On Saturday afternoon, the Florida Gators will have the opportunity to pull off their first eight-game winning streak of the season as they take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs. The two teams are in very different standing coming into the weekend’s match-up. The Gators are atop the SEC, tied with Kentucky for first place in the Southeastern Conference. On the flip side, the Bulldogs are fourth to last in the conference with a putrid 5-8 record in conference play.
MSU has lost five of their last six games, while UF continues to roll down the stretch. John Egbunu’s injury deals a major blow to the Gators on defense and on the boards, but it won’t be the end of the world for Florida. Of Mississippi State’s top seven scorers, only one of them is over 6’7″. Florida Head Coach Mike White discussed Egbunu’s injury at Friday’s press conference.
Can’t Spell Mississippi State without Q
While the above headline is clearly both factually and linguistically incorrect, the Bulldogs offense completely revolves around the 6’4″, 205-pound sophomore guard from Canton, MS. Quinndary Weatherspoon is averaging 16.7 points per game, which ranks fifth in the SEC, along with 5 rebounds and 1.7 steals per contest. He’s been extremely efficient this season, sinking 45.5 percent of his shots, and 39.6 percent of his attempts from downtown. Weatherspoon has scored in double-digits in all but four games this season and has a team-leading eight 20+ point contests. While he’s coming off of one of his more average games this season, notching 14 points and six rebounds on 5-of-13 shooting, Weatherspoon is still the linchpin of the Bulldogs’ offense. Mike White praised how solid off an overall player Weatherspoon is on Friday.
Speedy and Small
Lamar Peters and I.J. Ready may be small, but they’re certainly talented on the hardwood. Lamar Peters is similar to Kasey Hill in terms of how explosive he is. The freshman has three fewer years of experience than the Gators’ floor general but is still averaging 12 points and 3.6 assists per game. He’s had at least 14 points in three of his last five games and is knocking down 40 percent of his three-pointers and 79 percent of his free throws.
I.J. is more game “Ready” than Peters and is the only senior on the Bulldogs. He’s missed four of the team’s past five games with a back injury, but played 22 minutes in the team’s most recent contest vs. Georgia, scoring only four points. When healthy, Ready is a defensive animal, averaging 1.8 steals per game, which ranks fifth in the SEC. He also leads the team in assists per game, recording 4.5 dimes per contest, while scoring 8.4 points per game.
Mississippi State is the third-best three-point shooting team in the SEC, knocking down 36.9 percent of their attempts from long range. They also take the third most three-pointers in the conference, attempting 22 per contest. All three of the Bulldogs’ top scorers shoot above 39 percent from beyond the arc. The ‘Dogs best three-point shooter as of late has been 6’7″ freshman guard Mario Kegler. He’s knocked down 64.7 percent of his shots from downtown in the past four games, scoring at least 14 points in each of those contests.
The Lone Bigman
As mentioned before, only one of Mississippi State’s top seven scorers is taller than 6’8″. The aforementioned player would be Aric Holman, the Bulldogs’ 6’10” frontcourt stud. MSU plays their best when Holman plays well. Mississippi State’s longest win streak during the SEC season is three. That three-game stretch featured Holman’s only double-digit scoring games of the in-conference season. He scored 17, 13 and 11 points in wins over LSU, Arkansas, and Texas A&M. He’s the team’s leading rebounder, grabbing 6.2 boards per game, and is third in the SEC in blocks per game, with 2.1 swats per contest. He’s only had 16 rebounds in the team’s past three games but may be a big factor in Saturday’s game as the Gators won’t have John Egbunu for just the third time this year. Coach White gave his view of the Bulldogs’ best big man on Friday.
John Egbunu tore his ACL vs. Auburn and is officially out for the season. That’s old news for Mike White and Co. at this point, and something the Gators will have to put in the back of their mind. Florida loses their leading rebounder and will need to get more production from guys like Kevarrius Hayes, Schuyler Rimmer, Gorjok Gak, Keith Stone and even Justin Leon. Mike White talked on Friday afternoon about replacing John Egbunu, what Kevarrius Hayes will need to do, and discussed possible small ball lineups. Kasey Hill also gave his take on dealing with Egbunu’s injury and his impression of the team’s small-ball lineup.
Where Do The Gators Excel Nationally?
Florida now ranks 11th in total free throws made (483), 11th in turnover margin (+4.0), 15th in scoring margin (+14),t-15th in the nation in FT attempts (662), t-28th in steals per game (8.1 SPG), 30th in turnovers forced per game (15.69 TFPG), 32nd in the nation in BPG (5.0 BPG), 32nd in 3PFG% Defense (31.3%), t-40th in the nation in PPG (80.4 PPG), 45th in nation in FG% Defense (40.9%) and 52nd in PPG allowed (66.4). The Gators also commit the least amount of turnovers per game in the SEC (11.7).
Analytics and Bracketology
Florida now ranks 18th in offensive and 5th in defensive efficiency, per KenPom. In Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology, Florida is still a 3-seed, but this time would take on the Furman Paladins of the SoCon in Orlando. In the R32, they would take on the winner of Notre Dame-Kansas State. The SEC, per Lunardi, still only has four teams in the big dance in Kentucky, Florida, South Carolina and Arkansas. Tennesssee, though, has now made Lunardi’s first four out.
How to Watch and Listen
Saturday’s game tips off at 2 p.m. in Starkville and can be seen on ESPN with Beth Mowins and Dalen Cuff on the call. You can listen to the game as always on the Gator IMG Sports Network with Mick Hubert and Bill Koss on the call.
You can also take a listen to our interview with Michael Okauru below, a member of the Gators’ recruiting Class of 2017.