With the Phil Knight Invitational Tournament drawing so much attention for the outstanding field it accumulated, this will be a huge thanksgiving weekend for the Gators. After opening the season with three consecutive victories over mid-major competition, the Gators welcome their first significant challenge of the year—The Stanford Cardinal. With many predicting the Cardinal to finish in the top five of the PAC-12, a victory on Thursday could mean the first entry in the “quality win” column the selection committee eyes when deciding seeds in March. Additionally, a win would most likely bring on another outstanding opponent and another chance for a quality win in #17 ranked Gonzaga. On the flip side, a loss could bring on a sputtering Ohio State squad, a team that is far from the powerful Buckeye teams of old. With an exciting game on the way, let’s take a look at the numbers and see what we can expect.
Season To Date
Stanford is 3-2 so far on the year, grabbing wins against Cal Poly, Pacific, and Northeastern. Their first loss of the year was an upset and one they certainly wish they could get back—a 67-61 drubbing by Eastern Washington. Their second loss was in their most recent game against #9 ranked North Carolina, where they got thumped 96-72. They’ll be hungry for a win after that one, so you can expect an inspired Cardinal squad.
Reid Travis. And it isn’t close. One of the best players on the west coast, the 6’8”, 245 pound junior is a bruiser who finishes around the hoop with equal parts power and finesse. A true workhorse at 35 minutes per game, he has averaged a monster 21.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1.6 steals. He is the straw that stirs the drink for the Stanford offense, and this game could hinge on whether or not the Gators are able to contain him. The Gators had their struggles against a similar interior player in New Hampshire’s Tanner Leissner, so be sure to watch what adjustments they make in trying to shut down another elite post player. Keith Stone will most likely have the starting matchup against him, so making sure he can’t catch the ball easily in his hot spots and staying out of foul trouble (he had problems with this against New Hampshire) will be key.
Pitting a great offensive rebounding team against a great defensive rebounding team, the battle on the glass could be the difference in this one. Florida has been effective at gathering their blown shots up to this point snagging 36% of their misses, while Stanford has been holding their opponents to getting only 23.8% of available offensive rebounds. The Cardinal’s best rebounder to this point has been intimidating pivot Michael Humphrey. Standing 6’9” and weighing 245 pounds, the senior is averaging a magnificent 10.6 rebounds per game. He’s a load to handle, and many of his 12.2 points per game come down low. Stanford chooses not to send too many bodies to the offensive glass, instead choosing to get back and limit transition offense, so securing defensive boards shouldn’t be an issue.
Despite the challenge they had guarding North Carolina, Stanford has been pretty good defensively so far ranking 62nd nationally in defensive efficiency. Up to this point they have spent 71.2% of the time playing man-to-man defense and 28.8% playing zone. Interestingly enough, their zone has actually shown tremendous effectiveness as opponents have only shot 31% from the field against that defense, as opposed to 45.2% against their man defense. The Gators should definitely be prepared to see zone, although Stanford may be reluctant to do so with Florida’s wing trio of Egor Koulechov, KeVaughn Allen, and Jalen Hudson all having the ability to catch fire from deep. Allowing threes has been a bit of weak point for Stanford with opponents shooting 36.9% from the land beyond, and opponents have accumulated 37.1% of their points on these shots. Weak side assistance has also been lacking, as they have only averaged 3 blocked shots per game. Where Stanford has been strong is in pick and roll coverage, where they are limiting teams to only 33.3% effectiveness on one of basketball’s most used plays. The Cardinal will throw a little bit of everything at you defensively, and though they are well rounded they don’t excel in any real area. This mixed bag defensive philosophy could either confuse the Gators or allow holes for them to exploit. Be sure to watch and see what they use to try to temper the Florida attack.
A middle of the road offensive team (101st in offensive efficiency), Stanford can struggle to put the ball in the hoop from time to time. Two of their favorite ways to score are in transition (13.1% of their attempts) and to hit cutters on the run going towards the hoop (15.1% of their attempts). The Gators have great speed in the open court and haven’t turned the ball over a lot to start the year, so limiting transition opportunities shouldn’t be an issue. Stanford using cutters so much is a throwback to the disciplined basketball of the 80s, and is something Florida won’t see a lot of this year. Denying cutters takes effort and dedication, and as long as the Gators don’t want to be outworked in this area they should be in good shape. Preferring to get their points inside, the Cardinal rank 281st nationally in 3-point attempt rate. Knowing this, the Gators will be able to really stack help side defenders in the paint, knowing there aren’t many great shooters on the perimeter. This will be particularly helpful when guarding Reid Travis, as they will be able to double down on him without a huge threat of the long ball. Isaac White is the one player the Gators will have to key on behind the arc, as he is Stanford’s only player to hit more then 6 threes in their 5 games this season (he has 13) and he is shooting them at 46.4%. Though not supremely talented offensively this Stanford team plays smart and physically, and they shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Everyone in the frontcourt. Stanford has two great frontcourt pieces in Reid Travis and Michael Humphrey, and shutting them down could mean a big win for the Gators. Keith Stone needs to find a way to defend at a high level without fouling, and Gorjok Gak needs to use his length to make finishing around the hoop difficult. Kevarrius Hayes stood tall against New Hampshire, but he needs to improve in the rebounding department to round out his game and finish defensive possessions with a board. Offensively, you’d love to see Egor Koulechov and KeVaughn Allen get back to form, and they should have some good matchups against the Stanford wings to put up some serious points.
After some smaller name opponents at home, playing a power conference team on a neutral court is the challenge we have all been waiting for. Get ready for a tremendous tournament, Gator fans.
What do you think of the matchup with Stanford? Leave a comment here or post on the Gator Country forums.