This weekend is another addition of the Sunshine Showdown, except on the basketball court as the Florida Gators take on rival Florida State who has won six straight meetings between the two teams.
The Gators come into the matchup at 3-0 on the road against No. 20 Florida State who beat Indiana in overtime on Wednesday. After COVID-19 issues delayed Florida’s start to the season, the Gators have showcased some solid, clean basketball and sit right outside the top 25. They’ll have an opportunity to show where they are as a team against a rival who they’ve struggled with over the past few years.
Start to the new season
Coming into the season, Head Coach Mike White was committed to picking up the tempo of his team. To start this season, the Gators have done this. According to Kenpom Analytics (subscription required) Florida ranks 21st in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency. In addition the Gators have played well defensively ranking in the top 20 in adjusted defense and turnover percentage.
The past few seasons, Florida came in to the year with high expectations, but never lived up to them. A lack of offensive pace and floor spacing plagued the Gators offense in past seasons. With the exit of Andrew Nembhard and Kerry Blackshear Jr. to last season’s team, Florida has turned to its other weapons.
Keyonate Johnson has led the way for the Gators thus far. The Preseason SEC Player of the Year is averaging just under 20 points with six rebounds on 64% shooting. If he continues this play, Johnson could legitimize himself as an NBA prospect. In addition, former five-star recruit Tre Mann has taken advantage of his expanded role this year. The second year guard is averaging just over 15 points while knocking down 5-8 threes on the short season. Mann has also shot the ball efficient shooting at a total clip of 50% with four assists per game.
#FSU HC Leonard Hamilton said the Florida Gators are a much-improved basketball team than they were a year ago. Also said the Gators depth is a lot deeper than a season ago.
— Antwan V. Staley (@antwanstaley) December 11, 2020
The Gators have gotten big minutes from their transfers this season. Colin Castleton, transfer from Michigan who received immediate eligibility this season, has inserted himself as a solid center option. Anthony Duruji is an athletic forward who has shown signs of the ability to play big minutes.
Finally, Tyree Appleby, a transfer from Cleveland State, has played big minutes off the bench for White and has even been called an “energizer bunny” by commentators for White’s squad. He scored 15 points in the Gators comeback win their first game against Army. Appleby plays fast, plays hard and usually with no fear. If he continues to make plays like this, he could be a big spark for this Gator team.
— Florida Gators Men’s Basketball (@GatorsMBK) December 7, 2020
The Gators have have a good start to their season, but so has Florida State. After also getting a late start to the season due to COVID-19 complications, they come into this game with extra motivation. In their first couple games, the Seminoles have excelled on the glass and in the paint.
M.J. Walker is a combo-guard and is their leading scorer averaging 18 points a game. In addition, center Balsa Koprivica is averaging 12.5 points and 6.5 boards in the Seminoles first two games. Also, Florida State is sixth in the NCAA in offensive rebound percentage at 42.6% and average 18 offensive rebounds a game. In addition, like the Gators, Florida State also ranks top 20 in the nation in adjusted defense and turnover percentage.
Leonard Hamilton led teams are usually known for playing a hard-nosed, team-oriented basketball. Even with talent all over the floor, they have someone who can make the big shot in big moments. Five-star freshman Scottie Barnes has shown flashes of his skill and clutch abilities.
Two rivals will hit the court this weekend and only one can come out a winner. Mike White will look to snap a long streak against his rivals while Leonard Hamilton hopes to build on the positive basketball culture he’s built in Tallahassee the last couple seasons. Tip off is set for this Saturday at 11 a.m.