How do you bounce back from a week where you lost two winnable games by double figures in less than stellar fashion? Well, I’m not sure there is an exact answer to that but whatever it is it needs to be on full display in a focused effort against the Gators’ next opponent, the LSU Tigers. Picked by many to finish near the bottom of the SEC in the preseason, the Tigers have silenced many critics by putting together a decent 13-9 record. Though this is a team currently 10th in the conference it is a gritty squad that plays inspired basketball and this will be far from an easy game for the Gators. Looking towards this Wednesday night event, here is the scouting report.
The 34th ranked player in the 2017 recruiting class, Tremont Waters turned some heads when he chose the (at the time) lowly LSU Tigers over offers like Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, and Indiana. Generously listed at 5’11” and 165 pounds (though I think even Chris Chiozza will have a few inches on him), nobody expected him to be among the top freshmen in college basketball this season but he has done just that. Averaging 15.3 points, 5.9 assists, 3.4 rebounds, and 2.2 steals per game the scrappy guard has put himself on the national radar as one of the best floor generals in the nation. Chris Chiozza is coming off another big time point guard matchup against Collin Sexton (a matchup where the Sexton got the best of Florida’s senior) and will have his hands full again with Waters. The size similarity makes this matchup a lot more favorable for Chiozza then the matchup with Sexton, and Chiozza will have to have a big game to right the ship for Florida.
Speaking of Chiozza…
Cheese was just named to the Top 10 list for the Bob Cousy award, an honor recognizing the top point guard in college basketball. This is a tremendous accomplishment for the senior and shows that his solid play is being recognized around the nation. This comes at a time this team’s confidence isn’t at the highest level so hopefully this brings some enthusiasm to the locker room and inspires other players with the desire to play great basketball and be recognized.
LSU is a basketball team that has had success scoring by playing simple basketball and playing within themselves. Players know their role and don’t play outside of it, resulting in high usage for their key players but no ill-advised shots by secondary players who know what their job is on the floor. The two players running the show for the Tigers? Previously mentioned 5’11” point guard Tremont Waters and gigantic 6’11, 245 pound big man Duop Reath. Let’s touch on Reath first. After you see him and gaze upon his size, I bet you can guess where he wants the basketball. A senior with the knowledge of how to seal off defenders and create passing angles for his guards, Reath gets deep into the block to receive a pass and then turns simply over his left shoulder to drop a baby hook, shielding off his defender with his wide shoulders. Florida will have to be prepared to defend Reath down low because it is almost a guarantee he will be a major part of the LSU attack. Reath is averaging 6.9 post ups per game and converting at 51.3% so the Gators will have to have to have an answer for him. Luckily for the Gators, Reath is the only Tiger who posts up. He leads the team in post up attempts with 144 this season and second on the list is Mayan Kiir with…6, so when Reath isn’t on the floor the Gators can put out lineups with less interior bulk knowing LSU won’t attack in that way. Tremont Waters is the other concern for the Gators in slowing down the Tigers as he had a lightning quick change of pace and slippery dribbling abilities that allow him to slither through defenses and find good shots at the rim. He also possesses the ability to throw some of the fanciest passes I’ve ever seen (not just this season, like, ever) and can punish defenses that aren’t working to defend away from the ball. A one-man fast break whenever he can get a rebound, stopping him in transition and forcing him to give up the ball to a secondary player needs to be the first priority. Though stopping Waters and Reath needs to be a major key for the Gators they can’t recklessly send multiple players towards them to double as the Tigers are a solid shooting team around the perimeter. Not fielding any one lights-out shooter, LSU is a team with multiple reliable shooters that can knock down open shots with 7 players over 34% from three with only one player above 39.4% (Duop Reath shoots 46.2% but doesn’t take a lot of attempts). If you allow average shooters to get open shots they turn into great shooters and the Gators can’t allow that to happen if they want to have a successful defensive game that turns into a win. LSU is an efficient offensive team that doesn’t blow you away but plays smart and the Gators will need to be prepared to play hard and make in-game adjustments to put together a strong 40 minutes on their side of the floor.
Will Wade was a part of the one of the most glamourized defenses of all time when he was at VCU helping Shake Smart orchestrate their “Havoc” press defense. When he took the job at LSU many people wondered if he would try to recreate that style of defense at the Power 5 level and to this point, he hasn’t. Not only has he not brought the press many people expected him to but he hasn’t been able to get his players to defend well at all. In his first year at LSU you obviously can’t put full blame on him as he as inherited a group that hasn’t yet learned to play fundamental, connected defense. After two depressing offensive performances for the Gators last week this can hopefully be a chance for them to regain some offensive confidence going against a team that struggles to stay in front of their man. Their lack of perimeter defense has resulted in a lot of layups at their end and if they try to take those layups away by collapsing they haven’t been able to recover to shooters and have allowed their opposition to hit a high percentage of perimeter jumpers. The Gators have fallen in love with jump shots at times and have gotten away from driving the basketball and this would be a great game for them to get back into the habit of pressuring teams with the drive. Further enticing the Gators to drive the ball should be the fact that LSU isn’t a great shot blocking team. I talked about the size of Duop Reath earlier and though he possesses great size and length he doesn’t anticipate well to contest penetrators and averages only a single block per game. Aaron Epps is another big man who is a decent rim protector but not a guy with the swatting ability to deter you from going right at him. The mix of poor perimeter defense and the lack of an elite shot blocker means Florida has got to get to the hoop with dribble drives. At this current point in the season only 44% of Florida’s points have come from 2-point range which is 310th in the nation, suggesting the Gators are far too reliant on outside jumpers and aren’t able to get enough high efficiency shots around the rim. Trying to reinvent this sputtering offense is quite the task but I think it has to start with getting more dribble drives for their perimeter players. Not only will it give chances for layups but it will make defenses shift and give more open 3-point opportunities which are the shots we know the Gators crave. Another place it would be great to get at the Tigers would be on the offensive glass where they are 316th in the nation in offensive rebounds allowed. The Gators haven’t been a great offensive rebounding team this season but if they can get some extra possessions from rebounding if their shots aren’t falling it would really help out their ability to score. Florida will be desperately looking to bounce back offensively after a bad week and in terms of a tough SEC this is about as good of a matchup they could ask for to get their offensive rhythm back so they have to take advantage.
Keys to the Game
Florida needs to attack with the basketball and I think one of the best players to make that happen is Jalen Hudson if he can get into that mindset. He often uses his dribble to try to create space for a jump shot but if he has the attitude to beat his man and drive he has the handle and explosiveness to make it happen. Chiozza has a favorable matchup against Waters and the Gators will need him to do some work off the dribble to shift the LSU defense as well. Defensively, there isn’t anything different in this game for the Gators as they need to show interior toughness and the ability to not fall asleep on the perimeter which allows open looks. If they can do these things, I think they can win.
Let me know how you think the Gators will do Wednesday. Leave a comment here or post on the Gator Country forums.