tournament wins than any SEC coach but John Calipari in his tenure. He’s also handled a near-tragic and miserable situation with his preseason All-American and team leader nearly dying on the floor in December and guided a team through three COVID pauses to the brink of the Sweet 16. In December, White spent multiple nights on a hospital sofa waiting and praying Keyontae Johnson would wake up. In March, his team played in the NCAA Tournament for the 4th consecutive time — the longest streak in the SEC.
But for all that good, White’s teams have now exited in the second round in 3 consecutive tournaments. They also have become predictable and stolid offensively, too reliant on the pick-and-roll and, for the last 2 seasons, needing to scrap the offense they wanted to run in the offseason in favor of another one midseason.
White would benefit from a staff shakeup that brings an offensive coordinator into the program– someone whose job is to just run offense. Coordinator type hires have worked before, both at Florida, when Billy Donovan brought in Larry Shyatt to fix his program’s defense– and elsewhere (e.g., when John Beilein brought in Luke Yaklich to fix his defense). White needs one in Gainesville if he wants to consistently play on the second weekend, which Florida fans expect.
Florida’s transfer and portal situation will be interesting — and depend on Tre Mann’s decision and transfers
If, as we all hope, Keyontae Johnson can play basketball again, we likely won’t know until later in the spring. That may mean he’s back without question next season in Gainesville, which would be a huge boon to Florida’s 2021-22 hopes.
Tre Mann is almost certainly off to the NBA, an electric scorer and a plus defender who can improve as a passer but certainly has enough handles and vision to be a quality combo guard off the bench at the next level.
That will open up only one spot, which currently is taken by high 4-star Kowacie Reeves, one of the best shooters in the 2021 class.
Transfers could open up more spots. Will seldom-used Jason Jitoboh stick around playing behind the likes of Colin Castleton, Omar Payne and Osayi Osifo? Niels Lane is an elite college defender- but the staff hasn’t trusted him. Will he ride it out one more year or bolt home to the northeast? Reserve guard Ques Glover did not play in Florida’s NCAA Tournament run. He seems likely to transfer.
WIth the transfer portal more active than ever– White and the staff signed only one recruit in the 2021 class. Expect grad transfers– who have done well at Florida under White– to fill what spots do open up moving forward.
But this is a fascinating, important offseason for the Gators.