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The Other Florida Preview

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The Gators are another step up in competition, but 40 minutes of solid play and the bulldogs should be in a position to win.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 06 Florida at Missouri Photo by Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The team that got burned in the Oxford jacuzzi will enjoy 40 minutes in the Gainesville cauldron tonight. One could hardly expect a better result, but they should at least perform better. Sure couldn’t do any worse amiright?!?! Right?

Anyone?

Oh yeah, this is a Mississippi State site. Nothing like pulling for the Bulldogs to teach you to expect the worst.

An uninformed observer might check the rankings and conclude this Gator team is no more potent than the latest opponent, who needed the Bulldogs to gift wrap the win for them. But Florida is one of the most talented teams in the league and has been hardened by a very ambitious schedule. They also underperformed badly during the early season, but have righted the ship with three wins to start league play. I would tell you who they beat, but it doesn’t seem to matter with the random number generator going in full force throughout college basketball. It’s the worst type of opponent - playing well and capable of running you out of the gym at any moment, but without the upside of a big time opportunity to get noticed.

Defensively the Bulldogs will face a team shooting 39% from deep and four of their top five scorers are above that mark. Arkansas has similar rates, but gets 28% of their points from 3’s compared to 35% for Florida. The Houston Rockets set an NBA record for 3 point attempts last season and got 37% of their points from deep. This team is insanely reliant on their deep shooting, and if they get hot like they did against the Aggies you can kiss the game good by. But unless Florida is just hot, i think this is an excellent matchup for a defense that seems to struggle more with penetration than perimeter ball movement. Just put your heels on the 3 point line and take the risk they get to Ado or Datcher. But watch to see how they handle screens, because with this kind of shooting you have to switch, and that means a big at the top of the key with a smaller defender in the lane. Still, I think the defense matches up well.

Offensively the Bulldogs will have to deal with Kevarrious Hayes, a 6-9 center with 32 blocks along with Chioza who has 29 steals on the year. Hayes averages only 25 minutes a game, probably because of his offense, but it will be crucial that State score in the lane when he’s out of the game. Other than that they’re fairly pedestrian on defense, giving up 73 points a game. Arkansas is a little softer at 78 points a game, but State should be able to generate offense given their performance against the Razorbacks.

Keys to win:

  1. Florida has the trump card if they can hit contested 3’s. Don’t blame the team or coach if that happens. But if State can get a hand in their face it should keep them within striking distance.
  2. Two people have to hit open 3’s at 40%. It doesn’t have to be the whole team, and it doesn’t have to be for 30 points, but if defenders aren’t afraid of abandoning the shooter in the corner there’s no chance to generate good shots in the lane.
  3. Give up and clean up drives. State has to be aggressive at stopping the 3, but that will lead to some really open drives. That’s OK. Can the big man clean it up without help from the perimeter?
  4. Get into the lane. This should feel a lot like Arkansas if they want to win. Lots of ball movement to get the defense moving then drive or pass to the post for a quality look.
  5. Hit free throws. Insights like this are why they pay me the big bucks! The offensive points are more like basketball 101 than hard hitting #analysis, but that’s all it takes to make this team competitive.
  6. Finally play 40, especially on offense. Not physically - they’ve been putting out fine effort to my eye - but mentally. Those moments where someone says “you know, I think imma just see what happens” have to stop.

Coming off the collapse in Oxford this game is a need but not a must. The goal is still achievable from 1-2 but it’s an uphill slog without dramatic improvement. And to be clear any goal short of the NCAA tournament doesn’t work for me, whether it’s “realistic” or not. This team has been together for too long, has too much talent and plays too hard to consider less to be acceptable. Expectations should not be adjusted down for bad performance, and a top 40 finish is a very reasonable baseline.