Leaving the O’Dome with a bitter taste in their mouths after Monday’s loss, the Gators don’t have much time to recover as they welcome the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers on Wednesday night. Florida has now lost two in a row to Duke and Florida State, and picking up a third consecutive loss would be the last thing they’d want to do before taking on #17 Cincinnati and another ACC opponent in Clemson. The Ramblers won’t be an easy out and can’t be taken lightly by the Gators who have had some holes in their game such as interior toughness and offensive stagnation illuminated in the last few contests.
Season to Date
The Ramblers are 8-1, mostly playing low-major competition although a 102-78 win over UNC Wilmington could end up looking like a nice victory. Their sole loss has come to a good Boise State team featuring star Chandler Hutchison 87-53. Definitely the toughest game on their schedule this year, I’m sure Florida has been circled on the calendar for quite some time. Additionally, catching a top 10 ranked team coming off of two losses is rare, so the Ramblers should be fired up at the opportunity to get a great win and put their program on the map.
Though this game doesn’t have the same name recognition of some of Florida’s other marquee non-conference games, this matchup could be a tough one as Loyola-Chicago is a really good under-the-radar team. Popular analytics site KenPom has them as the 91st team in the nation, and that number should continue to climb to somewhere to between 60-80 by the time the season is done. With perennial powerhouse Wichita State leaving the Missouri Valley Conference this summer, the Ramblers became one of the favorites to win the league and after a strong start to the season that looks like a distinct possibility. That means the Ramblers could be a NCAA Tournament team, and getting a win over an NCAA Tournament team in December is always a good thing to show off to the selection committee in March whether it’s top 25 ranked team or the winner of the MVC. I don’t think the Gators need any more motivation for this one, but they have to know that this isn’t a doormat of an opponent. They are a very quality, relevant mid-major team.
Loyola-Chicago plays strong, economical offense that is extremely well rounded. They don’t rely too heavily on any particular offensive set, and they don’t have any star players that the attack focuses around. Their top four players have an extremely similar point output, as Aundre Jackson (13.8), Clayton Custer (13.4), Marques Townes (13.4) and Donte Ingram (12.3) have eerily similar per game averages. Their ability to share the ball is also evidenced by their average of 18 assists per game, and they have four players averaging over 2.4 helpers per game. Florida State had a very similar offensive spread to Loyola-Chicago so hopefully the Gators will be prepared this time to guard multiple actions being ran for multiple different options. The metrics look very pleasing for the Ramblers, as they currently sit at 7th nationally in effective field goal percentage, 10th in three-point percentage, and 27th in two-point percentage. As I mentioned earlier their schedule hasn’t been particularly difficult, but those kinds of numbers are tough to put up against anyone so I’m expecting a charged offensive performance. Their best offensive weapon is definitely transition, as they are currently in the top 1% of the country shooting 64.4%. The key to not giving up points in transition isn’t just to work hard and run back, but not to turn the ball over on offense. If the Gators can take care of the ball then the can force this to be a half court game. The three-point shot is good to Loyola-Chicago in all situations, with seven different players hitting over 39% of their threes. This could certainly be the best three-point shooting team the Gators have faced so far so this should be a good test for them, as they have only allowed teams to shoot 34.1% from the land beyond so far. One thing Gators fans will be happy to hear is that the Ramblers do not offensively rebound the ball very well. After getting pounded on the offensive glass by the Seminoles, Florida fans will be relieved to hear that the Ramblers are 334th in the country at grabbing their own misses. This could be a great opportunity for the Gators to work on finding bodies and boxing out, and getting their confidence up in this category that has been a huge problem for them. We also know the Gators haven’t guarded very well on the interior, and Loyola-Chicago is only an average team (in the 40th percentile) at finishing in the paint so the Gators truly cannot allow easy buckets in this one.
Playing almost exclusively man defense, the Ramblers have been a pretty good defensive team ranking 93rd in defensive efficiency. After zone defenses have frustrated the Gators, the perimeter players (and fans alike, for that matter) will be happy to likely see exclusively man defense and get back to attacking in the way that allowed the Gators to put up 100+ points multiple times. Making the paint the priority, the Ramblers like to stack up help side defenders inside and will give up jump shots in order to not allow anything easy at the rim. Only allowing 36.7% on post ups and 53.7% on layups at the rim, the Ramblers are well above average at locking down the paint with their ability to send secondary defenders to either dig down or send a hard double team. The Gators will have every opportunity to get jumpers up and if they start falling then the Ramblers will be forced to change things up. Despite perceived shooting woes for the Gators, they still are an elite team from deep as their 42.9% clip from three is 12th in the country. They should continue to take those shots when they are available, but also need to make sure to attack the rim and get to the free throw line when those lanes are available. Transition has been a weak point for the Ramblers allowing 1.07 points per possession to opponents, and their biggest problem there is that they turn the ball over on 20.1% of their offensive possessions. Turning over the ball almost always leads to an odd-man break, and the Gators need to take advantage of easy buckets when they are available. Offense didn’t come easily for the Gators on Monday night so look for a bounce back performance on December 6.
Chase Johnson has now gone three straight games without appearing in a game, and I’m sure he is itching to get back to game action. Noticeably struggling, the Gators’ frontcourt needs to improve and if Chase Johnson could provide a better offensive presence then some of the current players he could earn a spot back in the rotation. Interior defense has been the biggest problem for the wiry Johnson and it’s also an area the team as been weak in so remedying that in practice could also lead to him getting a spot back.
Chris Chiozza didn’t have a field goal against Florida State and also turned the ball over 4 times so he needs to get back to the level of play he had to start the season. When the offense starts to spin out the Gators need Chiozza to provide the veteran experience he has accumulated and get the team back into their sets and offensive rhythm. I’m starting to sound like a broken record as I seem to mark them down as important in seemingly every game, but the frontcourt has to be better. When the post players show zero threat to score down low, it allows defenses to stretch further out and further stack up against Florida’s perimeter players. The Ramblers focus on protecting the rim first, so if they know the Gators’ forwards aren’t looking to score then they’ll be able to pressure the perimeter more while still be able to guard the hoop.
Will the Gators bounce back after a disappointing loss to the Seminoles? Leave a comment here or post on the Gator Country forums.