With Wednesday’s loss to the Georgia Bulldogs the Gators have now matched the number of losses from last season. With 5 regular season games plus postseason play left, that is not a satisfying number. Considering the Gators had the game against the Bulldogs in their grasps and let it slide the team may be devastated but they must put it behind them and look forward to Saturday’s opponent, the Vanderbilt Commodores. Though the Gators beat the Commodores 81-74 in the first game of the SEC season, the Commodores have a losing record, and the Commodores are last in the conference the Gators have lost any right to take teams for granted and need to come into this game hungry and focused. Following Vanderbilt the Gators finish the SEC regular season with a murderers row of Tennessee, Auburn, Alabama, and Kentucky where wins will be tough to come by so this is a victory they desperately need. This is the third consecutive game the Gators will be playing an opponent for the second time and we saw good and bad adjustments in their last two games. Against South Carolina the Gators ran fantastic offensive adjustments to counteract the Gamecock’s perimeter pressure and ended up winning handily 65-41 but against Georgia the Gators were entirely deterred by the Bulldog stronghold and resulted to stall-ball instead of running offense. How will they follow this up when they play Vanderbilt for the second time? We will see. Luckily for the Gators they actually beat Vanderbilt in the first meeting so they should know a little bit about how they want to handle them before heading to Nashville. Let’s take a look at that game from December 30 and see what the Gators can do to get a win and try to right the ship.
Letting It Fly
The three point shot was a big storyline in this game but both teams went about it in different ways. The Gators shot a few less threes than normal and ended up shooting a pleasing 8-19 for 42.1%. I really liked the shot selection by Florida’s perimeter players and all the three point looks came because they were open and in rhythm and not forced up whatsoever. Vanderbilt, on the other hand, was looking to dial it up from deep at any sliver of openness and shot 12-31 for 38.7%. Though that number is good for that many attempts it is a little bit misleading as the Commodores were shooting below 25% from beyond for most of the game until late in the contest when they hit some desperation heaves in an attempt to come back. Vanderbilt is a team that actually doesn’t shoot a good percentage from three (33.6%, 237th in the country) but relies on shooting them in volume (45.3% of their shots are from deep) to get points. It will be interesting to see if the Gators scheme to allow them to shoot a lot of threes banking on them not hitting anything higher than 33.6% or if they try to run them off the line and challenge them to score inside. Vanderbilt struggles to finish in traffic and the Gators would be well served to force them into those looks. An indication of why Florida needs to force Vanderbilt to try to finish inside? In the first meeting Florida had 10 blocks and Vanderbilt only had 14 2-point buckets. When you almost block as many shots inside as your opponent makes, those are the shots you want them attempting.
How did the Gators put up points shooting less threes than normal? Driving the basketball. Vanderbilt is a poor defensive team that particularly struggles to guard on the perimeter and the Gators punished them by beating their man off the dribble and driving into the paint where they could either finish or kick out for an open three. The other result of Florida’s ability to drive was the amount they got to the foul line as they shot 30 free throws and hit 27 of them. Sample size is starting to pile up at this point of the season and the games where the Gators can get more points at the rim and shoot fewer, but more high percentage threes are resulting in more victories then when they solely rely on the jump shot. Against a poor perimeter defending Commodores team players like Chris Chiozza, Jalen Hudson, and KeVaughn Allen need to be thinking drive first. The other element at play? Memorial Gym. Vanderbilt’s famous home court where the floor is elevated, the lighting is like a theatre, and the benches are on the endline. It can be a tough place to shoot the basketball so having offensive diversity can only be a good thing.
Sharing the Sugar
Vanderbilt doesn’t have one star they really feature and really spread around shots amongst a handful of players. Jeff Roberson is their leading scorer on the season with 16.2 points a game and he did put in 18 against the Gators so they might have their eye on him the most. A strong but undersized forward he used his low center of gravity to push around Egor Koulechov to get good position but I don’t think we’ll see that matchup much this time around. When the Gators and Commodores played Gorjok Gak was out and Dontay Bassett only played 4 minutes so Florida’s frontcourt rotation relied on the 6’5” Koulechov to play the power forward position. We should see Keith Stone on Roberson in this one, a matchup the Gators should like a lot more and one that will limit Roberson’s effectiveness. Riley LaChance is another player the Gators will have to keep their eye on as he is always moving away from the ball in an attempt to find open space behind the three point line. At 40.4% he is the most dangerous Commodores from deep and if they can eliminate his 3-point attempts the Gators might be willing to let others beat them.
Against Georgia Jalen Hudson unquestionably had the worst game of his career as a Gator as he was held completely scoreless. Not only did baskets escape him but a last second travel in regulation when the Gators were in good shape lead to Georgia sending the game to overtime and ultimately winning. Florida’s leading scorer with 15.1 pointers per game they need Hudson to bounce back and have an immediate impact against the Commodores. He’ll have good matchups to attack off the dribble and if he can use his shifty handle and quick first step he should find himself with easy points at the rim. Hudson is a player with NBA dreams and he has all the tools to get there but needs to improve his basketball IQ and mental toughness to put all the pieces together. That starts with a bounce back effort against Vanderbilt.
Keys For the Gators
Play with confidence. Whether it’s with a lead against a good team or a 0-0 game against a weaker opponent the Gators have been “playing not to lose” and not “playing to win.” Florida knows they’ll be favored against Vanderbilt so they can’t tip the game off with the attitude that they can’t drop a game against another lesser opponent and if they get a lead in the second half they can’t play with the fear that they’ll blow another lead. Trust in the gameplan and execute. Even though this is a fairly veteran team it is still apparent this group is learning how to win and it’s a process they need to accelerate if they want to make noise this postseason.
If the game is close I’ll be looking to see how the team runs offense. Will they slow down and force tough shots late in the clock or will they run sets to shift the defense and generate a quality look? Time will tell. Like I mentioned earlier the Gators have a tough stretch of games after Vanderbilt and if they lose to the Commodores and back their way into the run of Tennessee, Auburn, Alabama, and Kentucky this thing could snowball out of control quickly. Take it one game at a time and the Gators can gain some momentum moving into the postseason.
Do you expect the Gators to bounce back against Vanderbilt after a tough game against Georgia or do you think they’ll fold? Leave a comment here or post on the Gator Country forums.