STORRS, Conn. -- Nearly two weeks into the 2019-20 college basketball season, it's hard to argue any team was more overrated in the preseason than the Florida Gators. Mike White's ballyhooed crew was the No. 6 team in the Preseason AP Top 25, but through four games Florida is 2-2 after losing 62-59 at UConn on Sunday. We're talking about a UConn team that was coming off a bizarrely bad 96-87 home defeat to Saint Joseph's just a few days prior.
"I told you this morning," UConn's Christian Vital exclaimed to ESPN's Seth Greenberg as the clock expired.
He repeated the phrase a couple more times at Greenberg, who was still on the air and broadcasting the game's finish. Vital has never been short on confidence. This was a redeeming win for him and his teammates. Afterward, this could be heard about 100 feet away from the Huskies' locker room: "We ain't run from nothing. We ain't run from nothing! Three years! Three years in the making! We ain't run from nothing!"
The early part of the season always provides some plot twists. Florida was picked by some to make the Final Four come April 2020. Was that a huge misfire, or is this team assembled to rebound and eventually meet its hype?
Here are five takeaways from Sunday's game.
1. The outcome is more about Florida than UConn. One team is expected to be in contention to win a power conference and fight for one of the top NCAA Tournament seeds. The other, Sunday's home team, is hoping to maybe break through and return to the NCAAs for the first time since 2016. So credit to UConn for a hard-fought win, but let's get to the Gators first.
White has a lot to fix, obviously. Next up is the Charleston Classic, which tips Thursday. Though unlikely, Florida could face UConn again in that tournament: The teams are on on the opposite side of the bracket. I asked White afterward how this team's offensive identity measures up to what he realistically expected his group to look like a month or so ago.
"We're behind offensively, and I've got to figure it out," he said. "We've all got to figure it out together. Talking to the staff after the game, it's a mystery to me [why] we're passing up open ones and we're shooting ones we shouldn't shoot. ... We're not playing with as much confidence as I thought we'd play with."
Florida quite clearly looked like it lacked confidence on offense. Only once in his previous eight seasons as a head coach has White had a top-40 offensive team in terms of efficiency, per KenPom. At this point, it's hard to see how this Gators team can be even at a B-plus level with the ball. If you can hold an opponent to 62 points, you should be winning nine out of 10 times. With Florida, it's looking like that's more of a 50-50 proposition at this stage.
2. UConn gets some redemption after Saint Joseph's loss. Huskies coach Dan Hurley told me he was on the phone with his assistants deep into the night on Thursday morning after UConn fell 96-87 to Saint Joseph's in front of an extremely small crowd on Wednesday. He couldn't sleep -- in fact he was holding a largely one-way conversation with his wife in bed until well after 3 a.m. Only Hurley. He cares and takes the losses hard, though he's trying to get better about that, or at least not take them as punitively from within like he once did.
What a turnaround on Sunday. This group is no surefire NCAA Tournament squad, but at least it almost always plays with heart and effort. That's a reflection of Hurley. Gampel Pavilion was rocking; it was the kind of environment and opponent that UConn's not often had in the past five years. One UConn staffer told me afterward it "felt like 2004," an homage to the glory days under Jim Calhoun.
In fact, Sunday was UConn's first win at Gampel over a ranked team in almost six years ... how about this: when the Huskies beat then-No. 15 Florida on Dec. 2, 2013. I remember that game quite well -- because I was there and saw Shabazz Napier build upon his legacy by hitting a winner as time expired. UConn won the national title later that season. This team's expectations should be to land the NIT with a little room to spare.
3. The Gators lack cohesion in a way that may prove hard to fix. Florida not only lacks cohesion, it doesn't have great body language on the court or the bench. White told me this group is tight and supportive, which is great because it's going to need to be in order to succeed. It's maybe been a decade since Florida had so much collective talent -- and that means a lot of mouths to feed. White's never had a roster like this, either, in terms of overall talent and potential NBA guys.
How will he handle that challenge, and will players like Noah Locke be able to not just adapt but even thrive in new roles? The Gators have too many dudes to be averaging 62.5 points, which is where they're at through four games. Though I will say, in speaking to a scout on hand at this game, he told me he might have to take the under of 0.5 2020 first-round NBA picks in this game. Scottie Lewis is a wonderful athlete and on-ball defender, but he has a lot of work to do to legitimize his NBA hype.
4. Tre Mann likely suffered a concussion. The starting freshman guard took an elbow to the head and then hit his head again, on the same sequence, on the hardwood in the second half. A school spokesman told me afterward that he was treated and evaluated as though he had a concussion. White told me that when he first got to Mann when he was on the court, it looked like he was briefly knocked unconscious. The timetable for Mann's return isn't known, but this would seemingly put his availability for Florida's game Thursday against Saint Joseph's in some doubt. Mann is a good shooter and someone who will ultimately need to be a consistent factor on offense in order to help Florida become the team many expect it to be.
5. Florida's fix comes whenever, or if ever, the team's deep shooting ability materializes. In the wake of the loss, here's where Florida ranks nationally in:
—3-point shooting: 320th (24.1%)
—2-point shooting: 235th (46.0%)
—3-point rate: 303rd (22.8% of UF's points come via the trey)
Trailing 46-42 with 7:47 to go, Noah Locke shot an airball 3-point attempt from the corner. White, almost always calm and reserved on the sideline, well you could see the what-the-hell in his face after the bad shot. The Gators finished 5-of-20 from 3 vs. UConn. Collectively, Florida needs White and Mann, when he's back and healthy, to become reliable perimeter guys. Maybe Andrew Nembhard can sort of get there eventually too, but he's a long-term project from deep.
The SEC has been somewhat disappointing to start the season, and that's in good part because Florida and Kentucky, projected as the top two teams, have taken three unanticipated losses.