After the long darkness of the college basketball offseason, hoops season is finally upon us. After bringing you guys a boatload of preview content, I’m happy to finally give you a preview article for the Gators’ first regular season opponent, Gardner-Webb University. I will have a detailed breakdown of every single opponent Florida faces this season so be locked in to Gator Country for all your Gators basketball needs.
Gardner-Webb University is a private university located in Boiling Springs, North Carolina and they compete in the Big South Conference. Their coach Tim Craft, in his 5th year at the helm, was formerly on the Auburn coaching staff from 2007 until 2010 so Gainesville won’t be unfamiliar territory for him. Playing in the Big South, traditionally one of the lower ranked leagues in college basketball, they have challenged themselves with a solid non-conference schedule featuring Florida, Miami, UCF, and Auburn. With four Florida natives on their roster, making trips to quality opponents in the state should be quite a treat for them.
The first thing you’ll notice about Gardner-Webb is that they play extremely fast. True to their name, the Runnin’ Bulldogs were 54th in adjusted tempo last season and their 15.9 second average possession length was the 42nd quickest in the nation. Playing fast and loose, their first priority is try to get to hoop for easy layups. 53.6% of their points come from 2-point attempts, which is well above national average and makes it apparent how reliant they are on points in the paint. On the flip side, the 3-point shot is not a big part of their attack. Though they were an efficient 3-point shooting team last year (59th in the country at 37.6% from behind the line), they were 323rd nationally in 3-point attempts. This is a unique offensive philosophy, and one that the Gators didn’t see much of last year. Many opponents from the prior season really relied on the jump shot and the Gators’ primary focus defensively was on rotations to contest those shooters, and this game will be quite different. If there is one thing playing fast can lead to, it is getting fouled, and the Runnin’ Bulldogs are extremely good at that. They went to the free throw line 819 times last season, the 31st most in college basketball. Unfortunately for them, they were terrible at converting them. At 63.5% from the line, they were 344th nationally, an ugly number that you can hope they continue to shoot against the Gators. Even though they aren’t converting a ton from the line, getting fouled a lot could get some key Gators in foul trouble so that will be something they definitely need to avoid.
Defensively, Gardner-Webb plays mostly man defense. Just like how fast they play when they have the ball, they love to speed up the game defensively. Playing very high pressure, sending traps, and shooting passing lanes, ball security will be huge for the Gators. The Runnin’ Bulldogs got steals on 12% of their opponents possessions, a tremendous rate that made them 10th in the NCAA. Forcing turnovers is their defensive priority, and the points they get off those turnovers can be incredibly deflating for opponents. Ball security will be of utmost importance, as if Gardner-Webb can’t get easy transition buckets they could struggle to score against Florida’s set defense.
Hailing from Orlando, David Efianayi is their most important returner. The redshirt-Junior averaged 12.6 points per game a year ago and was extremely efficient doing so, shooting 53.3% on 2-point shots and 41.5% from three. He loves to curl off screens without the ball, and make reads when the pass comes. With their high point man from last season Laquincy Rideau transferring to George Washington, expect Efianayi to be the centerpiece for them this season.
With Gardner-Webb looking to heat up the Gators and produce turnovers, Florida’s ball handlers will have to be locked in. Chris Chiozza and KeVaughn Allen are veterans that shouldn’t be phased by this kind of defensive pressure, but any lapses could be exploited quickly. This could be a good challenge for freshman Michael Okauru as his ball security and decision-making will be tested. Look to see if he gets primary backup point guard minutes, or if Allen plays there. As I discussed previously Gardner-Webb draws a lot of fouls, so Kevarrius Hayes and Keith Stone will have to play sound defense to avoid foul trouble so they can stay on the floor.
Gators’ Keys to the Game
Florida needs to dictate the tempo and play at the pace they want to play at–not at the pace Gardner-Webb wants to play at. This is important in any matchup, so this will be a great opportunity for the team to learn a bit about themselves and see what tempo they are most comfortable playing at. You never want to turn the ball over in any matchup, and this is definitely a game to see where the team is at in that facet of the game. Kevarrius Hayes and Keith Stone will be relied on to play a lot of frontcourt minutes this season, so staying out of foul trouble while still playing good interior defense will be the challenge for them. We know they get most of their offense in the paint so being solid with interior team defense will be a nice challenge. Playing smart, playing composed, and executing what Coach White has laid out for them should lead to a solid opening season victory.
What do you think of the matchup versus Gardner-Webb? Leave a comment here or post on the Gator Country forums.