The Florida Gators (16-9, 8-4) host the Arkansas Razorbacks (16-9, 4-8) tonight at 7. Florida looks for its ninth conference win before facing a difficult closing stretch that includes Kentucky twice.
Arkansas enters tonight’s matchup on a four game losing streak, coming off a last-second loss to Mississippi State. The Gators carry a 9-3 home record into tonight’s game, while Arkansas is 4-5 on the road this season.
Class of 2019 five-star recruit, Scottie Lewis, is Florida’s only freshman currently averaging over 20 minutes per game. When asked about the recent lack of production from Omar Payne, Florida head coach, Mike White, admitted Payne “got a little complacent” and “lost a little bit of hunger” after the Auburn game, in which he recorded his first career double-double. White said that it often “takes younger guys some time” to completely buy in and bring the same energy to work every day.
White credited graduate transfer, Kerry Blackshear, for setting a great example for the underclassmen as a “mature, tough-minded guy” who has “figured it out.” Coach White did, however, note that Payne has recently had “more high-level practices.” Sophomore guard Andrew Nembhard said the team feeds off Payne’s energy. Nembhard claimed the Gators are at their best when Omar is “playing as hard as possible every possession” and “grabbing offensive rebounds.”
Florida’s Offensive Improvements
When asked about the progress Florida has made spacing the floor, Mike White said the Gators “do a lot of passing drills in practice” due to the team’s struggles in the category. White admitted that he would not consider Florida in the “good category as far as team passing.” He did, however, claim the Gators have “two high level passers in [Andrew] Nembhard and [Kerry] Blackshear and the rest [of the team] are improving.” Fortunately for Florida, the team’s “buy-in is at its highest point probably right now” according to Nembhard.
As far as Florida’s shot selection goes, Mike White said despite “a few F shots” in the game against Vanderbilt, the Gators had their “best shot selection of the year” in the game prior versus Texas A&M. Moreover, White mentioned Noah Locke’s improvement in “moving without the basketball”, which has helped him shoot a team-leading 43.7% from beyond the arc.
Preparing for Arkansas
Mike White made it clear that Florida is focusing its preparation for tonight’s game on Arkansas’ star guard, Mason Jones. Jones leads the SEC in scoring with 20.8 points per game and is coming off a 38-point game. Coach White called the former junior college player “a handful” to defend, especially because he “lives at the line.” Jones currently leads the nation in both free throw attempts and makes.
Aside from the Razorbacks’ formidable guard play, Arkansas’ frontcourt is “as quick and fast as any frontcourt” in the SEC according to Mike White. When asked about Arkansas’ offensive scheme, Keyontae Johnson said the Razorbacks “do a lot of isos” and “try to find the weak link in the defense.” Johnson predicted Arkansas to “go after one of [Florida’s] freshman.” Andrew Nembhard compared Arkansas’ offensive style to that of Nevada’s, whom the Gators defeated in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last year.
Despite the team’s vast improvement from the beginning of the season, Mike White said the Gators have a “ways to go” if they want to “make a lot of noise here at the end of the season.” In his current bracket predictions, Joe Lunardi projects the Gators as a #9 seed in the NCAA tournament. With that said, Florida is going to need some wins down the stretch in order to secure its tournament bid.