The Florida Gators are rolling and have won 3 straight, currently sitting at 12-6 overall and 3-3 in SEC play. This week they will play a grueling schedule of three games, something that is abnormal in college, including tonight's game against Ole Miss, followed by a trip to Knoxville to play the 18th ranked Tennessee Volunteers and then a return trip home Saturday to play Oklahoma State in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
Ole miss has not been so hot lately, losing six of their last seven and currently stand at 9-9 overall, 1-5 in SEC play. The Rebs will look to get a big home victory over the visiting Gators tonight, who are still without star senior center Colin Castleton.
Gators Keys to the Game
Florida has battled and put together a solid three of really good basketball in Castleton's absence. After handling the Vanderbilt Commodores on Saturday, the Gators need to continue to stay hot in a pivotal three game week.
Offensively, Florida has had trouble shooting the basketball all season, especially from behind the arc. The Gators were 9-36 (25%) on Saturday against Vandy from distance and have shot it at a 30.7% clip for the year. For a team that gets a lot of open looks and puts up a lot of 3's, that percentage has to go up. Especially with the absence of Castleton, Florida is more perimeter oriented than usual and needs to knock down the 3 ball at a high rate to have success.
The Gators have done a phenomenal job of sharing the ball and getting contributions from all over the place without Colin, though. Florida was moving the ball tremendously Saturday and it led to a lot of those open looks. They were crisp and decisive with their passes and you saw more guys driving to create open looks than normal. The use of many different sets by the Gators, including Flex screening and dribble hand offs, has made it a lot easier for guys who normally don't score a lot to get buckets. Perhaps no one has benefitted from these offenses more than the likes of Jason Jitoboh, Anthony Duruji and Tyree Appleby, who have all had good offensive showings without Castleton. Look for Florida to continue to run these sets and hopefully share the ball well tonight if they want to score a lot of points.
Defensively, it has been business as usual for Florida. In the second half of that Mississippi St. game last Wednesday and virtually all game against Vandy, the Gator defensive pressure forced turnovers and late shots in the shot clock. Vanderbilt star guard Scotty Pippen Jr., who averages 18.1 points per game, was held to a season low six points. On top of this, the Commodores had just 14 second half points which included not hitting a shot from the field in the final 10:30 of the game.
What makes the Gator defense so lethal is their use of full court and half court pressure. The Gators love to trap the ball in the full and half courts, and this has led to teams not being able to get into their sets offensively and having to force shots late in the clock. The Gators force a ton of turnovers, too, with their use of constant ball pressure and 1-3-1 half court trapping that is mixed in. They rank 35th in defensive efficiency according to kenpom and according to teamrankings.com are 28th in turnovers forced per game with 16.1 forced, 11th in steals per game with 9.6 and sixth in blocks per game with 5.9. They are a defensive machine as a team and will be extremely tough to beat if they continue defending like they have lately.
Scouting the Rebels
On the flip side of the streaking Gators is Ole Miss. Having lost six of their last seven and currently sitting second to last in the conference, they are in desperate need of a win. There is no doubt that they are going to give Florida everything they've got tonight and if the Gators don't strap it up they could find themselves in trouble.
The Rebels are led offensively by senior guard Jarkel Joiner who is averaging 13.6 points, 2.8 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game and freshman guard Daeshun Ruffin who himself is averaging 11 points, 3.6 assists and 2.4 steals per game. The rest of the Rebels' scoring output is pretty much evened out between 5 or 6 guys, so if the Gators can contain those two they'll be in business.
But, as their record shows, they have not been very good this year and the stats back that up. This is most prevalent on offense, where they are currently ranked 126th overall and 198th in offensive efficiency with a rating of 102 according to kenpom. Along with this, the Rebels are ranked 239th in points per game, averaging just 67.9 a contest and 218th in shooting percentage with a 42.8% clip from the field according to teamrankings.com.
Defensively Ole Miss isn't as bad, ranking 84th in kenpom's defensive efficiency. They also are ranked 32nd in opponent 3 point percentage, allowing teams to just 29.6% per game behind the arc and 46th in opponent 3 pointers made per game, allowing just 5.9. While the defensive efficiency isn't anything to write home about, the Rebels do a pretty good job against the 3 ball which could pose a problem for the Gators, who have struggled behind the arc all year.
Wrap up and TV/Radio Information
As you know, the SEC is a very tough conference and like I've said many times in previous articles, if you don't come ready to play anyone can beat you. If the Gators stay true to themselves defensively and continue to make things difficult for the opponent while taking care of the ball offensively and knocking down the open 3's, I expect us to walk out of Oxford with a win.
Below is the time and TV/Radio information for tonight's game:
Time: 7 PM EST
TV: SEC Network +
Radio: Gators Sports Network from LEARFIELD with Mick Hubert and Lee Humphrey