After starting SEC play 0-3 for the first time in 40 years and dropping six of their last nine games, the Gators have found themselves in deep trouble. With their season teetering on the brink of disaster and Mike White's seat boiling hot, Saturday's trip to Columbia is a must win for Florida. If they don't win this one then they are going to have serious issues getting any real momentum going the rest of conference play and White will likely be out of a job come seasons end.
Gators' keys to the game
If Florida wants to have any chance to win on Saturday afternoon, they have to do three things a lot better: free throw shooting, 3 point shooting and limiting the turnovers. On Wednesday night, the Gators shot a dreadful 50% from the line as a team going 11-22 and 4-11 in the final ten minutes. You can't win basketball games in the SEC if you don't make your free throws, especially down the stretch and it has been a major problem for Florida all year. They have squandered a lot of good chances to win games all year due to it and if it doesn't change then the late game issues will continue. On top of that, the 3 point shooting needs to be a lot better. The Gators have not shot the 3 ball well at all this year, with a team percentage of 30.5%.
The way their offense runs causes Colin Castleton to get doubled a ton down low, forcing him to find shooters on the perimeter. Teams know that Castleton is the biggest threat to score and will continue to defend this way until Florida threatens teams with a consistent 3 point attack. If they can get it going Saturday against the Gamecocks then they will make it really tough for South Carolina to get stops all game.
The third and final thing that needs to happen is cleaning up their turnover problem. While the Gators have won the turnover battle in each of their last two games, they are still turning the ball over at a high rate. And when they do turn it over, it's usually at a very inopportune time. Clean up the high turnover rate, take care of the ball and keep forcing them on the defensive end and Florida will put themselves in a good position to win on the road Saturday.
South Carolina scouting report and players to watch
While not the caliber of team that the Gators have seen so far in their first three games of conference play, the Gamecocks are not to be taken lightly. Coming into the game at 10-5, they have some quality wins over FSU, Vanderbilt and a quality Western Kentucky team this season. Frank Martin is a very good coach and always has a tough, competitive squad that will give you a run for your money on any given night. Anywhere from 10-12 guys will get minutes every game from them and they have a lot of age in their rotation, with seven guys who are juniors or older averaging 13 minutes or more per game.
The Gamecocks have a pretty balanced attack offensively, with senior guard Erik Stevenson leading the way averaging 11.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game this year to go along with senior guard James Reese V, who is averaging 10.2 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.8 assist per game. They are also good defensively, a staple of Frank Martin's teams, coming in as the 33rd ranked team in kenpom's defensive efficiency rating with a rating of 95 (one spot above Florida at 34).
Along with this, South Carolina gets after the ball defensively and are ranked 24th in turnovers forced averaging around 16.4 forced turnovers per contest according to teamrankings.com. The Gamecocks are not going to be an easy out for the struggling Gators on the road Saturday afternoon and I expect it to be a tough and physical game throughout.
This Gators team has been disappointing to say the least this year. After starting the year 6-0 and looking poised to be a very good team that could challenge come March, they have sputtered and completely lost their way. Their hopes at even making the tournament at this point are fizzling away and they desperately need a win Saturday afternoon in Columbia, South Carolina if they have any plans to be in the dance come March. This won't be easy, though, as the Gamecocks are going to give them a battle for all 40 minutes straight in what I expect to be a very tough, gritty game. Below is the time and TV/Radio information for Saturday's game:
Time: 1 PM EST
TV: SEC Network
Radio: Gator Sports Network from Learfield with Mick Hubert and Lee Humphrey