We’ve seen this Gators team bounce back before. After a crushing defeat to Loyola-Chicago, they went on a neutral floor to dispatch Cincinnati. After losing a rough one to Ole Miss, they found their shooting touch and beat Arkansas by 15. Then, after getting bullied is a loss to South Carolina, the Gators blitzed Baylor for a 21 point victory. Coming off an entirely disappointing effort against Georgia where they lost 72-60 the Gators now return home to take on coach Avery Johnson and the Alabama Crimson Tide. Lead by star freshman point guard Collin Sexton the Tide are a team with a fierce drive to win and the ability to go on devastating runs when their shots fall and they put the clamps on defensively. Let’s take a look at what to expect.
Sitting at 6-3 and second in the SEC tied with Tennessee and Kentucky, the Gators don’t want to drop this one. Additionally, Alabama is currently at 5-4. That means that if Florida were to lose and Tennessee and Kentucky both won their games this weekend the Gators could drop as low as 5th in the conference. I hope the Gators didn’t need any more motivation to win this one than a normal league game but if they do, here it is.
There is a pretty noticeable difference between how deep Alabama and Florida get into their bench. Alabama has zero players averaging 30 minutes per game and has 11 players playing over 10 minutes per game. The Gators have three players averaging over 30 minutes per game and only have 7 players averaging 10 minutes per game, and one of them is Deaundrae Ballard who has seen his role decrease to less then 10 minutes a game in 3 of the last 4 games. Alabama going so deep in their bench and not overworking players means that can keep up a high level of intensity the entire game. Florida, on the other hand, has had to play slower then Mike White has wanted due to the fact that he has had to play his core 6 players so many minutes and they need to conserve energy somehow. If the Gators want to be able to get to a faster pace of play they will need guys like Michael Okauru, Deaundrae Ballard, and Gorjok Gak to give quality minutes so that starters can rest. Regular mental lapses from these players (and some injuries and sickness) have kept Coach White from playing them too often and they’ll need to find a way to improve and play within the system to earn White’s trust back.
Point Guard Battle
The marquee matchup in this one is going to be between Florida’s Chris Chiozza and Alabama’s Collin Sexton. Two of the top point guards in the conference (and the country, one could reasonably argue) going head to head is always a lot of fun to watch and the player who wins this matchup could very well win the game for their team. We saw this in the Big 12-SEC Challenge when Sexton outplayed phenomenal freshman Trae Young and Alabama upset the #12 ranked Oklahoma Sooners. What makes the Sexton-Chiozza matchup even more interesting is that it is a matchup of complete opposites in the college basketball landscape. Sexton is long and tall, Chris Chiozza is small and compact. Sexton is a one and done player, Chiozza is a savvy four year veteran. Sexton is a driver and a scorer, Chiozza is a guy who looks to get his teammates involved first. The battle between these two is going to be extremely fun to watch so be sure to keep an eye on it.
Alabama is a team without a ton of skilled offensive players but with a lot of guys who will wear down a defense doing things like cutting hard, sealing their man, or setting hard screens. Not a great team at executing offense in the half court, they will run hard at any opportunity in transition. Most know the Collin Sexton is a blur when he gets up to full speed, but you should know Dazon Ingram and John Petty are equally effective when they get the ball in transition. Florida doesn’t send a lot of players to the offensive glass so when a shot goes up they need to make sure to get back, particularly taking note of where those three speed demons are and picking them up. If there isn’t anything available immediately in transition, Alabama gets the ball back to Sexton to orchestrate offense. A player looking to get to the hoop more then someone who wants to pull up for jumpers, an on-ball screen is Sexton’s play of choice to get free. Big men Donta Hall, Braxton Key, and Daniel Giddens (remember him? A transfer from Ohio State who was considering Florida) are all great screen setters, but Florida can defend these sets knowing that the goal is to get Sexton going towards the hoop, it isn’t for him to sit behind the screen to shoot or for him to try to pass it to the big man. Alabama isn’t a good three point shooting team (33.3%, 248th in the nation) so help side defenders should be liberal in the way they help to plug up dribble penetration. If Sexton does get into the paint watch for the way his teammates cut towards the hoop looking for a pass. Donta Hall is particularly intelligent in this area, waiting for his defender to step up and help and then ducking in towards the hoop for a powerful uncontested dunk. Hall’s ability to slip into the open seems to receive a pass makes him one of the most efficient players in college basketball shooting 72.5% from the field. The Gators will have to be disciplined in “helping the helper,” a concept that refers to everyone rotating when one player steps up to help as to not leave an immediate player open for a drop-off pass at the hoop. Looking back at the Texas A&M game the Gators executed this with perfection and it was a big part of Florida’s success in that game. Alabama doesn’t have a lot of offense sets to be concerned about but they can really wear you down with their constant hard work and Florida needs to be ready to match that effort if they want to stop them.
The defensive end of the floor is where Alabama shines. The Crimson Tide’s defensive stand starts at the point of attack with Collin Sexton pressuring the opposing point guard. 6’3” with long arms and enough bulk to be physical when someone tries to get into his body, Sexton makes it really hard for teams to initiate offense. He isn’t the only one with length and toughness on the perimeter as Dazon Ingram (6’5”), John Petty (6’5”), and Herb Jones (6’7”) all use their long arms to take away passing angles and contest jumpers. Contesting jumpers is one of the things Alabama does best, only allowing 32.4% from the 3-point line. As we’ve seen so far this season a lot of what Florida does on offense is predicated on shooting the three so how they create shots against Alabama’s length will be critical. If you get past the Tide’s perimeter size you’ll be met with even more beef on the interior as Donta Hall and Daniel Giddens’ love for blocking shots is apparent with every swat they get. Alabama blocks 16.6% of their opponents shots, an incredible number that makes them the 6th best shot blocking team in the nation. Even though their shot blocking is intimidating the Gators can’t be scared to drive the ball into the paint. There have been nights where the Gators have been reluctant to drive in the past and it has resulted in their offense stagnating and they can’t have that happen again. I talked earlier about how deep Alabama goes into their bench and that allows them to really pressure other teams for the full 30 second clock. Everyone on the roster plays hard knowing they will have short shifts, a stark contrast from the Gators who often need to slow themselves down to conserve energy. Alabama’s energy level means there probably won’t be a lot available for the Gators in transition but that definitely shouldn’t stop them from trying if they have numbers. Easy buckets won’t be available for the Gators in this one but we’ve seen that if the Gators execute on offense they can score on anyone.
Everyone. Look, I’m not trying to be cheesy by suggesting everyone needs to step their game up but I know that when you play against a deep team like Alabama that plays hard for 40 minutes you need all 5 players on the floor to be locked in. If any one player on the Gators falls asleep for a moment, their man is going to cut hard to hoop to get open for a layup. If Florida doesn’t screen and cut hard on offense, their defender will fight for better position and not allow them to get to their spot. Florida will need to play as 5 players connected on both sides of the floor to have success. The bench also needs to step it up in this one. The Gators need to be able to play their bench more minutes without fear of getting dominated to give their starters a rest. Alabama is going to constantly throw fresh bodies at the Gators and if the starters all have to play 34 minutes then they won’t have the legs to keep up.
How do you think the Gators will do at home against the Crimson Tide? Leave a comment here or post on the Gator Country forums.