Previewing Florida’s Rivalry Game With Florida State

It might sound silly to consider the second game of 2019 one of the Gators’ most important of the season but with Florida State heading into Gainesville with a five consecutive victories over the orange and blue it could very well be the case. In Florida’s search for a Final Four or better this year home games against unranked opponents, even those of the high major rivalry kind, are the games you must win and considering the Seminoles started their season with a dismal performance that saw them lose to lowly Pittsburgh this is a contest the Gators desperately need to come out victorious.

Recent Rivalry History

Let’s simply go year by year.

2018: The Gators get dismantled 81-60 and that score might actually be flattering to the Gators. For most of the second half the lead was 30-35 points and it was a productive five minute stretch in garbage time that made the game slightly less embarrassing.

2017: An 83-66 drubbing by the Seminoles where they completely locked down Chris Chiozza who finished with 0 field goals and 4 turnovers. On the other end Terrance Mann knifed through Florida’s defense at will on his way to 25 points.

2016: One of the best games of Kasey Hill’s career (21 points, 3 assists) wasn’t enough in the end as the Seminoles came away with an 83-78 win. Dwayne Bacon was the story in this one as he was simply too long and athletic for any Gator to match up with.

2015: KeVaughn Allen went crazy in this one with 32 points but unfortunately the Gators just couldn’t claw their way back into this one. After scoring the first basket of the game to make it 2-0 the Gators never lead again in this one and lost 73-71.

2014: Is this the game that started the curse? It really hurts to talk about. The game was almost certainly headed to overtime locked at 63-63 when the infamous “own goal” from Jacob Kurtz occurred. With hardly any time on the clock a prayer from Florida State was thrown towards the Gators’ hoop as they hoped for the miracle shot and the trajectory of the ball had it landing short of the rim. Without anyone around Kurtz went to rebound the ball but it bounced off his hands and into the hoop and the Seminoles won 65-63.

Why Has Florida Start Dominated This Rivalry?

Simply put, Florida’s State’s size and athleticism has overwhelmed the Gators. Florida has been a relatively undersized team over these last few years and Florida State rolls out more size and athleticism than anyone which has always challenged the Gators particularly when it comes to rebounding and Florida trying to score around all the Seminoles’ length. Here is how each team has fared in height (national ranking) over the last 6 seasons.

2015

Florida: 118th
Florida State: 3rd

2016

Florida: 69th
Florida State: 7th

2017

Florida: 109th
Florida State: 2nd

2018

Florida: 154th
Florida State: 12th

2019

Florida: 106th
Florida State: 10th

2020

Florida: 42nd
Florida State: 3rd

As you can see the Gators have been giving up a lot of size in these matchups and while height and length isn’t everything in basketball it certainly helps, particularly in these early season matchups when Florida and Florida State have matched up. In early season games teams usually aren’t particularly crisp or connected yet and the games can often turn ugly with a lot of missed shots and turnovers. When games turn hectic, it’s often the bigger and more athletic teams that win out playing that style of basketball. When that has happened between the Gators and Seminoles, it’s been the Seminoles that have come out on top.

Kerry Blackshear Jr.

An interesting element to this upcoming chapter of the Florida-Florida State rivalry is the insertion of Kerry Blackshear Jr., interesting because he’s new to this particular rivalry but not new to playing against Florida State given the fact that he competed regularly with them in the ACC while he was at Virginia Tech. Last season the Hokies and Seminoles matched up twice. Here are Blackshear Jr.’s stats from those games.

Game One

9 Points
2-6 FG
4-4 FT
5 Rebounds
4 Assists
4 Turnovers
5 Fouls

Game Two

17 Points
8-16 FG
0-3 FT
9 Rebounds
3 Assists
1 Turnover
3 Fouls

Blackshear Jr. fared solidly in these games but both ended up being losses so hopefully he’ll be hungry for some revenge. In Blackshear Jr. the Gators have something they haven’t had in the last few years playing against the Seminoles and that’s an interior scoring threat that has the size to match up with what has been a bulky Florida State front line. Last season Florida State didn’t respect any interior playing the Gators had offensively which allowed them to pressure Florida’s wings and really make life difficult for them, simply daring the Gators to dump the ball inside. Now that the Gators have someone capable of doing damage in the paint it will really change the way the Seminoles defend which should give more space to Florida’s ball handlers.

Florida State Versus Pittsburgh

In their opening game of the season Florida State matched up with Pittsburgh and had a disappointing effort resulting in a 63-61 loss. Their struggles with a Pittsburgh team that isn’t particularly talented should give Mike White and his staff some interesting film to dive into as they look to force the Seminoles to 0-2.

