If anyone needed a change of scenery, that person is Mike White. While, White has done a great job so far filling the huge shoes left behind by Billy Donovan, he was no stranger to success before he arrived in Gainesville. He just hadn’t enjoyed any success in the Big Dance. Actually, he hadn’t ever been to the NCAA Tournament. That is, until now. The 4th-seeded Florida Gators are making the most of their dance invitation, beating East Tennessee State on Thursday, and manhandling Virginia on Saturday to earn a trip to the Sweet 16. The Gators are on a roll, chomping through the first two round of March Madness, and White is a huge reason why.
White, the former head coach at Louisiana Tech, had become the poster child of the phrase ‘close but no cigar’. Tech shared the Western Athletic Conference title in 2013, White’s second season as head coach. Then, after moving to Conference USA, the Bulldogs shared the regular season title in 2014 and won it outright in 2015. However, all LA Tech had to show for it were three NIT appearances. The Bulldogs were turned away all three seasons in the conference tournament.
But, so goes the life of a head coach in a perennial one-bid League. The pasture is definitely greener in Gainesville and the SEC. White, is taking full advantage.
The Gators, however, made yet another NIT appearance for White last season. But, now it’s time to dance. And, dance they have. Their two-step through ETSU and Virginia have been truly impressive. So much so, the Gators arguably look like the most impressive team thus far in the tournament.
Virginia has been a squad that’s had trouble scoring all season. But, holding them to 39 points is beyond remarkable. The 26-point margin of victory matched the Gators’ largest margin of victory in a tourney game. The opponent that day in 2012…….Virginia.
Florida's largest NCAA tournament win over a major conference team: 26 pts over Virginia in 2012.
Gators lead UVA by 29 with 2:54 to play. pic.twitter.com/bgr7vzglHb
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) March 19, 2017
Devin Robinson and Justin Leon led the Gators with 14 points each. Chiozza, led with five assists. However, it was the Gators’ defense and a 21-0 run to end the first half that sent Virginia back to Charlottesville and Florida to Madison Square Garden for next week’s East Regional.
The game was virtually over at halftime, giving Florida’s mascot a chance for some relaxation.
— Florida Gators (@FloridaGators) March 19, 2017
Their opponent next week at MSG? The Wisconsin Badgers. The Badgers only beat the tourney’s overall number one seed, and defending national champion Villanova to earn their Sweet 16 ticket. Needless to say, the Badgers will be a tall hurdle for Florida to climb. Probably, a lot taller than Virginia proved to be. But, with Nova out, the bracket has opened up dramatically and the road to Phoenix looks a little bit easier.
Who would have thought the Gators would be in this position this fast under Mike White? It’s not like he was a household name amongst anyone but college hoops aficionados. But, now any thoughts of Florida falling out of the ranks of college basketball’s elite are fading away. This is the fifth time in the last seven years the Gators have reached the Sweet 16. The other four, of course were under Donovan. But, with the way things are looking up in Gainesville, get used to seeing Florida make deep runs March for years to come.