After earning a double-bye to start the SEC Tournament the Gators will finally be in action on Friday, March 9 as they take on the Arkansas Razorbacks who finished 6th in the conference standings. The Razorbacks had to fight to earn this matchup with the Gators by battling the South Carolina Gamecocks for an exhausting 40 minutes and ultimately outlasting them for a 69-64 victory. Florida, having not played since their game with Kentucky on Saturday, should be well rested and ready for the challenge of the SEC Tournament as they look to better their seed in the big dance. Arkansas is also comfortably in the NCAA Tournament picture but will looking to improve their resume with a win over the scorching hot Gators. Florida will be happy to see the Razorbacks again as not only does it offer them a chance to pick up a solid win for their resume but the Gators easily handed them a 88-73 loss in Gainesville back in January. Will Arkansas achieve vengeance or will the Gators keep it rolling? Let’s look at the storylines heading into this quarterfinal matchup and ponder back at that meeting in January to see what the Gators can do to get another win.
Rest Versus Rust
A debate that surfaces every March. Would you rather sit for nearly a week like the Gators did and potentially be rusty or play more games and try to ride some momentum? I think the Gators are happy they had the opportunity to rest and recover as the time off has allowed Dontay Bassett to clear concussion protocol and be ready to play and the starters have had the chance to restore their aching bodies. Gorjok Gak is another player who desperately needed the time off, though his status is still uncertain. Gators’ starters play nearly 70% of available minutes (top 60 in the country) and Chris Chiozza, KeVaughn Allen, and Egor Koulechov all average more than 30 minutes a night so the chance to play one less game against a bottom dwelling SEC team should be welcomed. Additionally, Arkansas had to play the notoriously physical South Carolina Gamecocks and now have less than 24 hours to turn around and run with the Gators. Given the Gators’ rest and the fact Arkansas just had to go through a rock fight with South Carolina I’ll have to give this advantage to Florida.
Notes From Arkansas’ Last Game
I don’t think they care too much for the rims in St. Louis as they didn’t try to shoot many three pointers, only attempting 13 and knocking down 4 (30.8%). How teams shoot in these neutral site tournament scenarios is always interesting and Arkansas might be more used to venue than the Gators having already played there but seeing them not shoot very well is encouraging. Also of note? They just got pounded on the glass by 15. That could point at fatigue already and it could even tougher for them when they play the Gators.
Let’s take a look at January’s meeting between the Gators and Razorbacks to see how the Gators can get another win.
Home Sweet Home
KeVaughn Allen, a native of Little Rock, Arkansas, loves playing his in-state school. He was Florida’s best offensive player in game one in January exploding for 28 points and the 6 threes he landed were all confident hits that caught nothing but net. Everyone on the team feeds off Allen when he gets going and if he can get some big buckets early it will really pressure Arkansas’ defense as they try to slow down Chiozza, Hudson, and then Allen on the perimeter. Let’s hope Allen has another big night.
If there is one issue you can point to on Arkansas it’s that their defense is porous. Numerous times on the season they have had successful offensive nights wasted by their inability to stop the ball, particularly in transition, from going into their hoop. Though talented on the offensive end the Razorback guards struggle to keep their man in front of them on the perimeter and it’s what allowed Allen to have his big night against them while Jalen Hudson was cooking too adding in 21 points. Florida’s offense has looked a lot better near the end of the season as they have looked to drive the ball more than just hoist up jump shots off the bounce and this will be a great opportunity for them to get to the tin and get layups. With Arkansas being a team that struggles to guard and a team that will be tired from a spirited performance the night before the Gators can’t settle for tough looks and need to make the Razorbacks guard by running offense, swinging the ball, and driving when there is a lane. If shots are falling for the Gators then they absolutely have to keep that gravy train rolling but on a neutral floor there is always a chance that the jump shot will betray you but if the Gators can keep driving the ball inside they’ll have more reliable interior shots.
Battle On The Boards
I mentioned earlier that Arkansas got bullied on the glass against South Carolina and that wasn’t an isolated incident. The Gators were able to go +4 against them in rebounding and though that isn’t a wide margin it was at a time when the Gators were in the bottom third of the country in rebounding but were still able to win that category. Playing more intelligent, responsible defense of late the Gators have been staying in position and rebounding the ball a lot better of late and I think this is an area of the game they can frustrate the Razorbacks.
Leading The Way
Chris Chiozza struggled to score in their first matchup of the season going 2-7 for 7 points but was picking apart the defense with surgical precision and finished with 9 assists and only one turnover. Now that’s March you know the savvy veteran Chiozza will continue in his winning ways and make whatever play is necessary to help the Gators achieve victory. I’ll be interested to see if Arkansas tries to defend Chiozza differently to try to limit his ability to get into the paint and make plays for others but their options are kind of limited. Putting Chiozza, Allen, and Hudson on the floor means that at least one and sometimes two members of Florida’s backcourt will have favorable matchups and when they do Chiozza will either have to attack or find the teammate with the best chance of creating offense.
Razorbacks To Watch
Matching KeVaughn Allen’s 28 points with 28 of his own, Jaylen Barford was playing high level basketball against the Gators and capitalizing on the lackluster defense that Florida was playing at the time. Strong enough to push his way past Chiozza and shifty enough to cross over Allen he was getting into the paint or creating space for pull-ups all night long and the Gators will have to have an answer for him. As I mentioned, at the time of this game the Gators lacked a defensive identity and weren’t stopping many people but have reinvented themselves on that side of the floor these past few weeks. I fully anticipate the Gators pushing Barford towards help and forcing the ball out of his hands, instead trying to force players like Dustin Thomas, CJ Jones, and Anton Beard to beat them. Daniel Gafford is another player of concern for the Gators as his 6’11”, 220 pound frame allows him to finish easily around the hoop when he gets drop-off passes, a skill that has allowed him to shoot 60.7% from the field. He’s also their only major rim protector with a superb 2.2 rejections per game but his requirement to be at the hoop at all times puts him in positions to pick up fouls early, something the Gators need to try to do when they drive the ball. Daryl Macon is their second leading scorer with 17.1 PPG only trailing Barford by 0.8 points but he didn’t get loose against the Gators in game one of the season and had a really difficult night against South Carolina going 2-10 from the field with 2 turnovers.
Keys For The Gators
You want your best players playing their best basketball at this time of the year and Florida has their leaders doing just that. Going up against Arkansas the Gators’ starters need to remember the brand of basketball that has got them to this point and be dedicated to executing the game plans the coaching staff has laid out. We have seen Florida play a brand of basketball that has been successful for them and a brand of basketball that has lead to some tough losses and the players need to realize what will get them deep into the SEC and NCAA Tournaments.
The Gators are up to 18th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, a stat that would have shocked just about everyone in the nation if you told them that 6 weeks ago. A team that started the year struggling to guard anyone this team hasn’t even turned it around to the point of being a “good” defensive team, but one that statistically would be categorized as elite. The identity of the team has changed from run and gun to defensive toughness and it is an identity that has historically been far more successful in postseason play than a team that is fast and loose. I can’t wait to see how far this new style can take them.
Ah, postseason basketball. There’s nothing better. Let me know how you think the Gators will do against Arkansas with a comment here or a post on the Gator Country forums.