Struggling Gators & Tigers match up Saturday

Both teams are struggling in the win loss column as of late, but the Florida Gators have the unenviable task of heading to Baton Rouge to take on LSU and the very talented Tigers. The Gators are just 3-7 in road games this year and have only won two conference games.

Florida Gators (17-11, 8-7) vs LSU Tigers (16-12, 9-6)

Saturday, February 27, 2016; 8:30 p.m.

Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Pete Maravich Assembly Center

TV: ESPN

While a lot of people are adding up the losses and worrying about this 2016 squad of Gators making the NCAA Tournament, head coach mike White is more concerned about the immediate task at hand. The Gators have lost two games in a row and need to stop the bleeding.

“It’s a huge game,” White told the media Friday. “Every game from here on out is really big. It’s big for LSU and big for us. I think if we spend too much time on the big picture (NCAA Tournament) and all the different scenarios it takes away your opportunity for success. It is there, we all know it’s there. It’s just about how can we beat LSU by one point.

“I have all of LSU’s computer numbers and our computer numbers and who’s played better for us in our wins and in our losses. I am big on all of those numbers. In terms of ‘bracketology’ and all of those metrics, I have done a better job of spending all my time on the next opponent.

“I’m a fan of college basketball, a fan of it all, like everyone else, so in the past, three weeks ago or a month ago I would glance at it, but it isn’t worth the 15 seconds of time. It’s all about what can we do to beat LSU.”

It is a tall task, and the biggest of the issues at hand is dealing with freshman dynamo Ben Simmons who many believe will be the number one pick in the NBA draft the next go around.  White and his team won’t underestimate the Tigers even if they have lost four of the last five.

“You have a team with a young superstar with a bunch of expectations on Ben and his teammates,” White said. “I think they’ve had some really big wins, they are really capable. He is arguably the most talented player in the country. It’s a different team than what we played here. Antonio Blakeney is really playing well as of late. He’s really aggressive and shooting the ball with a lot of confidence. Craig Victor is playing better now than what he was back then. He has the experience, he has his wind.

“They have different type strengths and like Vanderbilt, when they’re playing well they can beat anyone in our league. We have to play really well to have a chance on the road. We have to corral Ben Simmons with multiple guys and try and slow him. Yet, he puts you in a quandary because he’s such a good passer. We can’t allow Blakeney to get going. Tim Quarterman is shooting the ball off the catch real well.”

#

Florida Projected Starters

Ht. / Wt.

P/ RPG

3

F Devin Robinson (SO)

6-8, 195

9.0/5.8

10

F Dorian Finney-Smith (SR)

6-8, 220

14.9/8.4

15

C John Egbunu (SO)

6-11, 255

10.7/6.5

0

G Kasey Hill (JR)

6-0, 180

7.7/3.2a

4

G KeVaughn Allen (FR)

6-2, 183

12.5/2.5

 

#

LSU Projected Starters

Ht./Wt.

P/RPG

25

F Ben Simmons (FR)

6-10, 240

19.5/11.9

32

F Craig Victor (SO)

6-9, 235

12.5/6.1

2

G Antonio Blakeney (FR)

6-4, 190

11.4/3.5

15

G Jalyn Patterson (SO)

6-1, 185

4.9/1.8a

55

Tim Quarterman (JR)

6-6, 190

10.5/4.7

Simmons is so versatile. He’s 6-foot-10 with passing ability of one of the best point guards and the athleticism to take the ball to the rim at any time and score. But his teammates like Craig Victor make them a dangerous team all around.

“They have the ability to play high-low with those two guys in Simmons and Victor,” White said. “It’s just a really tough interior match up. Simmons has done more damage as of late in the interior, really drawing fouls and scoring well. It is a very good team and we’ll have to prepare again really well today.”

It’s kind of damned if you do and damned if you don’t with Simmons. If you decide to swarm him with the ball, then his teammates will burn you. If you try play straight up, he will also make you pay.

