This season hasn’t started glowingly for the Florida Gators, but all that can be done now is look forward to the next game and try to string together some wins. Sporting a record of 6-4 on the season, trying to win capture victories in their final two non-conference games would give some momentum going into the fire that will be SEC play. Florida’s focus is now steadily on the James Madison University Dukes who will come into Gainesville on December 20th hoping to knock off the now unranked Florida Gators. This is a game that the Gators absolutely have to get, and the consequences of a loss here would be devastating. Going into this matchup, here is what I think we can expect.
Season To Date
James Madison has had a rocky start to the 2017 campaign. Sitting at 4-8, they have tasted defeat a lot already. Mostly playing sub-250 KenPom teams, the Dukes’ best victory has come over Appalachian State in double overtime, and their worst loss has come to The Citadel who currently sit at 315th in KenPom. Florida needs to ignore the unsavory record of James Madison and treat them with the utmost respect, because with 4 losses already the Gators don’t have the option to be complacent.
Orange and Blue Blood
Leading James Madison into Gainesville will be second year head coach Louis Rowe. If you are an experienced Gators basketball fan that name might sound familiar to you as Rowe played for the Gators under Lon Kruger from 1990-1992 before transferring to James Madison. In his limited role as a Gator forward he averaged a modest 3.4 points and 1.7 rebounds playing behind great Gators like Dwayne Davis and Stacey Poole. Considering he started his playing career at Florida, transferred to James Madison, ended up coaching at James Madison, and is now taking his team on the road to Florida, it’s all one big circle for Louis Rowe. Once a Gator, always a Gator.
Get used to the name Stuckey Mosley, as he carries the entire James Madison offense on his shoulders. Currently averaging 20.7 points per game, the 6’3” junior from Orlando might see Gainesville as a great place to showcase his skills. Coach Rowe runs lots of different sets for Mosley, so look for him to run around screens and spot up to use his 45.8% 3-point stroke as well as use his shifty dribbling ability to run pick and rolls. With only two double-digit scorers on James Madison’s roster (the second being 6’0” point guard Joey McLean at 13.3 points per game), the Gators should be able to really key in on that backcourt and put all their defensive energy and focus towards stopping that duo. The other name the Gators need to know is Develle Phillips who is their only scoring option on the low block. He has been efficient when posting up (43.9%) and on offensive rebound put backs (a robust 71.4%) so he has the potential to hurt Florida on the inside if they aren’t careful. Kevarrius Hayes and Keith Stone have provided better defense inside these past few games then they did to start the season so hopefully they can keep that solid inside presence going on Wednesday.
James Madison’s offense is a slow it down, move the chess pieces kind of offense that is extremely ball screen heavy. They are 270th in average possession length, so they definitely aren’t looking to push the ball. Keeping it slow helps them keep turnovers down, and their 18% turnover rate isn’t all the bad for a team from the Colonial Athletic Association. When the Dukes play pick and roll they often aren’t doing it to free the roll man or to try to draw help defenders so that they can swing the ball, but it’s to get a shot for the ball handler. Pick and roll ball handlers account for 15.5% of the Dukes’ shots, one of the highest usage percentages for that play in college basketball. Knowing this, the Gators need to defend on-ball screens accordingly by having the player defending the screen setter hedge out or switch, or have the player getting screened fight over the top of the screen to prevent a pull up jumper. There are multiple other ways to defend these screen and rolls, so the Gators have to pick a few and be ready to use them in Wednesday’s game. Basketball is becoming so screen and roll heavy that any opportunity to have to practice defending these plays is beneficial as the Gators will see hundreds of them the rest of the season. The last thing James Madison does really well is draw fouls. Using long possessions means there are many opportunities for the defense to fall asleep and be forced to foul, so the Gators can’t fall into that trap. 21.1% of the Dukes’ points come from the foul line and they shoot well from there (74.3%), so the Gators need to play straight up defense without fouling to choke off one of James Madison’s biggest scoring threats.
After several offensive performances that have left Florida fans shaking their heads, there is a longing for the Gators to have another explosive scoring night. Well, if that’s what you’re hoping for, you’ll be happy to hear that James Madison is one of the worst defensive teams in the country. Let me rattle off some numbers for you. James Madison is currently 283rd in the country in offensive efficiency, and are 313th in effective field goal percentage allowed at a staggering 56.4%. They give up 40.6% from the 3-point line (328th in the country) and 53.2% from 2-point range (260th) and they foul a ton (288th in free throw attempts allowed). There aren’t any noticeable bright spots for this James Madison defense so Florida should have every opportunity to develop their offensive rhythm, something they haven’t been able to do recently. One of the Dukes’ biggest weaknesses is on transition defense where they are in the 4th percentile of teams nationally, allowing 1.194 points per possession. When you’re struggling to score like Florida has recently nothing feels as good as easy buckets, so getting some layups on the break could help get them get out of the funk they’ve been in. James Madison also really struggles to contest spot up jump shots allowing 1.021 points per possession so if all goes well the Gators should see a lot of their threes falling. When the Gators were rolling to start the year, scoring in isolation was one of the skills that was really working for them and those plays have gone cold as they now shoot 30.3% here. Jalen Hudson, KeVaughn Allen, and Chris Chiozza are all asked to score in isolation and they might have some better opportunities against the Dukes. James Madison is undersized on the perimeter which allows isolation scorers to get shots off easily and opponents have shot 41.5% when taking an individual defender off the bounce. Many coaches don’t like to go to isolation basketball, but when it gets late into a shot clock it’s often the only option and the inability to convert in isolation was a big reason the Gators let a lead slip late to Clemson so they need to improve in this area. James Madison has actually played full court press defense on 15.4% of their possessions, but I can’t see them trying this against a veteran Gators backcourt. If we do see a press from James Madison, look for the Gators to not just be content in beating the press to get the ball over half but to actively attack the pressure and punish them for not getting back and protecting their hoop.
A team that hasn’t had much historical success and with only a second year head coach, James Madison has had a lot of roster turnover and is extremely young. With 6 freshmen and 2 sophomores on the teams, the Dukes are 216th youngest team in the nation and returned only 28.1% of their minutes from last season (315th in the country). We have seen that they struggle defensively which is common for young teams, and the Gators need to make sure to use their experience to grab a win.
We have all been waiting for a KeVaughn Allen resurgence on offense, and this should be a really good matchup for him facing a young and undersized James Madison backcourt. He should have plenty opportunities for rhythm jump shots as well as individual matchups he can beat off the dribble, so hopefully he can get back on track.
How do you think Wednesday night’s contest with James Madison will go? Leave a comment here or post on the Gator Country forums.