Gators Try To Avoid 0-3 SEC Start Against LSU

Following a tough start for Florida things don’t get much easier as the 9-5 (0-2) Gators welcome the 14-1 (2-1) Louisiana State Tigers.


With Florida’s scheduled start against Ole Miss postponed the Gators had about as difficult a start to the SEC season as possible seeing Alabama and Auburn before now taking on LSU, three teams picked to finish near the top of the league. Currently sitting second to last in the SEC standings the Gators could use a win to start moving momentum positively in their favor but it will be no small task against the Tigers.


LSU is 14-1 on the season which partially speaks to the quality of their team but is certainly aided by a relatively soft non-conference schedule. The best team they played from a NET ranking standpoint was Belmont, though they also played Penn State and Wake Forest in terms of high major competition. While the schedule wasn’t difficult they took care of business without any slippage which they do deserve credit for. 


Currently the Tigers are third in the NET rankings, meaning this is a chance for a huge win on the Gators’ resume which they could certainly use. 


In head coach Will Wade’s time at LSU the Tigers have been known as a team that has been excellent offensively but this year it’s the exact opposite. According to KenPom the Tigers are only 77th in adjusted offensive efficiency and when it comes to defense–they’re first. This team is somewhat unrecognizable to what we’ve seen in the last few years, but their excellence on the defensive end is why they’re one of the best teams in the country.


A large part of their defensive success is a scheme unique to college basketball, though one that is common right now at the professional ranks in Europe. It involves “triple switching” pick and rolls, and you can see some examples on video of that here:


It’s a complex switching action that involves three players being locked in and executing with perfect timing LSU has had success with it recently, completely confusing opposing coaches who have never seen this style of defense.


Right now in college basketball the average team takes 29% of their shots out of the pick and roll.


Currently, only 13.8% of LSU’s shots against have come out of the pick and roll.


Their strategy of triple switching the pick and roll has been so effective in that not only has it prevented high quality shots, but it has scared away opponents from trying pick and rolls as much as they normally would. When teams are used to taking so many shots out of the pick and roll and have LSU take away half of those attempts, they can get confused pretty quickly. 


At this point in the season the Gators have a large video sample of this defense that LSU runs and they’ll have to be savvy to find an offense that can beat it. So far this season 28% of Florida’s shots have come out of pick and roll, just under the national average, and they’ll have to know that they won’t be able to be that reliant on the strategy against LSU who thrives playing against pick and roll reliant teams.


When they’re not blowing up opposing pick and roll strategies, LSU is full court pressing and trapping in the half court to try to generate deflections and ultimately steals. Not only is LSU the number one defensive team in the country but they’re also the number one steal percentage team, taking the ball away on 17% of opponents’ possessions. For a Florida team that has struggled with turnovers, that’s a terrifying number to hear. A lot of Florida’s turnovers in recent weeks have come out of the pick and roll, so if there is one benefit to the fact that LSU will take away so many pick and roll opportunities, it could be that the Gators end up turning over the ball less. However, if Florida still tries to go heavy pick and roll at LSU and doesn’t have a counter to the triple switching, they could get in huge trouble with turnovers.


One thing LSU does give up a lot of is threes from the outside. They’re 351st in the country in three-point attempts allowed, which is usually a recipe for bad defense, but for some reason the Tigers have had a spell on opponents who seem to continue to shoot poorly against them. When shots aren’t falling for opponents LSU is able to continue to ratchet up their pressure more and more and send more relentless traps on the ball, so Florida will be challenged to make shots on Wednesday, no doubt. Of course, shooting hasn’t exactly been a strength of this team, so you can definitely envision a scenario where the Gators are allowed to take open shots but they don’t fall.


Offensively, things have been a little bit of an adventure for LSU who has been far from the scoring juggernauts Will Wade has had in Baton Rouge. A lot of that is due to the fact they lack high end scoring talent, both on the perimeter and on the inside, which LSU teams of late have always had. Without a lot of talented individual scorers the Tigers use a lot of off-ball action to try to get wing players catching the ball already going towards the hoop which they have had success with. They’ll use pin down screens on the wing to get offensive players a step on their defender, hopefully then receiving a pass as they move downhill towards the hoop. 


Florida will get one break on Wednesday as it looks like point guard Xavier Pinson will be unavailable to play. That might be a familiar name to you–but not from LSU. Pinson was a three year starter at Missouri before making the rare in-conference transfer, and you may remember his name because he always seemed to play his best basketball against the Gators. He’s the lead assist man for LSU, and him missing the game against the Gators due to a minor knee injury is a pretty big break for Florida.


The player to watch out for is unquestionably Tari Eason, one of the biggest stories of the college basketball season. In a sport where everyone is trying their hardest to find talent in the transfer portal, Will Wade found a gem where a lot of others weren’t looking. Eason spent last year at Cincinnati where he averaged only 7 points per game, meaning when he entered the portal there wasn’t a ton of high major interest. Now at LSU he’s averaging 16 points, 8 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, and 1.4 steals per game, and has some All-American chatter for his work on both sides of the floor. A 6’8” forward, Eason is a bit of a jack-of-all-trades who contributes in a number of different ways. Where he’s best is in the open floor, particularly after he grabs a defensive rebound and pushes the ball on his own. There aren’t many similar sized forwards who can move with him and he’s a terror in the open court who can get all the way to the rim and finish through contact. He has been a leader for the Tigers all year and stopping him will be at the top of Florida’s scouting report.


For Florida the key to the game will be solving LSU’s defense which has been a challenge for a lot of good teams this season. It’s a style of defense the Gators and Mike White haven’t seen before and very well may not see again, so preparation for it will be a challenge. This is a chance for Florida’s coaching staff to earn back some favor from some parts of the fanbase, as a good game plan against this defense would be a tremendous coaching job. With how LSU has struggled offensively the Gators should have a decent chance at keeping the Tigers down at that end, so it will be all about whether or not they can put up points on the other hoop.


It’s worth noting that Mike White has had a lot of success against Will Wade so far in their SEC careers, and perhaps that will continue Wednesday. 


This game takes place January 12th at 7 PM ET and will be broadcast on ESPN 2.


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.