A bit of the air was let out of Saturday night’s match up against Ole Miss when the Rebels were handed their first conference loss against Kentucky.
Still, Gator fans, and more importantly, players must not forget that this is still the team giving chase in the SEC race, and one that has captured six conference victories and 17 wins overall.
Here are the five keys to Florida putting bit more distance in the rear-view mirror to continuing its cruise toward a conference title:
5) Get Rowdy: The O’Connell Center is reportedly sold-out, and the Rowdies are likely awaiting entry. Despite the game being tempered a bit by the Rebels’ recent loss, it is a critical contest that should have fans fired up. And fired up along with them will be the audacious Ole Miss guard, Marshall Henderson. Famous — or perhaps, infamous — for his on-court antics. Henderson has been known to engage rival crowds, a practice that some believe is a detriment to his game. “When the ball goes in the net and the possession is over, he goes from his highly intelligent player to being so emotional he’s engaging fans,” said ESPN analyst and former Wake Forest coach, Dino Gaudio. “The big negative is … you can’t be emotionally intoxicated.” The Rowdy Reptiles are likely planning a potent cocktail of noise, taunts, razzes and chants.
4) Mind the other “M”: Plenty of pregame attention and hype will center on the aforementioned Marhsall, but it may be another “M” that should capture some of the Gators’ focus. Senior Murphy Holloway has been a workhorse for the Rebels, tallying a team high 30-plus minutes per game. During that time, he has been no slouch. Through 20 games, he has averaged a double-double — with 14.4 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-7 banger must be accounted for when the ball is in the air, as his offensive rebounding prowess places him near the top of conference rankings and accounts for a high number of put-back baskets.
3) Keep what’s yours: Primarily, the ball! Both Florida and Ole Miss rank highly in conference turnover margin — No. 2 and 3, respectively. But both have had outings in which they were far too generous with the ball. Florida conceded 21 and 19 turnovers in wins against Missouri and Georgia, while the Rebels gave the ball away 16 times in a frenetic game against Arkansas. With both squads boasting high scoring abilities, lost possessions could provide significant swings. The Gators are certainly the more balanced team offensively, and significantly superior on the defensive end. Florida must not neutralize these advantages by losing the turnover margin to a team that excels in that category.
2) Press, press and press some more: This initially may not have been a team that Florida would have opted to press as much as other opponents, but injuries have Ole Miss playing with a depleted roster. The loss of Nick Williams and Aaron Jones limit Ole Miss to a rotation that barely goes six-deep. Look for the Gators to force tempo with frequent pressure – a ploy that intends to fatigue the shortened lineup and force a sometimes undisciplined squad into hurried mistakes. If effective, this could be a game that Florida runs away with in the second half.
1) Limit Second Chances: It is not difficult to pinpoint where Ole Miss finds its success. The Rebels rank second in conference scoring — a mere 0.4 of a point per game behind Florida — but slip way down to No. 10 in conference field goal percentage. This seems incongruous (big word, right?), but there is a simple explanation for how a seemingly inefficient offense produces so many points: second chances. Ole Miss leads the conference in offensive rebounding, averaging a whopping 14.6 per game, with Reginald Buckner and Holloway providing 48 through the first seven conference games. We know Florida is among the best at limiting “first-chance points,” but must be equally good at not providing the Rebels with a second shot on Saturday.