Florida basketball: What the Gators have to do to beat Butler

It could be one of the toughest challenges for Florida basketball to date when they take on No. 24 Butler at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis Saturday.

Florida basketball is riding a four-game win streak dating back to their run to the Charleston Classic title in South Carolina.

However, a less-than-impressive performance at home against Marshall seemed to erase all of that goodwill as the Gators were actually knocked out of the AP Top 25 following their hold-off of the Thundering Herd.

Now Florida basketball faces its toughest challenge to date when they head to Indianapolis to take on No. 24 Butler at Hinkle Arena at 12 p.m. Saturday.

The Bulldogs are ranked after winning the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City, Mo. by beating Missouri and previously unbeaten Stanford. They swept past Ole Miss Tuesday, 67-58, in Mississippi.

For the Gators, it will come down to stopping senior guard Kamar Baldwin.

Baldwin is averaging 17.5 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. The preseason first-team All-Big East selection is also on the watch lists for the Wooden Award and the Naismith Trophy.

In just 37 minutes against the Gators last season in the Battle for Atlantis, Baldwin had 19 points, six rebounds and five assists. Against Ole Miss earlier this week, Baldwin showed his dominance by scoring 31 points — including 5-for-6 from 3-point range.

The Winder, Georgia senior is shooting 46% from the field and 34.1% from beyond the arc.

The closest offensive comparison Florida basketball has is sophomore forward Keyontae Johnson. Johnson soared in the Charleston Classic, being named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

On the season, Johnson leads the Gators with an average of 13 points per game. Just behind him is graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr. and his 12.9 points per game average. Blackshear adds 8.9 rebounds per game to the Florida basketball stat line.

While Florida basketball will have to contend with Baldwin, they will also have to face their own demons.

It seemed their poor shooting was behind them in the Charleston Classic as the Gators shot nearly 50% from the field in multiple games, but against the Thundering Herd, Florida managed just 22% shooting from 3-point range on 4-for-18.

It is that poor decision-making on the offensive side of the ball that cost the Gators against Florida State and UConn — Florida basketball shot 18.2% from beyond the arc against Florida State and 25% against the Huskies.

Florida has also been living on the edge, unable to put teams away late in a game.

Against Marshall, the Gators actually trailed by eight at halftime, rallied to lead by as much as 13 only to lead by just two with 45 seconds left in the game.

Florida cannot afford to let a team like Butler around that long. If they gain the advantage, they have to find a way to keep it. That usually means avoiding poor shooting from distance.

The Gators will have to put a body — or two — on Baldwin as he can take control of a game all by himself.

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Florida will take on No. 24 Butler at 12 p.m. EST Saturday at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on CBS.

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