College basketball is finally here!
If the last two weeks of Gator football have you down, at least you can look forward to the hoops team kicking off the season with a rivalry game against the Seminoles. Let’s hope the Gators can set the tone on the court a few weeks before these teams see each other on the field.
With the Gators’ last few season openers being the likes of Gardner-Webb, Florida Gulf Coast, Navy, William and Mary, North Florida, Alabama State (I could go on), kicking the year off with a bang against a ranked opponent, and a rival nonetheless, is out of the ordinary but it definitely brings an opportunity for the Gators to establish themselves as one of the nations’ best and prove wrong the AP voters that had them on the outside looking in of the preseason poll.
Here’s a scouting report for the season opener with Florida State.
Florida State is going to missing a valuable piece in Phil Cofer, a 6’8” senior who led the ‘Noles in points last year with 12.8 per game. Also chipping in 5.1 rebounds and shooting a 37.5% clip from three, this is a valuable loss that could see the momentum shift in Florida’s favor. I thought a Phil Cofer-Keith Stone matchup was inevitable and with him being out the Gators could see the advantage at the four spot.
I haven’t been able to get a final word on Gorjok Gak’s status though it was said even before last week’s exhibition that he would be cleared for the start of the season and since I haven’t heard otherwise, I’m thinking that it’s still the case. He could be limited but if he can give some minutes against the 7’4” behemoth Christ Koumadje it would be extremely valuable. At the same time, you definitely wouldn’t want to see him get re-injured coming back too early considering his injury past. Other than that, the Gators are looking healthy and deep as we saw in their exhibition.
Defending The Seminoles
With it being the first game of the season I thought I’d take a look at some of the predictive analytic tools I use to see how Florida State projects to be offensively this season and I found something really interesting on KenPom.
Florida State is returning more offense than ever before.
Returning as much offensive production as they are you can also bet that their scoring should improve and that’s just what KenPom is doing as he has them as the 11th best offense in the country. Now, I find it a little tough to believe that they could be that high since they haven’t gotten higher than 31st in the last decade and usually hover around 50th, but I do think they could be a much more talented scoring team than the grit and grind Seminole teams we’re used to seeing whose best offense is putting back offense rebounds. When you look at their numbers from last season they were probably a better offensive team that I, and many other college basketball media members, gave them credit for. They were 43rd in the country in offensive efficiency and though they were a fairly average 3-point shooting team at 35% they were excellent at finishing around the rim shooting 53.6% on twos. Given that the Gators were 41st in offensive efficiency, the ‘Noles weren’t that far behind and could give the Gators some challenges.
The first order of business will be to try and stop Terance Mann. Florida State’s 83-66 dominance of the Gators last year was largely due to Mann’s ability to beat any defender the Gators threw at him off the dribble and his 25 points on 11-17 shooting shows how dominant he was. Jalen Hudson, KeVaughn Allen, and Deaundrae Ballard all had their turns trying to check the 6’6” wing and none of them had much success. They all could get their chance for redemption on Tuesday but it could be a newcomer that changes the complexion of this challenge. Freshman Keyontae Johnson profiles perfectly for the role of lockdown wing and his physicality and explosiveness could be just what the doctor ordered for the Gators to improve their wing defense. Watch for him to get a chance on Mann and if he has success the Seminoles’ offense could stagnate.
The offensive side of the game could look a lot different for the Gators this season as opposed to last with a new point guard in Andrew Nembhard, a new flamethrower off the bench in Noah Locke, and some healthy frontcourt pieces in Chase Johnson and Isaiah Stokes. How well this new group can execute will be put to the test against a Florida State team that will be a challenge to score due to their length and athleticism. The Seminoles’ length and athleticism is most apparent when it comes to contesting jump shots as they can cover a lot ground and get hands up on shooters. Opponents only shot 35.6% on jump shots against Florida State last season and for a Gators team that will be looking to let a lot of threes fly, they’ll need to account for a bit less time and space then they’re used to. We saw this on display in last season’s contest as the Gators shot a deflating 6-25 from behind the arc, constantly frustrated by aggressive closeouts by the likes of Trent Forrest, MJ Walker, and Terance Mann. Getting clean looks against these versatile defenders will be paramount to the Gators’ game plan.
One way the Gators could generate open looks is by doing something they couldn’t do a lot last year, and that’s dump the ball into the post. Getting the orange inside and forcing the Seminoles to collapse could be the only way to generate space on the perimeter and if Isaiah Stokes or Chase Johnson wants to try their hand at some post up possessions, Florida State is surprisingly the team to do it against. Though the Seminoles were the 5th best team in defense at the rim last season, they actually were one of the worst in the country at guarding post ups as they allowed 53.6% on those possessions. I’m not sure the Gators will want to live and die off post ups from their redshirt-freshman bigs but getting the ball down low to them would add an element the Gators did not have last season and the multi-dimensional offense could unlock some driving lanes for the guards.
Welcome to college basketball Andrew Nembhard, your first role is to face one of the most physically gifted teams in the country and run an offense against it. I’m a big believer in Nembhard’s game but he’ll be challenged in making his debut against the sizeable veteran guards Florida State has. Orchestrating good shots against one of the best defenses in the country could be difficult but if there’s a freshman I think can make it happen, it’s Nembhard.