Wednesday night was a tough one for the Gator Men's Basketball team. After starting the game strong and taking a 3 point lead into halftime, they crumbled and fell apart in the 2nd half. Saturday night against the 9th ranked Tigers is going to be a huge test for this team and show us a lot about what we can expect to see from them throughout conference play.
For starters, Florida absolutely has to take care of the ball. They have lost four of their last seven games and in that stretch have averaged around 14.4 turnovers a game. That just simply is not going to cut it in this league. If they have any hopes of beating Auburn and getting something going into the rest of conference play, the Gators have to start treating the basketball as if it is made of gold. Mike White must make this an emphasis everyday in practice and burn it into every players’ mind that the ball just simply cannot be turned over. On top of that, the Gators have to value their possessions. When it gets into the grind of SEC play in mid to late February, every possession matters and working for good shots is huge if you're going to be a legit team.
While the Gators love to get out and run on the break, there were too many times on Wednesday night and in the last few games where they force up a quick 3 or try to stuff it into Colin Castleton down low and it ends up being a wasted possession. It just feels like they get out of rhythm sometimes offensively and just start forcing things too quickly. This, too, has led to the turnover issues. The Gators need to get back to what they know and what they were doing at the beginning of the season and at points lately where they share the ball well, stay in a flow offensively and spread the wealth around.
If you look at those box scores early on this year, the whole starting lineup would be in double figures most nights and they just had a swagger on both ends of the floor. They had an edge and physicality on the defensive end. Offensively, they were a well oiled machine that would value possessions and work for good shots every time down. The Gators need to get back to those things Saturday night if they have any hopes of beating the Tigers on the road. And that has not been an easy task this year.
Auburn is 13-1 this season and equipped with possibly one of the best front courts in America in sophomore UNC transfer center Walker Kessler and consensus five-star freshman forward Jabari Smith. These two make the engine go for the Tigers, with Smith averaging 15.7 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.6 steals on 44.2/43.8/84 shooting splits per game. Kessler has been just as good, averaging 10.1 points, 7.6 rebounds and a ridiculous 4.2 blocks on 58.8% shooting from the field per game. The likes of Colin Castleton, Anthony Duruji, CJ Felder and Jason Jitoboh are going to have their hands full against those two and Florida is going to need them all to step up big if they're going to give Auburn a game.
The Tiger guards are not anything to be taken lightly either, with super-sub sixth man Wendell Green Jr. averaging 12.7 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists this year to go along with sophomore K.D. Johnson, who himself is averaging 12.1 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game. In simplest terms, Auburn is loaded with playmakers all over the court and that is what has and will continue to make them such a tough out this season.
If the Gators clean up the things that I mentioned earlier and get back to what they were doing well in November, then they can give Auburn and, really, anyone a game the rest of the year. Only time will give us the answers to these questions and Saturday night should give us a good indication on what Gator team we can expect to see the rest of the way.