After the SEC flexed it’s muscles against the Big 12 with a solid 6-4 win in the Big 12-SEC Challenge it’s back to SEC league play when the Gators head to Athens to take on the Georgia Bulldogs. Returning one of the best big men in college basketball in Yante Maten there were some hopes that Georgia would be a top tier SEC team but several missteps have lead the Bulldogs to a 12-8 record on the season and a situation where they will need to do some serious work from behind if they want to make the NCAA Tournament. Georgia enters this game on a 3-game losing streak falling to Auburn, Arkansas, and Kansas State. Though none of those teams are slouches and those losses are mostly excusable, Georgia desperately needs a big time win to start righting the ship and they currently have their sights set on Florida. Here is the scouting report.
Firstly, we should take a look at the SEC standings to see what this game means to the Gators. At 6-2 the Gators are currently second in the league trailing the Auburn Tigers who sit at 7-1. Florida would love to catch Auburn for that top spot and Auburn’s next game is at Ole Miss and we know how winning there can be a problem, so a win on Tuesday could be even better for the Gators with some help from the Rebels. The other reason that the Gators need a win is because they have three teams sitting at 5-3 breathing down their neck. Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama are all tirelessly chasing Florida and the Gators play the Crimson Tide on Saturday, a game that will be big enough without the two teams going in tied. The SEC is such a difficult league that any time you can get a road win is huge so hopefully the Gators can steal one in Athens.
If you had to boil down the Bulldog’s struggles this season to one thing, it would be their inability to put the ball in the basket. Lacking speed and skill at the guard positions to generate offense, the Bulldog attack revolves around one man: Yante Maten. A familiar name to SEC basketball fans, Maten has done everything for this Georgia team. Averaging 34.1 minutes, 19.6 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game, everything goes through Maten first and his teammates second. His importance to the offense is made even more apparent when you see that he is the only player on the team averaging double digits in scoring. For reference, Florida has four. If the Gators want to shut down the Bulldogs then it’s clear they need to stop Maten so let’s take a look at how they can do that. Maten’s favorite weapon offensively is his arsenal of post moves on the low block. At 6’8” and 240 he isn’t the most physically dominating or the longest post player but he is strong enough to push his way to where he wants to get and long enough to finish over defenders he sets up with his brilliant footwork. When he gets the ball down low he is usually looking to back his way towards the rim where he can turn over his left shoulder and finish with a baby hook. The Gators have been liberal with their double teams in the post this season so I’m sure we’ll see this method to try and slow down Maten. The Gators got into trouble against South Carolina when they double teamed by leaving shooters too open so they’ll have to be better in that area. A big reason they left shooters open was because the wrong player double teamed, leaving an easy pass for the post player to a shooter on the outside. Ideally, the player who is guarding someone one the opposite baseline is the one to come double and I think the Gators need to be disciplined when it comes to that. Maten is a smart, skilled passer and he can’t be allowed to make routine passes to wide open players. I know I said this about South Carolina and the exact opposite thing happened so maybe I’m a jinx, but Georgia is not a good 3-point shooting team. Currently 311th in the country at 31.6% this is a team that doesn’t often punish opponents from the outside and their starting perimeter of William Jackson II, Rayshaun Hammonds, and Juwan Parker all shoot below 35% from long. Did I just jinx it again? Will Georgia now shoot a ridiculous 3-point percentage? You’ll have to watch to find out! As much as they have struggled to shoot so far this season these are still high major basketball players and will be able to hit wide-open shots if the Gators serve them up on a silver platter so they need to communicate on defense and not allow shooters to get open. Though not particularly big, Georgia is a great offensive rebounding team that fights to keep possessions alive when a shot misses. I have been really impressed with how Florida has rebounded this year against longer, bigger opponents and the work of Kevarrius Hayes, Keith Stone, and Egor Koulechov can’t be understated. Though Koulechov has been the only one to put up strong raw rebounding numbers, the work to box out and keep possessions alive by tipping the ball around to have a guard go get it don’t show up in the box score, and Hayes and Stone have been excellent in that capacity. Coach White has been trying to get this team to defend better everyday in practice and hopefully we’ll see them execute the team schemes at a high level on Tuesday.
Georgia coach Mark Fox is aware of his team’s deficiencies on the offensive end and does his best to make up for it by pushing his team to be tremendous on defense. Sitting at 20th nationally in defensive efficiency this is definitely one of the elite defensive teams in college basketball. 8th best in effective field goal percentage allowed, 28th in 3-point percentage allowed and 9th in 2-point percentage allowed, Georgia pressures you from 35 feet all the way to the hoop and doesn’t give you any soft spots to exploit. Lacking big time size at the forward and center positions, Georgia does have a lot of players with quick feet who are able to get out and meet dribble penetrators further from the rim to force them to pick up their dribble, instead of normal post player who might try to let a player get to the rim and then meet them for a block. The ability for Georgia’s posts to move quickly and stop players in the mid-range lets their guards play tight on the perimeter and run shooters off the 3-point line. Running shooters off the 3-point line means Georgia doesn’t allow their opponents to shoot many deep balls and never lets shooters get into a rhythm. We know Florida loves to get up a lot of threes so seeing how they can get them against a team looking to prevent those attempts will be a great matchup. Running shooters off the 3-point line opens up the midrange and shots from that range might be some of the best looks Florida gets. KeVaughn Allen has started to knock down his floaters and one-footed runners and the opportunity for him to attack closeouts and get those kinds of shots up will almost certainly be there. One thing Georgia doesn’t do? Force turnovers. Currently 341% in turnover percentage forced, the Bulldogs are a hair from being the worst in the nation in that category. Florida has been excellent at taking care of the ball this season but had some hiccups against South Carolina and Baylor so this game could get them back into form. Even after those two games where the Gators had more turnovers then normal they still are 3rd in the nation in ball security, a number I would love to see them get to number 1 in.
Keys to the Game
Getting good shots against the Georgia defense that is going to try to get you to shoot contested mid-range jump shots. Shot selection hasn’t always been great for the Gators and they can’t get goaded into taking tough shots early in the clock. Egor Koulechov has had a bad habit of taking long, one-footed runners in the mid range which are low-percentage looks, and Deaundrae Ballard has often taken ill-advised shots when he gets his sights set exclusively on scoring. Florida players need to trust their offensive sets and take good shots within the flow of the offense, and that’s what can beat Georgia.
The Gators dropped to #23 after a week of losing to South Carolina and beating Baylor. That loss at home to South Carolina hurts, but after dismantling Baylor I was not expecting the Gators to drop three spots. With the strength of the SEC being what it is there will be many opportunities for Florida to rise and that would start with a win over Georgia.
What do you expect to happen when the Gators take on the Bulldogs? Leave a comment here or post on the Gator Country forums.