On Tuesday night, the Gators have the opportunity to win seven straight SEC games for the first time since the 2013-2014 season. Florida will face off against Auburn this week in the first matchup between the two teams this season. The game will be the first of the Gators’ final six games of the regular season. Of those contests, only two of them will come at home at Exactech Arena. The Tigers are a solid 16-9 on the season, but only 5-7 in the conference. They need a win vs. Florida if they want any shot to improve their weak NCAA Tournament resume. Florida head coach Mike White gave his preview of the Auburn Tigers on Monday afternoon.
Auburn’s top three scorers are all freshmen and part of a stellar recruiting class put together by the sly Bruce Pearl. Two of those freshmen are Class of 2016 five-star guards in Mustapha Heron and Jared Harper. The other is Danjel Purifoy, who was the 66th ranked player of the 2015 recruiting class, but decided to redshirt last season.
Mustapha Heron is Mr. Do-It-All for the Tigers and a player the Gators must pay close attention to on defense. Heron can do it all from scoring in close, knocking down shots from beyond the arc and even getting offensive boards. He’s averaging 15.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and plays an average of 27.8 minutes per game. Heron is shooting 42.9% from the floor and 43.4% from downtown. He’s had at least 16 points and six rebounds in three of his last five games. Mike White praised Heron’s ability to do it all.
Next up is Jared Harper, who’s body type is like that of Kasey Hill’s. He’s 5’10” and 165 pound of lean muscle. Harper is recording 12.3 points and 1.2 steals per game, while shooting 40.8% from the field. Despite a strong season, he’s struggled mightily in the team’s last two games, notching only 12 total points on 3-15 shooting (20%).
The last of the diaper-dandies is Danjel Purifoy, who unlike the other two, isn’t a true freshman. Purifoy is the only forward of the three, standing at 6’7″ and 230 pounds. He’s averaging 11.5 points and 4.8 rebounds per contest. Purifoy is lethal at the foul line, knocking down 88.2% of his free throws. He’s had three, 20+ point games this season, but none have come in conference play.
Like the Gators, Auburn loves to play the game quick, speeding up the tempo of almost every matchup they play in. The Tigers rank 43rd in the nation in steals per game (7.7 SPG) and 30th in the NCAA in turnovers forced per game (15.7). Unfortunately for them, Florida one-ups them in all of their best categories, ranking t-26th in turnovers forced per game (15.9), t-25th in steals per game (8.1) and 9th in turnover margin (+4.2). Coach White gave his opinion on how the Tigers’ try to control the tempo of the game. He also talked about how his team has been against the zone lately, and how they can improve.
Better Ball Movement
In the Gators’ past six games, they’ve recorded 99 total assists. In the six games before that, they had 67 assists. Moving without the ball and the ability to knock down the open shot has done wonders for Florida’s offense. Of those 99 assists, Chris Chiozza has had 39 of them, and is playing the best basketball of his UF career. Coach White discussed UF’s ball movement as of late.
Despite recording few assists, John Egbunu has been better as of late in committing less turnovers. In the team’s most recent 71-62 victory over Texas A&M, Egbunu finished with a double-double of 11 points, 10 rebounds and 0 turnovers. White said on Monday that he wished Egbunu played every game like he did Saturday’s.
By the Numbers
In KenPom’s newest efficiency ratings, the Gators remain at 6th in the nation. They’ve improved to 5th in the country in defensive efficiency and dropped a spot to 22nd in offensive efficiency. Despite their high turnover numbers, the Tigers only rank 98th in defensive efficiency, but rank a little higher in offensive efficiency, coming in at 78th. Auburn’s metrics aren’t great, but they’re t-43rd in the country in points per game, averaging 80 per contest.
In the newest AP Poll, Florida has jumped two spots, and now rank 15th in the nation. Behind them are Purdue, FSU, Cincinnati, SMU, Creighton, South Carolina, St. Mary’s, Maryland, Butler and Notre Dame. Directly in front of them are Duke, Kentucky and Virginia. In Joe Lunardi’s newest Bracketology, the Gators are a 3-seed, taking on Bucknell in Orlando in the Southern region. The SEC also lost a team in the latest bracket, now only sneaking in four squads to the big dance.
How to Watch and Listen
Tuesday night’s game tips off at 7 p.m. and can be seen on the SEC Network with Adam Amin, Jon Sundvold and Kris Budden on the call. As always, you can listen to the game on the Gator IMG Sports Network with Mick Hubert and Bill Koss on the call.
— GatorVision (@GatorVisionTV) February 13, 2017