Mississippi State Game A Chance For Gators To Get Back On Track

Florida’s loss to Baylor at home in the Big 12-SEC Challenge was a difficult one where the Gators felt out of it for 30 minutes of the game, but at least that outcome doesn’t affect the standings. What does affect the standings is Tuesday night’s game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs, a chance for the Gators to stay near the top of the SEC standings and stop a 2-game skid from becoming a negative streak.

This game will be a battle between two teams that have had a bit of the same struggles as late. Like the Gators, the Bulldogs have been able to score but the challenges have come on the offensive end. They’re currently 27th in adjusted offensive efficiency and 82nd in defensive efficiency (Florida is 24th and 67th) so this game could very well come down to who can get stops and who can’t.

The Gators are tied with three other teams at 4-2 (third in the SEC) while the Bulldogs are in their own jumble tied at 3-3 with three other teams so both squads will be desperately looking for a win to differentiate themselves. This game will definitely be a battle so here are some things to look for before Tuesday’s game.

Best On Best

College basketball is a guard’s game these days and it’s not often a center is a team’s best, or even second best player but when Florida and Mississippi State match up the real competition could be down low in the paint. Kerry Blackshear Jr. will be faced with Reggie Perry, a 6’10, 250 pound athletic monster who looks like he was chiseled out of granite. His outstanding physical tools put him on the NBA radar before the season and he has backed it up with supreme production this year. Averaging 16.4 points, 10.1 rebounds, and 2.4 assists he leads the way from a statistical standpoint for the Bulldogs and he’s who you’ve got to stop if you’re going to beat them. Not a lot of teams have players capable of matching up with an athlete of his caliber and it’s allowed him to be an unstoppable force around the rim. It’s likely the Gators will try to put Omar Payne on him for as long as possible as his length and athleticism far exceed Blackshear’s, though the Gators could try to use Blackshear on him to match Perry’s strength. It’s likely going to be a group effort, especially because Perry is one of the best players at drawing fouls in the country. With his speed and leaping ability at 250 pounds there isn’t much you can do to stop him when he gets moving other than foul and considering the way Florida has fouled this season there is a definite risk of getting a few players in foul trouble sending them to the bench. Reggie Perry has to be one of the concerning matchups in this game.

Improved Offense Versus Dwindling Defense

Florida is playing their best offensive basketball of the Mike White tenure, improving on a sluggish start by leaps and bounds to get all the way up to 24th in adjusted offensive efficiency. They should be able to put that offense on display again against Mississippi State who has really struggled to keep the ball out of their hoop to this season, a major contributing cause to their 7 losses this season.

Mississippi State is a young team with some good athletes that have the tools to be great defenders but haven’t yet had the time in college to develop it. They are prone to defensive breakdowns when they’ve had to guard multiple offense actions and teams that have had success scoring on the Bulldogs have used action away from the ball to confuse defenders and leave them scrambling.

One area the Bulldogs do excel at defensively is when it comes to protecting the hoop. In addition to Reggie Perry who is an excellent shot blocker they roll out Abdul Ado, an even better rim protector who uses his 6’11” frame to swat away layups and scare drivers into misses. There aren’t many frontcourts in the country as intimidating as Reggie Perry and Abdul Ado and when Florida drives they’ll need to be prepared to face these two. The vulnerable Bulldogs defensively are their young wings and those will be the players the Gators need to attack.

Offensive Attack

A big contributor to Mississippi State’s impressive offense is the way they can get out and score in transition. Over 17% of their shots come on the fast break and they understand the value in trying to score before a defense can get set up. Guards Tyson Carter and Nick Weatherspoon are the ball handlers that like to get the fast break attack fired up and stopping them with the basketball is order number one. Both are strong guards who can get right to the rim and finish but often when they drive they’re trying to let their big men do the finishing at the rim. Reggie Perry uses his impressive athleticism in the open floor as good as anyone in the country and when he rim runs and gets the ball at full sprint there aren’t many people capable of stopping him. Another talented (and physically strong) forward is Robert Woodard who knows how to time his runs to catch a pass and finish strong at the hoop. They are a good offensive team in the half court as well, knowing how to get driving lines and using their physical frontcourt as post up mismatches but mostly you’ve got to be concerned with Mississippi State’s transition attack.

Cause For Concern

Defensive rebounding has been a problem that has plagued the Gators for years and it reared its ugly head against Baylor where the Gators gave up a number of second chance opportunities to the Bears, extra possessions that ultimately sunk them. Multiple teams have given Florida troubles on the glass and for that reason they have a big reason to be concerned with Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are currently second in the country in offensive rebounding, gathering an astonishing 40% of their missed shots. A large contributor to that their frontcourt of Reggie Perry and Abdul Ado is as long and athletic a combination as you’ll see in the country and often times they’ll play Robert Woodard at the small forward position next to those two which makes for a bruising trio nearly impossible to box out. The Gators have needed to improve their overall defense but if they’re not able to end defensive possessions with a rebound than any improvements they make schematically aren’t going to help much. Mike White challenged their rebounding after the Baylor game and they’ll have their biggest rebounding challenge of the season on Tuesday so we’ll have to see who steps up.

Matchup Outlook

Defense and rebounding have been the two issues with this Florida team and Mississippi State has the ability to exploit both of those problems. They’ve been a productive and efficient offensive team and if shots don’t fall, they have the athletes to rebound and generate second chance opportunities. Their mix of solid offense and ability to offensive rebound makes them a fairly consistent offensive team because if they aren’t making their first shots they’ll usually get a bunch of rebounds and finish those. Florida will have to be concerned with not only defending the first shot but also making sure they can end the possession with a rebound. The offense is actually looking good for the Gators recently and the Bulldogs have been porous defensively so they should be able to make them pay. However, I don’t think the Gators are looking to get into any shootouts here and they’d love to make it a game of stops, so we’ll see just what they can do.

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.