After an encouraging start to the season the Florida Gators (3-0) will head to Fort Myers to take on the California Golden Bears (2-2) in the Fort Myers Tip Off. This will be considered a “semi-home” game for the Gators–a distinction that technically matters in terms of NCAA Tournament selection and seeding.
Florida is playing great basketball after finally taking down a big time rival in Florida State and Milwaukee and Cal is, well, has been stumbling a bit to start.
The Golden Bears opened their season against UC San Diego, a team in only their second year of D1 basketball after making the jump a year prior. Last year they finished 10th in the Big West, a mid-major conference composed primarily of schools in the California University system.
UC San Diego beat Cal 80-67.
Next, Cal dropped a 55-52 contest to UNLV where both teams struggled to put the ball in the basket.
After the two losses Cal did get into the win column, beating San Diego (this time the West Coast Conference team, not UC San Diego), the team picked to finish 9th in the WCC, by a score of only 70-65.
Lastly, on Thursday the Golden Bears took down Big Sky favorites Southern Utah 75-68, in double overtime.
As you can see, things haven’t exactly gone well for the 2-2 Golden Bears from the Pac-12, and they were only a few possessions away from being 0-4 with all the losses coming to mid-major opponents.
If you haven’t been following Pac-12 basketball it has been a rough couple of years for Cal who has struggled to recruit due to a mix of poor on-court performances, high academic standards, and a conference that had been made the little brother of high majors until last year’s NCAA Tournament where a few miracle runs placed several teams in the Elite Eight.
Currently 121st in KenPom, the Golden Bears more have the profile of “pretty good mid-major team” than a true high major foe, but that’s still a team the Gators have to be careful with.
While Cal might be producing more like a Mountain West team than a Pac-12 team, they do have high major size. In fact, they roll out a trio of 6’9” forwards at once that’s quite unlike anything Florida will see from their other opponents this non-conference season.
Kuany Kuany is displayed at the small forward position, listed at a Tuon Gatkek-esque 6’9” and 190 pounds. Being that long at the small forward position creates a lot of mismatch opportunities and he loves to hang around the rim looking for offensive rebounds, something he’s capable of grabbing since he’s taller than nearly any matchup he’ll see.
Senior Grant Anticevich, 6’9” and 235 pounds, has good size and strength and is a bruiser at times at the power forward spot, but also has great touch from the outside. He has hit 7-15 threes so far this season (47%) and has shot the ball well throughout his five years of college basketball so he’s a threat the Gators have to be aware of from behind the arc.
Andre Kelly, 6’9”, 255 pounds, has been the Golden Bears best player so far this season averaging 17 points and 11 rebounds. Kelly is extremely physical and has great touch on the inside, leading him to take a lot of post up possessions. It’s going to be a major battle between him and Colin Castleton on the inside, and I’m sure Cal will try to get Castleton in foul trouble by continuously posting up Kelly.
Adding to the frontcourt size is 7’1” junior Lars Thiemann, and while he hasn’t been used a ton this season both Elon and Milwaukee ended up playing significantly more size than they normally do to try and match up with the Gators and that’s something Cal might try to do as well.
The Golden Bears’ biggest strength offensively is their ability to shoot the three. Currently they have five players (Grant Anticevich, Kuany Kuany, Joel Brown, Jordan Shepard, Sam Alajiki) that are hitting over 38% from three, and letting as many threes fly as possible will likely be their strategy against the Gators. Cal’s weakness offensively is that they aren’t particularly quick or athletic, and that’s not a matchup that looks to play particularly well against a very quick Gators team.
Florida has done well to keep opponents off the three-point line this year, ranking 29th in the country in three-point attempts against. They will likely be extremely aggressive in running the Golden Bears off the line since they don’t have elite athletes that want to get into the paint and score.
Defensively, Cal is a team that plays primarily man to man defense and tries to pack it in to prevent straight line drives that their under-athletic perimeter might regularly give up. They give up a lot of threes, something that will be interesting to monitor from a Florida perspective. In the tiny sample size that is three games to start the season the Gators have gone a bit hot and cold from behind the arc, and if they do have an off night shooting (something that always seems possible at an event at an unfamiliar location such as the Fort Myers Tip Off) Cal could see a chance to get back into the game.
Cal will mix in some 2-3 zone, and they often go to it when guarding baseline out of bounds plays. If Florida has done their homework they should be prepared for this and will probably go to a play like this one for a shooter, one of Mike White’s favorites during his time at Florida.
Mike White has been running this set against a 2-3 zone for years and it’s my absolute favorite. I use it with the high school team I coach and it has treated us extremely well. So simple but so effective. pic.twitter.com/PfaKzLoWex
— Eric Fawcett (@Efawcett7) September 4, 2020
A player that could be set up for a huge game is Anthony Duruji. Duruji has already had a great start to the season and it could continue against the Golden Bears who have no one who can match up with his athleticism. Whether it’s on the glass, straight line drives from the perimeter, or alley-oops dunks behind the play on cuts, he should look to be aggressive as he looks to be one of Florida’s best matchups.
Following this game the Gators will play either Ohio State or Seton Hall, depending on who wins that contest and who wins between Florida and Cal. The Buckeyes entered the season picked as one of the best teams in the Big 10 and Seton Hall just had arguably the biggest win of the college basketball season so far (a road victory over Michigan) so the Gators will be set for a quality matchup no matter what happens.
Florida against California is on Monday, November 22nd at 8:30 ET and is currently set to show on Fox Sports 1.