With Saturday’s game against the South Carolina Gamecocks the Florida Gators have a chance to do something they haven’t yet this season and that is to play an opponent for the second time. Meeting an opponent for the second time in a season always makes for an interesting game as both squads have a feel for what they can expect from their opponent and it becomes an intricate chess match where the team that can make the better adjustments usually wins. Game one of the season series went to the Gamecocks as they controlled the Gators 77-72 in Gainesville so Florida will be looking to learn from their mistakes and come away with a road win in Columbia. Despite their three losses in four games to South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama that left many fans feeling doom and gloom the Gators are still sitting at third in the SEC with head to head games against Auburn (first) and Tennessee (second) coming up for the Gators to potentially catch the top spots. Florida just needs to get victories in winnable games and Saturday’s matchup definitely falls into the winnable game category. Let’s take a look at what the Gators can improve on from the first game against the Gamecocks in order to get a victory.
If the situation of losing a tough game to South Carolina that kickstarted a rough stretch and then playing them again sounds familiar its because, well, it happened last year. On January 18th of the last season the Gators dropped an ugly 57-53 game to the Gamecocks (you may remember this one as… *cough* the game where the Gators went 0-17 from the 3-point line) and compounded it with a 68-66 loss in their next contest to Vanderbilt that left many Gators fans bewildered. The Gators were able to bounce back after that rough patch and when they faced South Carolina for a second time they blew their doors off with an 81-66 win. Let’s hope for the same result this season.
If you thought things were going bad for the Gators since they took the loss to the Gamecocks, you need to see how things are going in Columbia. After a victory over the Gators that vaulted them from 80th to 68th in KenPom the Gamecocks have went on a four game losing streak. The losses haven’t come to awful teams (Texas Tech, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, and Arkansas) but the margins at which they have lost by are steadily growing and it could be sign of a team that’s running out of steam. As we know from watching them they play extremely hard and Frank Martin pushes them to a lofty level of intensity and that could be catching up to them. Losing four in a row and heading back home to take on the Gators the Gamecocks will be fired up and hungry for a win so Florida needs to be on their “A” game.
There were several things the Gators struggled with that led to their ultimate demise against the Gamecocks the first time around. Here is what they were and how they can improve.
This was the shocking aspect of the game. South Carolina, one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the country, rained down long bombs over and over again and finished the game 11-21 (52.4%) from behind the arc. Wesley Myers was the most dangerous Gamecock from range going 5-7 while Justin Minaya (2-3) and Evan Hinson (2-4) also shot the ball well. How can the Gators keep this from happening again? Stopping open 3-point looks actually isn’t dependent on perimeter defense but on their interior defense. The open shots for South Carolina almost always came from the Gators collapsing down low on Chris Silva and Maik Kotsar and having them kick it out to the player whose defender vacated to double down. The Gators need to be more intelligent in regards to which player goes down to double team so that it isn’t an easy kick out for the post player to a shooter. Additionally, when one player goes to double team his teammates need to be ready to rotate if a pass is made to contest that shooter. I would also suggest that the Gators don’t have to be as aggressive doubling down low as they were in the first game and maybe force Chris Silva to score before you throw the kitchen sink at him. Silva is, of course, college basketball’s king of drawing fouls and you don’t want Kevarrius Hayes and Keith Stone getting into early foul trouble but one of them picking up 2 fouls early might be better than allowing a bunch of open threes.
In a lot of the Gators’ wins this season they have won in turnover margin but against the Gamecocks they were -2. Creating turnovers is big for the Gator defense and not turning the ball over is what Florida does almost better then anyone (only Saint Joseph’s from the Atlantic 10 conference has a lower turnover rate than Florida) so not winning this category shows how out of the flow the Gators were. I think if the Gators win the turnover margin on Saturday then they will win the game.
Only playing 7 players for double digit minutes Mike White was not able to get much production from his bench and riding the starters so much wore them down. The intensity South Carolina plays with is unmatched by almost any other team in the country and it will be hard for Florida to match that intensity if they can’t give their starters the proper amount of rest. Michael Okauru had a strong game against LSU and will hopefully keep that productivity up but Deaundrae Ballard never entered the game. Ballard hasn’t been able to be trusted due to lapses on both ends of the floor so he needs to elevate his play to be regarded as a trusted wing off of the bench.
Shots weren’t falling at a great rate from the outside with Florida only going 26% from three and they forced up a lot of tough midrange shots that didn’t go either. Poor shot selection has been a common trend from the Gators and it was amplified against a South Carolina defense that was happy to allow Florida to take tough shots. The Gamecocks are so strong defensively that it can be easy to take a bad shot instead of working to beat the defense and if the Gators want to settle instead of working for good shots again then things could look even worse on Saturday then it did in January.
Some quick hitters here.
Chris Silva is still the best player in college basketball at drawing fouls and has taken a ridiculous 211 free throws this season.
South Carolina gets their shots blocked a ton, which is kind of random but potentially really interesting. 14.8% of their attempts get swatted (350th in the country) which speaks to how much they like to get shots at the rim. Kevarrius Hayes has been one of the best shot blockers in the country so hopefully he’ll be able to get his outstretched arms on a lot of balls.
South Carolina fouls you a ton and gives up over 10% more free throws than the average college basketball team. They play physical, and even though they do get a lot of fouls called on them they know that no ref is going actually call every single foul so they’ll foul you multiple times on a possession just to see what the refs will allow. The Gators will have to be ready for a lot of physicality.
Florida’s free throw defense is getting “better” as they now sit at 331st in the country as opposed to 351st where they were at a couple weeks ago. I throw up the air quotes when I say “better” because it’s not like they can do anything to contest shots from the charity stripe but the free throw percentage from Gators’ opponents is going down slowly and that is something we can all rejoice about.
Chris Chiozza is 25th nationally in assist rate making him one of the best passers in college basketball which anyone who has watched him this season probably knows. He will need to generate a lot of offense for the Gators on Saturday to beat a tough South Carolina defenses so hopefully his passing is in tip-top shape.
Keys For the Gators
Be ready to match South Carolina’s intensity level. Desperately needing a win and playing in front of their home crowd the Gamecocks are going to be some kind of fired up and if the Gators aren’t ready to play at that level they could get punched in the mouth early. Florida has watched it’s projected NCAA Tournament seed drop from 4th to as low as 8th or 9th in the last two weeks so every game is important to improve their resume and they need to play like it.
What are you expecting from this rematch between the Gators and Gamecocks? Let me know in the comment section here or post on the Gator Country forums.