Florida Looks To Keep Rolling Against Marshall

Overall the Charleston Classic was a great success for the Gators playing their best basketball so far of the season. Players looked noticeably more comfortable within the offense, the defense was communicating at a high level, and most of all they came away with some much-needed victories.

The Gators now move on to a different challenge and that’s the Marshall Thundering Herd of Conference USA who will head into Gainesville on Friday. This is definitely a different caliber of opponent than the Gators just saw with Miami and Xavier but with momentum rolling in their favor Florida can’t afford a flat performance before heading into a difficult stretch of their schedule that sees Butler, Providence, and Utah State.

Here is what you can expect from Marshall on Friday.

Season To Date

Marshall is 2-3 with their wins coming over some low majors in Robert Morris and Howard and their losses have been understandable coming to Charleston, Toledo, and Notre Dame. They were never really in it against Toledo or Notre Dame but they did have a first half lead against Charleston only to squander it in the second half. Florida is their only high major remaining on the schedule before they finish off their non-conference slate with low and mid majors.

Youth Movement

Jon Elmore and CJ Burks were too immensely talented senior guards for Marshall that did pretty much everything for them offensively a year ago and with their graduation the Herd is left with zero seniors on their roster. It’s an incredibly young team trying to gain experience and find their way and their youth has been showing so far. They’ve had a few painfully slow starts where they weren’t ready to play at the opening tip and when they had the edge against Charleston they blew it in the second half and turned a 7 point lead into a 10 point loss.

Another area their youth really shows is when it comes to turnovers. They’re currently 289th in the country in ball security and have thrown a whole lot of balls out of bounds and committed a ton of travels. A lot of their wounds have been self-inflicted as well as 46% of their turnovers were of the non-steal variety, essentially unforced errors.

Thundering Herd=Lightning Fast

One turnover that Marshall isn’t going to get is a shot clock violation. They are currently 3rd in the country in offensive possession length and 14th in tempo so you know they’ll be looking to speed things up when they come into the O’Dome. Always looking to get a quick shot before the defense is set up Marshall can find some easy point when defenses aren’t ready and the Gators will need to be locked in on their defensive assignments when they enter their own zone. Marshall currently sits at 1.016 points per possession in transition and only 0.777 PPP in the half court so if the Gators can make Marshall have to run offense they’ll be in good shape.

Offensive Style

Under Coach Dan D’Antoni (brother of Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni) the Herd have always been quick and they’ve always shot threes aplenty. In terms of percentage of field goal attempts that are threes here is where Marshall has ranked in past seasons under D’Antoni:

2019: 38th
2018: 29th
2017: 39th
2016: 15th
2015: 27th

Okay, so for this season you’d expect something in the top 40, of course.

Nope. Strangely…

2020: 249th

There is definitely a bit of a stylistic change going on, largely due to the departure of Jon Elmore and CJ Burks who feasted on early threes. No one on the current roster can really play the role of 3-point assassin and those shots have been a struggle for them as they’re shooting a dismal 24.5% (339th nationally) from behind the arc. Shooting that poorly you can see why they’ve taken less threes but it means we’re definitely seeing a different offensive style then we’ve seen in the past.

What they are doing now is running ball screen after ball screen with the intention of freeing up space in the midrange particularly for their guard tandem of Jarrod West and Taevion Kinsey. West is a speedy 5’11” guard who is looking to score at all times and he can use his small frame to get into space defenses didn’t think was even there. He gets juxtaposed by Kinsey, a 6’5” sophomore who has a bit of hipster NBA Draft buzz. While he hasn’t stretched out his range to the three-point line yet he’s got a crisp midrange jumper and when he gets all the way to the rim he can finish well. Kinsey is a great passer who can always find the open man whereas West is more of a determined scorer who is going to force the issue when he gets the ball. The Gators are going to see ball screen after ball screen for Kinsey and West and whoever is guarding them is going to be running through a lot of contact.

Defense

Marshall has been pretty good defensively and it all comes from the impassioned way they protect their rim. Currently first in the country in block percentage they haven’t allowed anything easy on the inside and they have erased a lot of near-certain points by getting their fingertips on the basketball.

Here is every player on Marshall that ranks nationally in terms of block percentage:

Jannson Williams: 47th
Cam Brooks-Harris: 90th
Marko Sarenac: 251st
Mikel Beyers: 317th
Iran Bennett: 374th

Even when they aren’t getting their hands on the ball they’ve been deterring a lot of shots only allowing 45.7% around the rim putting them in the 88th percentile nationally. By selling out to protect the rim they’re going to give up some open threes but the same length that allows them to solidly protect their rim also allows them to contest jump shots so they haven’t hemorrhaged points from behind the line either. Out of the mid-major defenses the Gators have seen so far this year Marshall probably has the best and even though Florida should be able to score on them there is a chance the Herd brings some frustration with their length.

Player To Watch

Marshall rolls out a unique center in 6’9”, 300 pound Iran Bennett. 300 pounds might sound heavy but when he came to college he was closer to 360 pounds so he’s already taken off a healthy amount of weight and it’s allowing him to be an effective player. Even though he’s still 300 pounds he doesn’t look that heavy and actually moves really well. He is playing for one of the fastest teams in the country after all and the fact he can carry that weight up and down the floor is extremely impressive. Mostly used as a post up threat if he gets position he can be impossible to stop due to his wide frame and they’ll probably use him to try to pick up fouls on Kerry Blackshear Jr. early. Just because he’s used as a post up threat that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have other skills and he’s actually a capable ball handler, something that made for some incredible mix tapes when he was 360 pounds in high school. He’s a player you should cheer for and will be someone interesting to watch on Friday.

Game Outlook

This game is all about Florida continuing to build confidence and gain momentum heading into a tough stretch of their schedule. The Charleston Classic saw the Gators play their best basketball of the season and they can’t afford to lose that progress by having a dud against Marshall. The Herd can be disruptive with their length and would love to create havoc against the Gators and it will be up to Andrew Nembhard to make sure the offense runs smoothly and that players get to where they need to be on the floor. Defensively the Gators will need to be ready for Marshall’s pace and ready for the constant ball screens that are going to come at them. This should be a game the Gators control easily but you can’t take anyone lightly in college basketball and Florida needs their upward trajectory to continue.

Eric Fawcett
Eric hails from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. His blend of sports and comedy has landed his words on ESPN, Bleacher Report, CBS Sports, Lindy's and others. He loves zone defenses, the extra pass, and a 30 second shot clock. Growing up in Canada, an American channel showing SEC basketball games was his first exposure to Gator hoops, and he has been hooked ever since. You can follow him on Twitter at @Efawcett7.