Looking at how Florida State lost you first have to look at how they struggled offensively. They coughed up 14 turnovers, many of which were of the live-ball variety which allowed Pittsburgh to get easy looks in transition. Guard Trent Forrest was the biggest culprit here with 5 turnovers, a few of which were simply ball handling errors where he dribbled the ball off his knee and foot. The Seminoles lack a traditional ball handler which is going to make for some turnovers and the Gators have a chance to really punish them with their pressure in the passing lanes. They also didn’t shoot the ball particularly well at 30% from behind the arc and for most of the game Pittsburgh was sitting back multiple feet from the line daring Florida State’s perimeter players to shoot. I’m not sure the Gators will use that same technique but it’s worth noting that this is a Seminoles team not particularly equipped to beat you from deep.

One interesting offensive note from Florida State’s game with Pittsburgh was the plays they were using to get shots. Not normally a particularly ball screen heavy team, against Pittsburgh a whopping 33.3% of their shots came from a pick and roll ball handler. When a lot of their sets were struggling to work they ended a ton of possessions by simply setting a screen on the ball and telling the ball handler to go make a play.

This was actually fairly effective for them as they shot 52.9% on these shots when they could get them off, thought of their 26 possessions using the pick and roll ball handler they have 7 turnovers. Trent Forrest and Devin Vassell were the two players who were operating in pick and roll and they looked to do two different things with it. Forrest was almost exclusively trying to get to the hoop and never looked to sit behind the screen and shoot. He’s not a particularly good shooter off the bounce so this was a wise decision. Vassell, on the other hand, was 2-2 on three-pointers when he used a screen and the Gators are going to have to be aware of that. Nearly all their late clock offense was one of those two players using a ball screen and the Gators need to be aware that when that happens Forrest will be looking to get to the rim while Vassell is probably looking for a jumper.

An uncharacteristic problem for Florida State was also that they really struggled in transition, an area where they usually thrive and get most of their points on the board. They have 5 turnovers on their 13 run-out attempts and only shot 42.9%, missing some easy looks at the rim. If the Gators can match up in transition and make things difficult for the Seminoles there, just like Pittsburgh did, it will take away a primary source of Florida State’s points and really help them out in the long run.

Florida State’s struggles on offense when it came to creation, ball handling, and shot making were real but that didn’t deter them from playing their hearts out on the other side of the floor and they had a stout defensive performance where they overwhelmed Pittsburgh with their length, quickness to the ball, and athleticism. Whereas they are usually known for pressuring passing lanes and getting out to the perimeter against Pittsburgh they chose to sit back in the paint, protecting the hoop at all costs while challenging them to make jumpers. This was extremely effective for them and even though they were sitting back in the paint everyone on the floor for the Seminoles had the length to contest shots if they anticipated one was going to be let fly. Ultimately that led to them holding Pittsburgh to only 0.753 points per possession while turning the ball over 13 times. If the Seminoles are going to give the Gators problems on Sunday it will be due to their defense and it could be difficult for Florida to be ready for the length that’s coming for them.

Keys To The Game For Florida

After a bit of a lackluster offensive performance against North Florida the Gators are going to have to find some rhythm on that side of the floor and create, and make, some jump shots. It’s going to be tough to get points at the rim against this Seminole defense, even for Kerry Blackshear Jr., and the Gators will need to knock down some threes to stress their defense.

The smallest player in Florida State’s rotation is 6’4”, 210 pound Trent Forrest and they have size and strength at every position. Most of the Seminoles’ roster stands between 6’7” and 6’9” and since the Gators will be giving up size they’ll need to really compete on the glass. With Florida State lacking a lot of offensive difference makers they will often put the ball on the glass and let their frontcourt go to work and if this turns into a game where the Seminoles have more possessions than the Gators due to their offensive rebounding it could make up for any execution struggles on offense. Controlling the glass will be a key for the Gators and if they can secure the defensive boards it will also give them a chance to get on the run and try to score early in the clock before Florida State’s defense can set up. If Florida State does have the opportunity to set up their defense a key for the Gators will be keeping the ball moving so that multiple Seminoles can’t stack up the strong side of the floor and make drives impossible. Knocking down shots is a key in any game but against a Florida State team that’s going to take away the paint it’s importance is magnified even more.

If the Gators can find a way to keep the ball zipping around the perimeter despite Florida State’s length and find some good shots while taking care of the defensive glass they should have a good chance to win this game and break the curse of Seminole dominance. Florida State has the edge in athleticism but the Gators have more offensive firepower and they’ve got to put that on display because if this turns into an ugly game played in the trenches then it will unmistakably be in Florida State’s favor. Who will step up for the Gators? We’ll have to see.

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.