Riding a successful week that saw them pick up wins against Georgia and LSU that has some energy back in the program the Florida Gators (9-7, 2-2 SEC) will be back in Gainesville to take on the Missouri Tigers (13-3, 2-2 SEC).
This is year one for the Tigers in the Dennis Gates era who comes to Missouri after a short stint at Cleveland State. Prior to that he was a long-time assistant at Florida State–a team that dominated the Gators during his time there.
According to the most recent AP Poll the Tigers are the 20th ranked team in the country, though they’ll almost certainly drop from that number after getting bullied by Texas A&M on Wednesday by a score of 82-64. In an attempt to get some confidence going for his ball club Coach Gates scheduled a relatively light non-conference schedule, starting the season 9-0 against teams largely in the bottom third of the country in KenPom before getting blasted by a talented Kansas team 95-67. The advanced stats have never really seen the Tigers as a top-25 but their excellent record and wins over UCF, Illinois, and Kentucky had voters inserting them into the rankings.
Missouri is currently 46th in the NET and 52nd in KenPom, and after getting trounced by Texas A&M it’s likely that they’re out of the AP Poll regardless of what happens on Saturday. Even though this is a team that probably shouldn’t be ranked, they are–and that means the Gators have a chance to get a win that will register on the national radar.
Gates has largely built his team through the transfer portal which has made them competitive from day one. Cleveland State, his prior team, was in the Horizon League–and he used those connections to bring a trio of top players from that league in the transfer portal including Tre Gomillion, DeAndre Gholston, and D’Moi Hodge. All three have provided high IQ, savvy basketball that only comes with multiple years of college experience. Another transfer they grabbed was Northern Illinois’ Noah Carter–a player that the Gators also contacted but ultimately lost interest in. Nick Honor, a Clemson transfer, provides some electricity off the bench as an undersized point guard who can hit big shots off the dribble.
While the Tigers have got a lot of production for their transfers, there is one that hasn’t exactly panned out.
Missouri State’s Isiaih Mosley was considered to be one of the top players in the portal averaging 20 points and 6 rebounds per game in a quality mid-major league while shooting 43% from deep–and when you add in that he’s a 6’5” guard he’s about everything you want in a transfer. He was expected to be one of Missouri’s top players but that hasn’t at all been the case. In fact, he is out of the rotation completely–and it appears to be a coach’s decision. The curious case of Isiaih Mosley is one of college basketball’s biggest mysteries and while his recent “DNPs” suggests the Gators probably won’t see him on Saturday, if he does enter the game he could change things up quickly with his high level of offensive talent.
Despite having a poor offensive night against Texas A&M the Tigers’ biggest strength is their ability to score efficiently. Missouri is currently 6th in the country in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric, making them one of the most potent offensive teams out there. Gates runs a tremendous Princeton-inspired offense that runs through the high post and their intelligent off ball cutting and screening is difficult to guard even for teams that know what is coming. Here are some examples of that offense:
— Eric Fawcett (@EricFawcett_) January 5, 2023
Slowing down this attack will be of utmost importance to the Gators, and they’ll have some examples of how to do it based on how Texas A&M shut down the attack. While Missouri has a lot of veteran players that know the offense well and play intelligently they don’t have a lot of big time speed or individual offensive talent and the Gators will be the longer and more athletic team which will hopefully help them with guarding those actions.
When it comes to the defensive side of things, it couldn’t be going much worse for Missouri right now. After a poor defensive night against Texas A&M the Tigers are now 200th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, making them one of the worst defensive teams at the high major level right now. Much of this is due to personnel–Gates loaded his team with veteran players from the mid-major level and while those players’ experience has allowed them to be extremely smart offensive players that has led to a potent offense, they are undersized and under-athletic. It’s a trade-off that has been effective for them as they have been able to score enough points to win games but their lack of elite perimeter defenders has made protecting the paint difficult.
In order to try and make up for some of their defensive issues the Tigers have started implementing more and more zone as the season has progressed and the Gators will have to have their zone busting offense ready as they’ll almost certainly see it.
Normally SEC teams play on Wednesdays and Saturdays but this week the Gators got to play on Tuesday which is going to be a nice advantage as they now have an extra day to prepare for Missouri. Given how structured the Missouri offense is, film study and practice should prepare the players properly, particularly on how to handle some of the split actions away from the ball.
While Florida has been excellent on the defensive side of the basketball, their offense has been dreadful. For that reason, Missouri coming to town with their 200th ranked defense could be just what the doctor ordered and you’d love to see the Gators have success at scoring in the halfcourt for the first time in a while. They’ll have the athleticism advantage against the Tigers, but they’ll need to have a plan in place for Missouri’s zone that will challenge the Gators to try and make shots.
This game takes place January 14th at 3:30 PM ET and will be televised on SEC Network.