After starting SEC play 0-3, the gators have rebounded and won two straight including a gutsy comeback victory over a good Mississippi State team on Wednesday night. They now stand at 11-6 overall and 2-3 in conference play on the year. Florida will look to make it three in a row Saturday afternoon when they welcome Jerry Stackhouse's 10-7 Commodores to the O'Dome.
Gators' Keys to the Game
The Gators have been doing a lot of good things as a team the past two games. The 3 point shooting and shooting in general has seen an increase, they are getting contributions from different sources and they are making the big plays when they need them.
Against Miss. St., Florida shot the ball at a 41.7% clip (10-24) from behind the arc and 51.1% clip (23-45) from the field. Against the Gamecocks last Saturday, they shot it at a 55.1% rate (27-49) from the field and hit some big 3's when they needed. As a team for the season, they have shot the ball 43.5% from the field and 31.2% from 3, so seeing these much higher percentages the last two games has been very promising and guys like Kowacie Reeves, Phlandrous Fleming Jr., Tyree Appleby and Anthony Duruji need to continue to shoot it with confidence.
As it looks right now, star center Colin Castleton will be out for what could be an indefinite amount of time with a "significant" shoulder injury according to Mike White. He has been the key piece in the Gators' offensive attack this year and they hadn't really anyone else consistently contribute going into the game Wednesday. That changed, though, as seniors Duruji (22 points, 5 steals) and Appleby (17 points, 5 assists) stepped up and lead on both ends of the court. Fleming Jr. (10 points, 5 assists), Reeves (14 points, 2 rebounds) and junior center Jason Jitoboh (8 points, 2 rebounds) all stepped up too and had some big buckets down the stretch. They will need these contributors as well as others to make plays and hit shots in Castleton's absence to be successful.
For the Gators, it has been their defensive effort that has powered the ship all year. According to teamrankings.com, Florida is ranked 25th in opponent turnovers per game with 16.3 forced, 11th in steals per game with 9.6 and sixth in blocks per game with 6.1. Against South Carolina and Miss. St. in the past two games, the Gators did a great job effecting guards in the front court by flustering them and then transitioning back into aggressive half court defense. They have mixed in a 1-3-1 trap in the half court to go along with their strict man-to-man defense and it has been effective, as they forced the Gamecocks and Bulldogs to take some tough shots late in the shot clock numerous times.
The key for this team is to keep their heads on both sides. When things get tough on offense and everything is stagnant, they need to relax and work to get a good shot. On defense, they can't have lapses late in the shot clock to give up easy buckets. If they can do these thing well, even without Castleton, Vandy is going to have a tough time walking out of Gainesville with a win.
What to Expect from Vandy
Though their record might not show it at 10-7 and 2-3 in SEC play, this Vanderbilt team is dangerous. They're one of those teams, much like South Carolina, that if you don't strap it up and come ready to go they can beat you on any given night.
For the Commodores, it all goes through junior guard Scotty Pippen Jr., the son of Chicago bulls and NBA legend Scotty Pippen. Pippen Jr. is averaging 18.8 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists this year. Everything revolves around him and usually if you can slow him down, Vandy has a tough time scoring points. They also are led by junior forward Jordan Wright, who is averaging 12.5 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game. These two carry much of the load for the 'Dores and if you can stop them or even slow them down, they're in trouble.
Defensively, Vandy gets after it pretty well as a team. According to teamrankings.com, they are 25th in opponent turnovers per game, forcing 16.3 a contest. They also rank 33rd in opponent field goals made per game, only allowing 22.4 and 46th in opponent points per game, allowing just 63.9. While they don't wow you with big numbers, they are an aggressive team that can get some stops when they need them. If the Gators can continue to shoot it at a high clip like they have the past two games, then it's going to pose problems for Vandy.
What it boils down to for Florida is making shots and slowing down Pippen Jr. and Wright. Expect the Gators to switch it up with a lot of 1-3-1 thrown in with the usual man-to-man and for quicker guards like Fleming Jr. and maybe even Appleby or McKissic to be on Pippen Jr. If we can do that and hit guys for open 3's and knock them down at a high rate, I don't see the Gators losing this game. Without Pippen Jr. being effective, Vandy has a tough time scoring and so if we can shut him down we'll be in business. Below is the time and TV/Radio information for Saturday's game:
Time: 1:00 EST
TV: SEC Network
Radio: Gators Sports Network from LEARFIELD with Mick Hubert and Lee Humphrey