For the third time in five years, the Florida men’s basketball team (9-5) will welcome a team featuring the potential top draft pick for that year’s upcoming NBA Draft. This year, that team will be the LSU Tigers (9-5), led by freshman forward Ben Simmons, a consensus favorite to be the top overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft come June. Simmons is currently averaging a double-double with 20.1 points and 12.9 rebounds per game. Although his height is useful in the interior, his 6’10” stature does not limit his ability. Simmons plays a large part in facilitating the offense with 5.2 assists per game, and defends well, averaging 2.1 steals per game.
If Florida only had to come into the contest worrying about Ben Simmons, Gator coach Mike White would have a much easier time preparing for the Tigers. Unfortunately for him, since coming back from surgery for a minor injury after missing seven games, senior guard Keith Hornsby has been on a tear, averaging 16.3 points per game, while shooting 50.7% from the floor, and an impressive 47.1% from downtown. LSU also comes into the game winners in five of their last six, including most recently a decisive 85-67 victory over the ninth ranked Kentucky Wildcats, in which not Simmons, but starting small forward Tim Quarterman put up 21 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists en route to victory.
Now, while it might seem like the Tigers have all the momentum coming into the game, especially with Florida’s most recent 83-69 loss at Tennessee, which Mike White described as the team’s worst game of the season on the boards and defensively, the Gators have been historically good at home against LSU. In Gainesville, Florida is 27-20 all-time vs. LSU, and have won three of the last four at home against the Tigers. On top of that, freshman guard KeVaughn Allen has been red hot, leading Florida in scoring the past four games, with an average of 20.8 points per game on 49.2% shooting from the field. In Florida’s last home game, and SEC opener, the Gators looked somewhat dominant in a 77-63 victory over the Georgia Bulldogs, shooting well above their season averages in field goal percentage and three-point percentage.
If Florida wants to win this game, they’ll have to do some things they’ve done well overall this season. The Gators rank 15th in the nation in rebounds per game, with 42.4 boards per contest, but in their last three games, have only held a total rebound margin of +4. On the season, Florida ranks 26th in the nation with only 63.5 points allowed per game. But, in their last five, they’ve given up an average of 70.8 points per game. The Gators, if they want to be successful on Saturday, must get back to their core values of winning the rebounding battle, and controlling the pace defensively, giving their offense a wider margin for error.
For as much as the Gators defense may need to get back to their old ways, offensively, the team as a whole might need somewhat of a kick start. Florida ranks dead last in the SEC in field goal percentage (41.6%), three-point percentage (28.9%), and free throw percentage (62.0%). If you take the entire NCAA into account, the Gators rank 282nd in field goal percentage and 334th out of 351 teams in both three-point percentage and free throw percentage. This team’s offense needs to start showing up if it would like to take down LSU and increase its chances of making the NCAA Tournament.
Television and Radio Information: LSU-Florida can be seen live on CBS, with tip-off at 1:30 P.M. The game can also be heard on the radio on ESPN Gainesville 95.3, with pre-game coverage starting at 12:55 P.M.
Injury Update: Forward Alex Murphy will be available once again for the Gators. Center Schuyler Rimmer is also expected to be available for the first time in five games after missing time with a back injury. Rimmer last played at Michigan State on December 12th.