Fresh off an absolute destruction of South Carolina on Wednesday, the fourth ranked Florida Gators (17-2) step up considerably in competition tonight against #16 Ole Miss (17-3) hoping to extend their nine game win streak and move to 8-0 in the SEC.
Ole Miss is coming off a tough loss to Kentucky, their first conference loss of the season.
The Rebels invade the O’Dome led by controversial guard Marshall Henderson, the SEC’s leading scorer at 19.3 points per game and the one guy that opposing fans love to hate. He has made quite a name for himself by his continuous taunting of opposing fans and players and even got into an argument with head coach Andy Kennedy during the Kentucky game. It’s not his circus act though that concerns Gator head coach Billy Donovan. It’s his shooting ability.
“I think he’s got great feet in terms of coming off screens,” Donovan said. “He can get his feet down, get them set. He’s got really, really good speed to come off screens. He’s got the ability to get himself squared up pretty quickly. He can make tough shots, he can make challenged shots. He gets to the free throw line quite a bit. He’s got the ability to put the ball on the floor. He’s a good player, he’s an all-around good player.’
As a team, the Rebels are currently 5th in the nation in scoring at 80 points per game and 12th in rebounding at 41.2 per game. The Gators, on the other hand, counter with the nation’s 2nd ranked defense giving up only 50.4 ppg, and the 2nd ranked team in scoring margin as well at 23.4 points per game. They are also currently 8th in the country in rebounding margin at plus 8.3 per game.
Ole Miss has scored less than 70 points only four times while the Gators have not allowed any opponent to score over 70 all season. The Gator defense has simply been suffocating all season but especially so in conference. So what’s the secret of their tough defense?
“We work on defense every single day and everybody has improved since last year,” forward Will Yeguete said. “We just stay consistent. We keep guarding teams every single time, possession after possession.”
Point guard Scottie Wilbekin and Yeguete are the catalysts for this brand of tough, grind it out defense but it’s a team effort that makes it work so well.
“I think it starts with the guards,” Yeguete saind. “Scottie puts a lot of pressure on the point guards. Mike is really good rebounding, us bigs do a better job guarding the pick and rolls.”
“We’re playing a better team defense than we did last year.”
The Rebels have good size inside 6’9 Reginald Bucker and 6’7 240 pound Murphy Holloway and play a physical brand of basketball in the post and will likely give the Gators a run for their money in this one.
“It’s going to be a physical game,” Yeguete said. “Holloway and Buckner are all a really good size and I think it’s going to be a good challenge for us.”
Patric Young, Erik Murphy, and Will Yeguete will certainly need to play effectively in the post stopping drives and limiting second chance opportunities, something they excelled at against South Carolina. Casey Prather, who returned to action late in the Carolina game for the first time since suffering a high ankle sprain against LSU will hopefully be available for more minutes and could provide valuable depth in the post as well.
The key for the Gators in stopping Ole Miss will be guarding the pick and roll effectively, controlling the boards, and defending the three point line especially when Marshall Henderson gets the ball.
So far this season the Gator’s Scottie Wilbekin, and the help defense, has shut down every good shooter they’ve faced and they will certainly need a similar performance against Ole Miss if they hope to keep their win streak in tact.
If there is a team that may finally break the 70 point mark against the Gators, the Rebels may very well be it, but look for the Gators to come in focused and prepared as they have every game since the loss to Kansas State ten games ago.
All season the question has been is this Gator team really this good or is their competition somewhat overrated? They should certainly find out tonight just how good they are and look to be in a 40 minute dogfight with a team that should compete for the SEC title this season along with the Gators and Kentucky.
Tip off for tonight’s game from the O’Connell Center is scheduled for 7 pm eastern and the game will be broadcast live on ESPNU. Follow me @HailFloridaHail for live updates this evening and check back for postgame coverage right here.