On Saturday the Gators had far and away their best performance of the season with a dismantling of #4 Auburn, the first win over a top five team in the Mike White era.
Now the Gators have another tough test on their hands against the LSU Tigers on Tuesday, a game in which we will see how the team reacts after such a massive victory.
Was the Auburn game the breakthrough Florida needed to establish themselves as one of the big dogs in the SEC or will it have the team feeling too good about themselves, something Mike White has talked about multiple times throughout the season.
A win against LSU on the road could be a huge swing in the SEC standings as the Gators look towards raising a banner. They’ve played well at home so far this season and the schedule is favorable for them at the O’Dome but they’ll need to get a few road wins to capture the league title and that could all start with Tuesday’s game against the Tigers.
Season To Date
LSU is 13-4 on the season and 5-0 in the SEC. Even though they have gone undefeated in league play so far this season don’t think they are necessarily a powerhouse as they have avoided disaster on a couple of occasions by the skin of their teeth.
Here are the scores of their last four wins.
Mississippi State (60-59)
Texas A&M (89-85 OT)
Ole Miss 80-76
So as you can see, they’ve gotten the wins but they haven’t been in overwhelming fashion. One on hand you can look at it and see that they’re probably not as good as their record would suggest as they have definitely had some good luck at the end of close games. However, you’ve also got to give them credit as a team that has executed in crunch time. Will Wade is a bright tactical mind when it comes to late game play design and he’s used some innovative offensive sets to get key buckets when they’ve desperately needed them and has mixed in some exotic defenses with confidence to confuse the opposition on a key possession.
Their worst loss was probably to East Tennessee State though it’s worth noting that the Buccaneers are a really solid basketball team. LSU hasn’t had any blemishes on their schedule which speaks to them being one of the better teams in the SEC.
LSU has won a lot of their games by simply outscoring their opponents. They are currently 5th in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric and watching them play you can see why they’ve earned that ranking. Between Javonte Smart, Charles Manning, Marlon Taylor, and their best offensive player in Skylar Mays the Tigers have a host of big, physical wings that can get to the hoop with straight line drives which opens up multiple scoring options. The Tigers don’t play anyone in their regular rotation smaller than 6’4” and that makes for a lot of matchup issues and when they have a mismatch coach Will Wade knows how to draw something up to exploit it.
One thing that’s interesting about LSU’s spectacular offense is the fact they aren’t actually a good shooting team. So often nowadays people think you need to be an elite 3-point shooting team to be good offensively but LSU is one of the teams that shows you don’t have to be outstanding when it comes to shooting the ball to be great offensively. Currently the Tigers are 231st in the 3-point percentage at 31.8%, but that doesn’t keep them from scoring.
Their offensive strength comes from their ability to live at the rim and get easy points in the paint. They are 5th in the country in 2-point field goal percentage which allows them to not only score efficiently but score consistently. Teams that are reliant on the jump shot are fairly prone to hot and cold spells as the 3-point shot is a high-variance look. Shots around the rim are a lot more consistent and since the Tigers get so many of their shots inside you can bet they probably aren’t going to ever have huge scoring droughts.
One of the reasons they are able to get so many shots in the paint is because they thrive in transition and playing fast is a great way to get layups because it’s easier to get all the way to the rim in transition than it is against a set defense. There aren’t many teams in college basketball as athletic as the Tigers and that makes them a threat with every defensive rebound or steal they get. Javonte Smart is especially good in transition handling the ball and if Skylar Mays gets the ball within 10 feet he’s going to find a way to finish. If it’s not one of the guards than watch for Emmitt Williams or freshman phenom Trendon Watford to fill the lane with a massive dunk.
Make no mistake, LSU is an offensive-minded basketball team and their focus on scoring the basketball means they give something up on the other end. You’d think that with all their athletes they’d at least be a decent defensive squad but that hasn’t been the case at all this season as they’ve fallen to 128th in defensive efficiency. Physical tools like explosive leaping ability and gargantuan wingspans can really help when it comes to playing defense but it can’t always make up for not being in the right positions defensively and when teams have forced LSU into rotations they haven’t been very good at recovering and contesting shots.
Like Florida, LSU is one of the youngest teams in the country and the place the Tigers’ inexperience shows is on the defensive end. Blown defensive assignments can be a bit of a regular experience watching them play and while their athleticism can be a blessing it can also sometimes be a curse. Players will gamble for steals or go to block a shot they have no chance of getting a hand on and those actions put them out of position and the ball can end up in their hoop.
The Tigers have started to play more zone to try to cover up their deficiencies and it’s something they may try to roll out against the Gators. They’ll play some 2-3 zone as well as a 1-3-1. Florida has done really well against zone defenses this year, much better than against man, so it could be something that works in their favor.
Matchup To Watch
As much as LSU has excellent size at the guard and wing spots they aren’t actually that big in the frontcourt. Trendon Watford has good size at 6’9 and 235 but he’s a freshman and Kerry Blackshear Jr. should have a nice matchup there, and backing him up is 6’6” Darius Days who is an incredibly strong player but not someone who is that long. Days is usually at the power forward spot and when he has to slide to center it’s Emmitt Williams who plays the four and he’s 6’6” as well. Florida should be able to get favorable matchups on the inside between Blackshear posting up a smaller player or Omar Payne rebounding over a smaller power forward and the frontcourt battle could definitely go in Florida’s favor.
Florida hasn’t really seen a team like this up until this point this year, a really good offensive team that struggles to defend. The Gators just had their best defensive outing of the season against Auburn but will now see the best offensive team they’ve faced in LSU which will really show just where they’re at defensively. The two storylines to watch will be whether the Gators can stop a team that can really score and whether the Gators can score on a team that they should be able to score against. When it comes to stopping LSU there are definitely going to be some tough matchups for players like Noah Locke, Ques Glover, and Tre Mann against bigger, more physical Tiger wings. LSU’s frontcourt probably isn’t as much of a threat but Skylar Mays and Javonte Smart are going to be issues in the backcourt.
Florida’s offense has been on an upward trajectory and now they’re going to see a below average defensive team and they’ll have to take advantage. LSU is decent when it comes to point of attack defense but it’s been rotations and help defense that have hurt them so Florida will have to be able to swing the ball and attack closeouts, forcing LSU’s secondary defenders to make decisions.
This will be a tough game for the Gators but it’s also a matchup that works well for them in a few areas. It would be a huge road win on the resume and it’s one they could be well-positioned to get coming off their best performance of the season against Auburn.