With a week of recovery following the Phil Knight Invitational under their belts, the Gators are back to game action taking on in-state rival Florida State. The week of rest should be extremely beneficial for the Gators as they came off of some physical games in Portland (including a double overtime contest) and now have to face a tough and athletic Seminoles team. Though Florida State is predicted by many analysts to finish in the lower half of the ACC, the strength of that conference still means this would be a quality win for the Gators. And of course, Florida would hate to fall to an unranked opponent who also happens to be one of their biggest rivals. Can the Gators avenge the football team’s loss with a big win over the Seminoles? How about we take a look at the numbers and see what we can expect.
Florida State is currently on a three game winning streak over the Gators, but the games have been close. The Seminoles squeaked out a win at home last season 83-78, beat the Gators 73-71 in 2016, and won 65-63 in 2015 on the now infamous Jacob Kurtz “own goal” at the buzzer (I wish I didn’t have to bring that up, Gators fans). Considering Florida had a great opportunity to win all those games but came up short, they are hungry for a win. Florida State, on the other hand, would love to get a signature win against a top 10 ranked Florida team in the non-conference as they might struggle to win conference games in the ACC. There are plenty of reasons for both teams to be fired up for this one, so it should be a great game no matter what each player’s motivations are.
Season to Date
The Seminoles are currently 6-0 but their schedule has been, well, soft. With so many opportunities in their conference to pick up quality wins, they elected to play an easier non-conference schedule to pile up victories. Their wins have come over George Washington, Fordham, Colorado State, Kennesaw State, The Citadel, and Rutgers. For reference of how weak their schedule has been, Kennesaw State and the Citadel are 313th and 305th in KenPom, and the Seminoles best win was against a 111th ranked Rutgers team that is perennially at the bottom of the Big 10. This team hasn’t faced big time competition this season, so the Gators might be able to surprise them early with some pace that they haven’t seen yet.
Florida State will likely be missing junior center Christ Koumadje who is currently missing “an indefinite amount of time” with a lower body injury. At 7’4” and 235 pounds he is a mountain masquerading as a man, and the Seminoles will miss his shot blocking presence inside when the Gators get penetration. Though he isn’t particularly skilled offensively that size could give any team problems, especially the John Egbunu-less Gators. Though Koumadje’s 3.7 blocks per game will be missed by the Seminoles, they have another big time rim protector in freshman Ike Obiagu who is averaging a ridiculous 2.8 blocks in only 13.5 minutes per game this year.
Florida State is currently 35th in offensive efficiency, and they use their roster chalk full of athletes to run, get to the hoop, and finish. They have the 32nd quickest possessions in college basketball at 15.2 seconds on average, so this game should be a track meet as the Gators average 14.8. Florida State finishes quite well when they push the ball, shooting 53.7% in transition and getting fouled 12.1% of the time. Speaking of getting fouled, the Seminoles struggle mightily at the free throw line. Currently they are shooting 62.3% from the charity stripe, putting them at 333rd in the country. The Gators should definitely be mindful of this, and though the frontcourt shouldn’t have too many fouls to give up there should be some bench players able to take fouls to prevent layups. Considering the last three games between these two have come down to the wire foul shooting could play a big role, and Florida State’s lead guard Terance Mann is only a 61.5% free throw shooter and when your best guard isn’t a good free throw shooter you can have some serious issues. One thing Florida State does as good as any team in the country is score off cuts. They shoot off cuts a lot, 12% of the time, and convert at a robust 76.6%. Teams score off cuts when a guard can get dribble penetration and a help side defender needs to step up, and that off ball offensive player recognizes that their defender has left to help and gets to the hoop for an easy pass. If the Gators can defend well on the perimeter and not allow drives then these cuts won’t be available and some of Florida State’s easy offense will be neutralized. Of course, this is easier said then done considering the athleticism of Florida State and the struggle some of Florida’s wings have to defend, so this will be something to watch. The Seminoles’ athleticism is also shown on the offensive glass, as they rebound 39.1% of their own misses, good for 6th in the country. We know rebounding has been an issue at times for the undersized Gators so controlling the boards will be a key.
Florida State is currently 54th in defensive efficiency, a number that is surprisingly low given their deep pool of length and athleticism. They are 13th tallest team in college basketball with an average height of 78.4 inches (the Gators have an average height of 77 inches, while we’re talking obscure college basketball stats) and they use that height to pressure ball handlers, limit passing angles, and recover at the rim. Their defensive philosophy is to limit ball reversal and make it hard for opponents to run offense. You’ll see off-ball defenders rely try to deny short passes, so guys like KeVaughn Allen and Jalen Hudson will have to work hard just to get the ball from Chris Chiozza. The Seminoles get steals on 10% of opponent’s possessions so the Gators will have to be mindful with every pass. Florida State’s length could real out and snatch passes at any time, as four players are averaging over a steal per game and those players are at positions all around the floor. Focusing on protecting the rim, the Seminoles are one of the best paint defending teams in the country. Teams are only shooting 41.5% around the rim which is a simply incredible number (Florida is allowing 52.5%, better then the average team) which is a true indication of the strength of the Seminoles’ defense. Also excellent at defending in transition, opponents have only been able to shoot 40.9% against them in this area. You know the Gators will look to run at all times, but they should be mindful of the fact that Florida State defends transition well and at times it could be smarter for the Gators to pull the ball back out and look to set up offense.
Key Players for the Seminoles
Florida State is a balanced offensive team with five players (Terance Mann, Phil Cofer, Braian Angola, CJ Walker, and Mfiondu Kabengele) averaging double digits in scoring. They spread it out and don’t have a key piece that runs everything, so the Gators will have to focus on playing disciplined defense all around the court as they won’t be able to just focus on one or two key players. Obiagu anchors their defense and is starting to get more minutes so he could be a big stopper, but he isn’t the kind of guy you have to worry about getting buckets on you.
Key Players for the Gators
Mike White challenged his frontcourt players to have more of an impact, and I have to agree with him. They are about to take on a bigger, stronger, and more athletic frontcourt that could really frustrate them if they’re not on their game, and I think Coach White knew what was coming when he challenged players like Kevarrius Hayes, Keith Stone, and Gorjok Gak to be better. White continued to roll out Egor Koulechov against big frontcourts while in Portland, and if he does that again Koulechov will have to find a way to knock down his shots and punish the bigger defenders on that side of the court. Koulechov has shot the ball really well in Gainesville, so maybe he’ll have another five or six makes in him that night.
Two of the perennial best programs in Florida, this rivalry game is always a treat. Be sure to keep it locked to Gator Country before, during, and after the game!