Tonight, the Kentucky Wildcats welcome the Florida Gators into Rupp Arena for the first of two battles for dominance in the SEC. The Gators are currently 7-1, having lost their only SEC tilt in a 67-56 upset at Tennessee, and who are coming fresh off a defeat 73-65 of the Vanderbilt Commodores in the O'Connell Center in Gainesville.
The Gators enter Rupp Arena ranked #8 in the AP poll and #7 in the Coaches poll, and have been near the very top in offensive efficiency in Division I all year, currently standing at #2 behind only the Missouri Tigers in Ken Pomeroy's statistical database. Offensively, the Gators have been splendid, shooting 3-point shots with a stellar 38% clip in conference. More about the Gators and what they do in a little bit.
Kentucky is coming off three dominant games in which it crushed it's foes, both on the road and inside the hallowed halls of Rupp Arena. Kentucky's execution on both sides of the ball has been outstanding, and they currently lead the SEC in offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency when only SEC games are considered, and are shooting as well from the outside as Florida at 38%, considering, again, conference contests only.
|Mike Rosario||6th man||R-Jr.||G||20||15.8||2.9||6.6||43.9||1.5||3.9||39.0||0.9||1.1||77.3||0.5||1.4||1.8||1.2||1.0||0.7||0.0||1.1||8.2|
|Will Yeguete||7th man||So.||F||22||22.9||2.1||3.6||58.2||0.0||0.0||0.0||0.5||1.5||35.3||2.3||4.0||6.4||1.2||0.7||1.3||0.4||2.5||4.7|
|Scottie Wilbekin||Maj res.||So.||G||23||13.4||0.8||2.1||36.7||0.4||1.2||35.7||0.4||0.6||76.9||0.3||1.0||1.3||1.7||0.6||0.7||0.0||0.9||2.4|
|Walter Pitchford V||Res.*||Fr.||F||8||1.9||0.3||1.0||25.0||0.0||0.1||0.0||0.0||0.0||0.0||0.1||0.1||0.3||0.1||0.1||0.0||0.1||0.6||0.5|
Florida: Walter Pitchford V said to be out with a sprained wrist.
Florida Strengths vs. UK
- Effective FG%: The Gators are a great shooting team.
- Free throws. The Gators lead the league in free throw percentage.
- Offensive execution. Florida is a great execution team on offense, and really runs the pick and roll effectively, especially on the sides.
- A good press. This has occasionally bothered Kentucky, but I don't know if it will anymore.
Florida Weaknesses vs. UK
- Defense. Kentucky is far better defensively than any team the Gators have faced in conference.
- Offensive rebounding. Florida is 10th in the conference in OR%, and against the good defensive rebounding of UK, they had better make their shots, because they aren't likely to get a second.
- Getting to the line to shoot. Florida shoots great free throws, but they struggle to get there.
- 3-point defense. Florida is 10th in the SEC defending the trey.
- On the road, where they have been mediocre at best.
Kentucky Strengths vs. Florida
- Offensive efficiency. Kentucky has been much more efficient in the SEC than the Gators have.
- Defensive efficiency. Kentucky is the best in the entire nation.
- 3-point and 2-point shooting. Florida defends both shots poorly, and Kentucky shoots them well.
- Shot blocking. This requires no exposition.
- Rupp Arena.
Kentucky Weaknesses vs. Florida
- Free throw shooting.
- A plethora of shooters for Florida will leave Kentucky's weaker defenders more exposed than normal.
Key Matchups for Kentucky:
- Kenny Boynton. You hear more about Bradley Beal, but Boynton is the main scoring threat for Florida, and he can do it in a variety of ways -- off the bounce, from three, and on the run. He's a tough matchup because he is always in motion, looking for his offense.
- Erik Murphy. Murphy is a knock-down three point shooter who happens to be 6'10". He is going to drag one of the big guys away from the basket, and that will give Patric Young more room to operate.
- Bradley Beal. Beal has been hot lately from outside the arc, and he will require a great deal of focus and intensity to guard.
Key Matchups for Florida
- Darius Miller. Florida has nobody, and I mean nobody, who can guard him. He is too big for any of the guards, way too quick for Murphy and Young, and he should be able to score as many points as he wants to. Yeguette can guard him, but who guards Michael Kidd-Gilchrist?
- Anthony Davis. Davis is far too agile and quick for any Florida big except Yeguette, and he really isn't nearly long or athletic enough.
- Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Similar to Miller. You can't guard them both with Florida's personnel and retain their scoring ability.
A person not familiar with either team would tell you that this is bound to be a barn-burner, but in truth, the question only amounts to how well Florida shoots the ball. In order to win this game, they have to shoot lights-out from three, and unless Kentucky really struggles, they'll need between 8-12 made three pointers just to be competitive.
The problem here isn't Florida's skill, they are undeniably a skilled basketball team and can shoot the ball fantastically well at almost every position. The problem is, their front court is so bare, and Kentucky's players so long and talented that they simply don't match up well with UK at all. You can hide one big mismatch using double-teams, but you just cannot double-team the Wildcats.
Florida will be forced to zone, and even in the zone they have serious matchup issues that simply can't be easily dealt with. Teams like Syracuse can deny penetration into the free-throw line area with their length, but Florida has no such ability. The ball will move to the middle of the floor, and Kentucky will get dunks and open looks from all around the zone when the defense flexes.
On paper, Florida has but two main options -- press like crazy and hope to force turnovers, and keep the tempo high and hope to outrun and outscore the Wildcats. Both are difficult to do, but they are at least possible. A grind it out game with Kentucky will surely be tough for the Gators unless they shoot a very high percentage, or come in vastly more motivated than the Wildcats and get after the offensive glass.
Which brings me to the bad news for UK. Even though Florida looks like a lousy offensive rebounding team on paper, Kentucky has a tendency to let teams get offensive boards a little too often for my liking, primarily because UK's bigs are always going after blocks. Therein likes the main danger to an upset. If Florida gets a bunch of second looks, their odds go way up. In a pure execution game where all things are mostly equal, Florida will really struggle to keep up. As good as they are, Kentucky is better defensively than they are offensively in the half court.
Which brings me to the other part that is troublesome -- a fast-paced game. Kentucky has usually obliterated foes that tried to run with them (with the exception of the North Carolina Tar Heels, who run better than anybody), but Florida is different. When the pace is in the higher 60's, Florida has only lost two games -- to the Ohio St. Buckeyes and Syracuse Orange, both on the road.
This team dynamic is somewhat similar to the Unforgettables vs. Duke back in 1992. The Wildcats, in a role reversal, are playing the Duke side in this one, and have a similar type of team. The Gators are more similar to the Unforgettables in their smaller lineup and great perimeter shooting. That game was fairly competitive (droll understatement), and that game plan is what Florida needs to try to knock off Kentucky at home. So even though the matchups ill-favor the Gators, they have the skill to pull it off if they do everything just right.