“I don’t know how much we can just let him do what he does because that 28 might turn into 45,” White said. “We have to foul him less. We made a couple of mistakes on his teammates, but to a certain extent it will be difficult for him not to get 15-30 against us. You can’t face guard him. He scores from so many different places. In transition he’s a joke, he’s incredible. Scoring… he’s like a bowling ball with a head of steam. It’s almost impossible not to foul.

“If he has a head of steam on you, if you aren’t walling him off with 2-3 defenders, you hope the next guy over isn’t Antonio Blakeney who has already hit 3-4 three’s and he steps into another one because of having t wall him off. They are just really difficult to defend. They have had nights where they couldn’t defend him. They’ve had nights where they weren’t quite as good. Obviously we hope it’s one of those nights and we have a lot to do with it. We’re going to slow him down the best we can, but we have to make sure those other guys don’t have huge games.

“Tim Quarterman is really talented, really good in transition. Their transition offense is as good as anyone in the Southeastern Conference. It is probably the biggest key to the game is being able to set our half-court defense.”

 

Its crunch time of the season and there is still so much to play for with both teams. A couple of wins and the Gators could play themselves into the top four of the SEC which would grant the team a bye on the first big day of the SEC Tournament. It is a struggle.

“Our guys are tired right now,” White said. “I think LSU’s guys are tired. The whole league is tired, especially those teams coming off of losses. I think it’s more mental than physical. Physically our guys are in good shape.

“Some teams will catch second winds. What we’ve talked to our guys a lot about in the last couple of weeks, is ‘some teams in college basketball are plateauing, some are dropping off, and some are getting better’, we’re just trying to be in that last group.”

A big issue in most of the last losses is starting slow. The Gators have come out of the gate offensively and not been able to put the ball in the basket, but they also have been a different defensive team in some of the losses, allowing teams to jump on them offensively in the early parts of the first and sometimes second half.

The coaching staff is trying to get a grip on things they can do to curtail this issue.

“We’ve talked a lot about it as a staff,” White said. “We got off to a slow start in a drill yesterday and we started it over. That’s one thing we can do and that isn’t going to solve it single handedly. We continue to stress getting off to a better start. We’ve even discussed warmups, pregame routines, and videos, all of those things. We know how important it is to get off to a good start, especially for us… a team with the offensive deficiencies. We’re going to make a concerted effort to try and get some of our better scorers as good of looks as we can get them early on. We’ve done it every game, but it’s become more important.

“It is probably a bigger factor for us than most teams. When we’re playing from behind, we don’t have that capability and offensive fire power as much as most teams. When we get off to a really good start and making some shots early… when we’re playing with a lead and locked in defensively, that’s when we’re at our best.”

Two that White needs to get off the snide early in games are senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith and freshman guard KeVaughn Allen. The problem is teams have worked hard to take these away from the offensive end.

“I know what I’m going to get from Dorian and I have to do a better job of getting him more touches, especially early and overcoming how much a focal point he is with LSU’s scouting,” White said. “We have to find a way to get him going.

“KeVaughn as well as Dorian has become a guy who is targeted. His teammates and I have to do a better job. We have to get him aggressive… whether he misses the first few or not, he has to take them. We need him.

“It will be hard to win road games without (KeVaughn) playing well. I think it was evident at Georgia just how important he is just getting you over the hump on the road for a team that struggles offensively. He has to come out firing. I’m going to continue to urge him to be aggressive.

“I use the ‘A’ word with him every day… ‘be aggressive, be aggressive’. Hopefully he can have some early success and get his confidence going and his teammates can find him.”

As far as this game coming up, White isn’t sure how his team will respond to the circumstance until tip off.

“I wish we were (angrier) to be honest,” he said. “(Demoralized) is probably close to where we are at. Our guys have been down, but we had a solid practice yesterday, not our best one, not our worst one, kind of middle of the road.  Dorian continues to try and be vocal and lead a little bit. Considering the circumstances, it is what it is right now. We’ve put ourselves in a tough spot. I think our guys are handing it pretty well, but we’ll have a better idea a few minutes into the game tomorrow.”


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