The Gators open SEC play next Wednesday night at home against the 19th ranked Alabama Crimson Tide. After coming out of the gate red hot to start the year 6-0, including wins over then ranked number 20 FSU and a very talented Ohio State team at the buzzer, the Gators have stalled a bit, losing three of their last six and currently stand at 9-3. Some major factors that have contributed to this include turnovers and 3-point shooting. Over the last 6 games, the gators are averaging around 13.5 turnovers a game and shooting the three ball at an abysmal 27.6% clip per game. Neither of those stats are good for Florida and have contributed to a lot of the issues lately. An experienced group, however, the Gators are fortunate enough to be equipped with one of the oldest rosters in the country. They have guys like forward Colin Castleton, explosive forward Anthony Duruji, energetic guard Tyree Appleby and long, versatile graduate transfer guard Phlandrous Fleming Jr, who came from Charleston Southern all of whom are seniors.
Along with this, Mike White hit the transfer portal hard this offseason and picked up some battle-tested players that have a lot of game experience under their belts. These include sharpshooting senior guard Myreon Jones (Penn State transfer), bruising junior forward C.J. Felder (Boston College) and defensive-oriented graduate transfer guard Brandon McKissic (UMKC). These guys have all been big for the Gators this season, each contributing to what has been a balanced Gators attack on both ends of the floor all year. And while those stats I mentioned earlier don’t look too good, this team does a lot of things right. For starters, they flat out get after it defensively. Their defense consists of a high press off the inbound with two guys forcing pressure and trying to create turnovers in the backcourt that settles back into an aggressive man-to-man. This has been the Gators calling card all year and has led to them forcing around 17.8 turnovers per game over the last six games. If they can get the turnover situation straightened out offensively and continue to force turnovers at a high rate defensively, they will put themselves in a good position to win a lot of games the rest of the year.
The SEC is no cake walk this season though, as five of the 14 teams are currently ranked in the AP top 25 and a few others, including Florida, having made an appearance in it this season. The Gators schedule to start conference play is grueling, with their first three games coming against Alabama at home (currently ranked number 19), followed by a trip to Auburn to play the Tigers (currently ranked number 11) and then finally a return trip home to play the LSU Tigers (currently ranked number 16). There are three Gators that are going to be key for this team in SEC play and if they have any hopes of making a deep run in March. These are the guys that make the engine run smoothly and impact the game in a major way and include:
· Colin Castleton, Senior, Forward
Castleton has been the straw that stirs the drink for the Gators this season. Averaging a first-team All-SEC caliber 14.8 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocks a game, he is the driving force on both the offensive and defensive ends. He has thrived in Mike White’s 5-out offense this year, where he has been able to dictate things with ball screens at the top of the key and low post. If the Gators have plans of going anywhere this year, everything starts and ends with him.
· Phlandrous Fleming Jr., Grad. Transfer, Guard
Fleming began the year coming off the bench, trying to find a consistent role on this team. That quickly changed, as the Charleston Southern transfer has become a major minute, every game starter for the Gators. A lengthy, high-motor wing who is averaging 11.8 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.3 steals a game to go along with a 37.8% average from 3-point land, he has become a versatile playmaker who gets it done on both ends of the floor.
· Tyree Appleby, Senior, Guard
Appleby has been rock solid ever since he came to Florida in 2019 from Cleveland State. The quick, energetic point man is averaging 10 points, 3.1 assists and 1.6 steals a game this season, but his impact isn’t always shown on the stat sheet. He is going to need to take care of the ball and continue to have success penetrating opposing defenses if this Gators offense is going to be successful.
The Gators have a strong squad with a lot of depth this year and while everything hasn’t exactly gone their way as of late, they still have talent up and down the roster that, when on their game, have the make-up of a top-level team in college basketball. Don’t be surprised if the Gators look like a team that is ready to make a deep run in the tournament come March.
Below is the time and TV information for the game on Wednesday:
Time: 7:00 PM EST
TV network: ESPN2