Florida’s first eleven games of the season haven’t gone exactly as planned and the result of some early season blunders is that there is now a heightened level of importance for the remaining non-conference games, starting with a rematch with Butler in Gainesville on December 29. If the Gators are going to have a solid NCAA Tournament resume this is a game they’ll need to win and a home loss they’ll need to avoid. Here’s what the Gators can do to have a better outcome than the first time they faced the Bulldogs.
The Gators saw the Bulldogs in the Bahamas at the Battle 4 Atlantis where their offense took a nose-dive into the Atlantic leading to a 61-54 loss. This game saw KeVaughn Allen and Jalen Hudson combine for 5 points and was probably the worst game for the two Gator wings this season in a year that has unfortunately seen a few duds from them. Keith Stone also struggled going 1-9 from the field while Kevarrius Hayes (9 points on 3-5 shooting) and Andrew Nembhard (11 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists, 0 turnovers) were the bright spots.
Matchup To Watch
The most intriguing battle to watch will be at the point guard spot with Andrew Nembhard and Butler’s Kamar Baldwin being the focal points of both offenses. Baldwin was the best Bulldog in the B4A matchup and gave Nembard fits with his constant attacking style with the ball in his hands. He also was excellent defensively as he was often checking KeVaughn Allen and frustrated him into a 3-point evening. I’m curious if Butler is going to keep the same matchup with Baldwin covering Allen or if they’ll have him take Nembhard. Pouring in 11 points and 7 assists while not committing a single turnover might be enough for coach LaVall Jordan to change strategy and put Baldwin on him, but the way Baldwin was able to lock up Allen might have him keeping the matchups the same.
I’m also curious to see if the Gators try a different defender on Baldwin than Nembhard. The freshman struggled with the speed and dribble combinations the junior Baldwin put on display and it forced extra Gators to have to come into the paint and help giving Butler plenty of open threes, the exact offense they want to have. KeVaughn Allen could might offer some better defense on the ball and allow Nembhard to be a help-side defender, something he does really well with his ability to see plays develop and read passing lanes. If the Gators eliminate Baldwin’s penetration than they should be in great shape defensively. Of course, they did play really good defense in the first matchup so I’m not particularly concerned for that side of the basketball.
Improving The Offense
Florida has had some rough offensive games but after watching the Butler contest again, let me tell you, this was a whole new level of stale. Lacking any players with the scoring mojo to beat their man off the dribble (a requirement of Mike White’s offense) the possessions consisted of a lot of passing for passing’s sake around the perimeter without their being any imminent threat of scoring. As I mentioned before KeVaughn Allen and Jalen Hudson were non-existent, something that hopefully will change after both players had a nice performance against Florida Gulf Coast. If even one of those players had a decent game than the outcome against Butler could have been different and I’m expecting at least one of them shows up the second time around. The Gators definitely need one of those players to make plays for the team and it might require both of them because of the Kamar Baldwin factor. Baldwin’s elite perimeter defense allowed him to take Allen out of the game and since Hudson wasn’t hitting shots, the Gators’ offense struggled. If Baldwin is putting the clamps on one of the Gator guards than the other guy has to step up against a lower caliber defender. Butler isn’t a strong defensive team but the Gators made them look that way and hopefully that won’t be the case when they meet in Gainesville.
Interior size has been a problem for Butler and when the Gators saw them in the Bahamas Isaiah Stokes wasn’t available but he’s back now and he could be a player that swings the momentum in Florida’s favor. Stokes hasn’t had any big offensive performances yet and maybe it’s way too ambitious to think a game against a good team in Butler will be his chance to break out but he should have an opportunity to put up points on the block against a sleight Bulldog front line. Stokes should be able to get to his spots and if he can drop a few baby hooks in on post ups then it could really force Butler to scramble defensively. I think the Gators need to make a point of throwing the ball into Stokes when he’s on the floor to see what he can generate and hope he can get a few points or draw some fouls. Kevarrius Hayes has also been an improved scorer of late and he should have some chances to score on the inside, especially off passes from Nembhard whose been doing a great job of getting buckets for his teammates.
When the Gators played Butler for the first time everything seemed to go wrong for them offensively. It was tough to imagine the team having a worse offensive performance, but they were still in the game until the final possessions. For them to play so horrendously on offense and still be in the game makes me think they should be in good shape taking on the Bulldogs at home. Even if they are marginally better on offense they should have a chance to win and if they play much better they should control the game. Yes, Butler might have a better offensive performance than we first saw as they are usually quite efficient but the Gators have suffocated a lot of good opponents and I could see that happening again on the O’Dome floor. With this game having a lot of importance for both squads this should be a classic.