After starting SEC play 0-2 and dropping five of their last eight games, tonight has become a much bigger-than-average early January game for the Gators. Struggling and with their season on the rocks, Florida is in danger of starting conference play 0-3 with the athletic, defensive oriented LSU Tigers coming to town. If the Gators don't get out of the blocks fast, they could find themselves in trouble early against the 14-1 Tigers.
Saturday night was one to forget for Florida. Plagued by offensive inconsistencies and poor 3-point shooting, the Gators need to make changes if they want to compete with LSU. The 5-out offense that Mike White instituted at the beginning of this year is not working the way it was. Part of that can be attributed to not making shots, part of that is teams becoming wise to this very vanilla offense and part of that is just the Gators not looking comfortable in what they’re running. When Florida gets into set offenses and runs through them, that is where they look most comfortable. Not having a lot of guys that can go one on one and take someone off the bounce, set offenses are much more fitting at this point in the year than the 5-out they have been running.
The Gators also need to get back to getting after it on the defensive end. Sure, Auburn made some tough shots on Saturday night and Florida didn’t play poorly defensively, but the stats don’t lie. For those that don’t know, defensive efficiency is a main stat used in basketball to show overall how a team is performing on the defensive end. At the beginning of 2022, the Gators ranked in the top 15 of kenpom’s adjusted defensive efficiency. 10 days later, they have fallen all the way to 35 with a rating of 94.6 and while this is good, I know it could be better. On the bright side, Florida forced Auburn into 16 turnovers on Saturday, which is something we have made a strength all season. We are going to need to keep forcing turnovers at this rate tonight and turn it into points on the offensive end if we want to beat the lockdown LSU Tigers.
And when I say lockdown, I mean it. According to kenpom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rating, LSU is ranked number one in America with a staggering rating of 84.1. Along with this, the Tigers are ranked first in opponent shooting percentage per game, only allowing teams to shoot the ball at 34.9% clip against them according to teamrankings.com. They also get after it defensively, leading the country with 12.3 steals per game and are third in opponent turnovers per game with 19 turnovers forced per game according to teamrankings.com. LSU is not loaded with future NBA draft picks all over their roster, but they are a defensive juggernaut. One of the reasons for this came to me while I was listening to the Florida Basketball Hour, a Florida Men's Basketball podcast that does a great job covering the the team. While previewing the LSU game in their latest episode, host Eric Fawcett brought to my attention something the Tigers do defensively called "triple switching". Originating overseas in Europe, this occurs while defending pick and rolls and means that when the screen is set on the on-ball defender, the defender of the screener will pop out and defend the ball while a third defender slides over and picks up the roller. This allows LSU to avoid having mismatches with guards on opposing bigs and causes problems for their opponents. They are one of the only teams in major college basketball that does this and that is one of the many things that makes them as good as they are on the defensive end. If the Gators want to be successful against this smothering Tiger defense, then they have to get into sets early and get comfortable in them because the 5-out will have an extremely tough time being successful against them.
Florida is a good team. We have seen that they are capable of being a good team. They are old and very good defensively, but have fallen out of sorts as of late, especially offensively. Tonight is as big as an early-mid January game could be with the Gators season in danger of slipping through the cracks if things don't change. And it's not going to be easy against this group from Baton Rouge. Below is the time and TV information for tonight’s game.
Time: 7 PM EST
TV: ESPN 2