The 23-point loss to Kentucky was demoralizing beyond the end result, in that it both highlighted some already apparent weaknesses and brought to view some emerging ones. Tuesday’s contest against Florida, ranked 13th in KenPom, will be far from an easy chance at a bounce-back win.
After dropping losses to top 20 teams in Duke, Gonzaga, and Florida State, the Gators have begun to find their footing, coming off a decisive road win in Fayetteville.
The Gators boast one the most efficient defenses in the SEC, while having played the fourth toughest schedule in Division 1 in terms of opposing offenses. Unlike the Rebels, Florida specializes in slowing the game down, ranking 181st in adjusted tempo. When you do try to speed things up, they excel at getting back on defense and preventing shots in transition from even occurring. No one on the roster averages more than 15 points per game, so shutting down one single player doesn’t necessarily do much for Andy Kennedy and company.
Mike White’s squad doesn’t have any particularly glaring flaws for drawing a coherent road map to an upset, so Ole Miss will have to approach them with caution.
Florida’s defense is balanced in just about every regard.
To even have a chance against Kentucky, the Rebels needed to push the pace offensively, while somehow preventing quick buckets on the other end of the floor. This clearly backfired in a big way, as they put up an eFG of just 38 percent in transition.
It won’t be any easier on Tuesday, as the ultra-athletic Gators have managed to somehow defend better in transition than in halfcourt in terms of eFG. While this trend likely won’t continue through the entire season, the Rebels should probably pick their spots in terms of when to play aggressively.
As far as shot distribution goes, Florida still doesn’t have a defensive weak spot. They’ve been great at forcing mid-range jumpers and limiting quality shots from beyond the arc. On a per-possession basis, they give up the most points near the rim, but still only allow 56 percent of those shots to go in. The anchor of the Gator D has been 6’11 center John Egbunu, who leads the team in defensive box plus-minus and has made up about a third of the team’s blocks on his own. He’s been slowed the last couple weeks by a hamstring strain, but with the desultory pace of the holidays, it’ll be interesting to see just how many minutes he can put in.
It was frustrating to see Rasheed Brooks attempt more three-pointers than Deandre Burnett and Cullen Neal combined against Kentucky, but the normally open looks simply weren’t there. Needless to say, Ole Miss will have to take what’s given to them.
Ole Miss has to minimize defensive possessions in transition.
On the season, just 28 percent of initial shot attempts against the Rebels have come in transition. The Wildcats, on the other hand, took nearly 45 percent of their shots in these situations, and 42 of their 99 points came in the first ten seconds of a possession. They posed a test for Ole Miss for all the obvious reasons, but a handful of baskets seemed to be the result of mental errors, either from allowing avoidable steals or from failing to get back after a missed shot.
Florida’s a middling offense when it comes to efficiency in transition, but they’re likely to outperform their season average against the Rebels, who hold the dubious honor of second worst transition defense in the SEC. An immediate fix to this issue shouldn’t be expected, so their best hope is to force the Gators deeper into the shot clock. Their half-court defense has been surprisingly good, dropping to an eFG of 46 percent when more than 10 seconds into a possession.
When looking at the full season’s stats, there’s not a high volume shooter on Florida’s roster similar to the Wildcats’ Malik Monk, so there’s reason to believe they may not get torched from deep this time. Still, sophomore guard KeVaughn Allen drilled five of his nine three-point attempts against Arkansas last Thursday. Ole Miss will need to respect the Gators’ best perimeter shooters, while also holding them under their season average of 66 percent shooting near the rim.
It’s not out of the question for the Rebels to stop giving up lofty point totals soon, provided they’re able to slow things down and force half-court possessions for the opposing offense. Tuesday night, they’ll get another shot at just that.