Gators Face Major Challenge

Eleven games into the season, Billy Donovan's new look Gator Basketball team has won nine games comfortably, survived a horrendous shooting performance against Georgia Southern and gotten its head handed to it by Florida State. Saturday in Columbus, Ohio, the Gators will play their most important game to date this season.

Florida's game against Ohio State will provide Florida its first true road test, hell its first road test of any significance this season. Florida will face a hostile crowd that is fed up with losing to the Gators. They'll face a talented, capable, physical and well coached Buckeyes basketball team.

This game will show us just how much Donovan's kids have learned from the first six weeks of the season. They certainly showed progress in dealing with adversity against Georgia Southern as opposed to how they wilted against FSU. Now they have to go on the road and cope with adversity when there are more than 15 thousand people inspiring the other guys.

This is not a game the Gators have to win, but it is a game the Gators have to fight for. Florida can come out of this a better team, more ready for the SEC no matter what the outcome as long as they do certain things.

Move the basketball ----- In their two worst performances the Gators resorted to a lot of individual effort on the offensive end rather than run the offense on a consistent basis. The Gators managed just four assists against Georgia Southern and were it not for a superb day at the free throw line (24-30) would have lost to the Eagles. They need to establish a balanced attack right away Saturday.

Speights must compete ----- Too much focus is on Marreese Speights considering he is a relatively inexperienced sophomore, but that's show biz. Speights will be going up against Kosta Koufos who is a little bigger than he is and has been a bit more productive (15.8/6.3). This is a great opportunity for Florida's big man to respond to a challenge and deliver. Florida does not have to win this match up, but they sure can't lose it.

Bench has to contribute ----- Florida got all of six points off the bench in the Georgia Southern game and that can't happen. Ohio State is not a deep team and would prefer to play just seven guys. If the Gators can get solid play off the bench, including Jonathan Mitchell the Gators will actually enjoy a depth advantage. Adam Allen is a real key in this area since his play has been the least consistent of the Florida reserves.

Perform beyond the arc ----- This is both an offensive and defensive imperative. Florida (.403) and Ohio State (.376) are both good three-point shooting teams. And both have been good defending the long shot for most of the season (FL - .297, OSU - .280). If either team has an appreciable advantage in this category it'll be a major problem for the other squad.

Ohio State is not a great team, but they are very good. They bring a 7-and-3 record into the contest, but they have faced a far more difficult schedule than Florida has. What is remarkable about this team is their inconsistency on offense. The Buckeyes have scored 79 or more points five times, but they have been held to 55 or less on four occasions. Florida would probably prefer a shootout, but what the Gators really need is a hard fought, well played game that is settled in the final minute. That will make the Gators a better team and the trip a success no matter what the scoreboard says.

Questions or comments? Contact's Larry Vettel

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