The Case Against Mike White
Let's set the table.
- Nobody can replace Billy Donovan. He is a Hall of Fame-caliber coach
and no matter who came in after him, Gator fans would need to temper expectations a bit.
- Florida should consistently be one of the top 3 basketball programs in the SEC.
I'm not expecting to be Kentucky/Duke/UNC/etc. But a great coach should have UF in the top quarter of the SEC on a consistent basis.
Ok, with that out of the way, let's proceed.
Let's begin with a look at the record. These are regular season numbers.
|Year||Record||SEC record||Season result
||4 seed, Elite 8
||6 seed, Round of 32
||10 seed, Round of 32
If you just take the average (and I would be fine with mostly ignoring the first season, when he was just getting his feet wet in his first big-time job), things look pretty good. Both 2016-17 and 2017-18 were fine. 2nd & 3rd in the conference, respectively. I'm not throwing parties, but those are perfectly fine seasons. 16-17 was better than fine, with a nice tournament run, featuring a Chris Chiozza buzzer-beater to get us to the Elite 8.
But there is another factor here, especially as a guy who plunks down a bunch of money and drives to the arena for every home game.
- FSU (83-66)
A game that was never competitive, and this FSU team finished as Kenpom #27. Not exactly the '86 Celtics.
- Loyola-Chicago (65-59)
Yes, they made the Final 4. But even after that unlikely run, they finished outside the Kenpom top 30.
- South Carolina (77-72)
This SC team went 7-11 in conference & finished as Kenpom #80
- Alabama (68-50)
- Georgia (72-69)
- South Carolina (71-69)
- Georgia (61-55)
This UGA team went 2-16 in the SEC & finished as Kenpom #132.
- Michigan State (63-59)
- Tennessee (78-67)
- Kentucky (65-54)
- FSU (63-51)
- Baylor (72-61)
- Mississippi State (78-71, blew a 16-pt lead)
- Kentucky (71-70, blew an 18-pt lead)
Now, there is no shame in losing to Kentucky or Michigan State. But there are some very bad losses there. And I haven't even mentioned the bad losses away from home over the past 2+ years:
- @ Ole Miss (Kenpom #108)
- @ Georgia (Kenpom #65)
- @ Vandy (Kenpom #91)
- @ TCU (Kenpom #40)
- Butler (Kenpom #72)
- @ UConn (Kenpom #71)
- Utah St (Kenpom #60)
- Missouri (Kenpom #71)
- @ Ole Miss (Kenpom #102)
- @ Tennessee (Kenpom #67)
The Gators failed to reach 60 points in 4 of those, and only managed 50 @ TCU.
So let's look at the overall trends over the past 4+ seasons.
- Regression since year 2
- 14 home losses & 13 losses to teams outside Kenpom top 50 since the start of 2017-2018
This is not an open-and-shut case. Mike White is clearly a good coach, especially defensively. He took over a program coming off a sub-.500 season, and had it back in the NCAA tournament in years 2-5. But at the same time, there's clearly been program regression & a disturbing number of bad losses, especially at home.
But it's a young team
Sorry, but a LOT of teams in modern CBB have a lot of roster turnover. Somehow, many of them manage to avoid a bevy of bad home losses. Sure, every so often great coaches take some time to get a team to truly play together
(2013-14 Kentucky comes to mind), but youth is not an excuse that can be used year after year.
He has won with subpar rosters
Okay, now we're getting somewhere. First, who makes the roster? Billy is long gone so we can't blame him. Certainly, White's rosters in years 3/4 (particularly year 4) were not elite. Why did these teams lack strong frontcourts? Whose fault is that? But okay, let's cut him a bit of slack and look at the current
roster, which arguably is one of the better Gator rosters of the past decade. It boasts 3 top-50 freshmen along with the jewel of the grad transfer market in Kerry Blackshear. Oh and it returns 3 key starters from 2018-19. Talent is not an excuse for 2019-20.
But the Gators made the tournament 4 years in a row
So what? Is sneaking into a 68-team tournament as a 9 or 10 seed a good season? Given what we've seen the past 3 seasons under Coach White, can an objective person really say this is the best the Gators can do?
I can best sum it up with this graphic:
Some people will say 4 straight tournament appearances is better than "OK." And they'd be right ... for a program like Rutgers or USF. Mike White is a good coach. But is he a great one? Because I think UF can and should have a great basketball coach. No, we won't get Roy Williams or Coach K. But I submit to you that there's a decent-sized gap between Coach K and Mike White. I could name more than a few coaches in that gap, and that's the type of coach UF should have. Granted, UF was never going to hire Bruce Pearl, but he's undeniably the current #2 in the SEC. Is Mike White #3? Tough to say. Is he #4? #5?
To be clear: I hope I am wrong. But for me, the Mike White ship has sailed. I don't think he's the guy for this program and it's my belief that he won't be here for more than another season or 2. I just think we've seen the Mike White show enough to know what it is, and what it isn't. Inconsistency, bad losses, but juuuuuust good enough to get into the 68-team NCAA tournament.
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