Gators Must Get Defensive

Two weeks ago it was easy to see a great finish to the Gator basketball season. Florida's young squad had just routed a very good Vanderbilt team 86-64 to improve to 18-3 on the year and 5-1 in the SEC. It was time to start the countdown to the wins it would take to put this team into the NCAA Tournament for the 10th year in a row.

But the last four games have changed everything. Wednesday's 85-73 loss to LSU was Florida's first "bad" loss of the season and now will force the Gators to post at least one significant win down the stretch and probably two. This team is certainly capable of doing that, but things have to change dramatically on the defensive end of the floor.

The Gators were hosting an LSU team that had lost ten of its last eleven games while averaging 63 points in SEC play. Florida allowed that team to score 85 points in the O'Dome. LSU made 60 percent of its shots from the field (they average 39% vs. SEC teams), 45 percent from beyond the arc (they average 28%). It was the third time in four games the Gators had allowed 80 or more points. They lost all three of those games. As a result, the Gators RPI has dropped from the low 40s to 60 and the heat is on for the final six games of the regular season.

Lineup Change Worth Consideration

During this slump Florida's opponents have done an excellent job of exploiting the Gators' undersized back court of Walter Hodge and Jai Lucas. With both players under six feet tall, teams that can't go around them are going over them. There doesn't appear to be much the Gators can do other than get away from having the two of them on the floor at the same time. That may not be crucial against all opponents, but ones that combine length and athleticism certainly create major match up problems.

One option that should at least be considered is to start either Chandler Parsons or Jonathan Mitchell at the "3" spot and go with a starting back court of Nick Calathes and Hodge. Lucas could give the Gators speed off the bench while the "new" starting lineup would be 8-to-10 inches taller. Florida may also try to get more out of Adam Allen. The freshman struggles to play man-to-man defense, but when Florida is in zone Allen at least offers another scoring threat. He played just six minutes against LSU, but scored six points on a pair of long range shots.

The bottom line is Billy Donovan and his staff has gotten about as much out of this team as anyone could have hoped for, but they'll have to get creative to finish well. Florida is not a lock in any of its remaining games and has to be viewed as a substantial underdog in two of them including Saturday's game at Vanderbilt. If they can't upset the Commodores or the Tennessee Vols on March 5th they may well need all the other games to go dancin'.

Questions or comments? Contact's Larry Vettel

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