Tomorrow night, Kentucky will put their 5-game win streak on the line when they take on 7th ranked Florida. This series hasn’t been kind to Billy Donovan’s Gators in recent seasons as Kentucky has taken 7 of the past 8 match-ups. While Kentucky holds the recent edge, this season appears to be a different story. Florida enters tomorrow night’s contest with a 19-3 overall record and only one loss in SEC play. Those records are not inflated due to weak competition either; the Gators are ranked 2nd in Jeff Sagarin’s computer ratings and also find themselves in 1st place in Ken Pomeroy’s Ratings by a significant margin. Tomorrow’s game, on paper, appears to be the Wildcats’ toughest game thus far, but with the risk of losing comes the reward of victory. If Calipari and his squad can march down to Gainesville and earn a victory, the Cats will see a massive boost to their NCAA Tournament rÃ©sumÃ©. Easier said then done, though.
Florida’s offense is ranked 3rd nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency according to Kenpom.com, and they’ve been able to accomplish this with tremendous balance. Currently, the Gators have four players who are averaging over 10-points per game, while one other is hovering at 9.3. The numbers indicate that all players are equally important to the Gators, but the offense starts with 6-foot-2 inch senior, Kenny Boynton.
On the season, Boynton is averaging 13.1 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game. While those numbers are excellent, his percentages are even more impressive. Currently, he’s connecting on 33.6% of threes, 53% of twos, and 83% of his free throw attempts. Also, in what seems to be a trend for Kentucky’s recent opponents, Boynton is among the nation’s best in drawing fouls while staying out of foul trouble himself. He currently draws 3.4 fouls per-40 minutes while only being whistled for 1.1 per-40. If Kentucky plans on pulling the upset tomorrow, our guards must stick to Boynton on defense.
As a team, the Florida offense revolves around two things; perimeter shooting and offensive rebounding. Billy Donovan’s squads have built a reputation on their perimeter prowess over the years, and this year is no different. Currently, the Gators are connecting on 38.8% of perimeter attempts, placing them 22nd nationally. The biggest threats from beyond the arc are 6-foot-10 Erik Murphy and 6-foot-4 Michael Frazier who connect on 49% and 47% of attempts respectively. Additionally, four other players are sinking over 33% of three point attempts. Knowing this, it’ll take a complete team effort in shutting down Florida’s sharpshooters. The other important aspect of the Gator offense is offensive rebounding. Donovan’s squad currently ranks 50th nationally in offensive rebound percentage, pulling down 36.3% of misses. This is primarily accomplished by the 6-foot-7, 250 pound monster, Patric Young, who takes down 2.7 per game. Not only does he obtain 13.6% (62nd nationally) of team misses, but as a result, he’s able to connect on 61.4% of his twos. Even when the Gators aren’t connecting from deep, Young will be there to clean up the mess.
Florida’s defense hasn’t exactly been excellent in recent years. In fact, it has been remarkably average since Joakim Noah and company departed in 2007. But that’s not the case this season. The Gators are ranked 2nd in adjusted defensive efficiency according to Kenpom.com, their highest ranking ever in that category. Much like their offense, it’s balance that allows Florida to be so efficient. While they’re certainly balanced, their defense starts with the muscle inside. Patric Young and Erik Murphy are the leading shot blockers at 1.7 and .7 per game respectively, but don’t let those low numbers fool you. Their raw numbers are affected by their “low” minute totals (both average 26 minutes per game). When considering block percentage, a stat that measures time played, blocks, and opponent shot attempts, Young swats 7.7% of opponent twos (79th nationally) and Murphy rejects 3.3% (389th). The length these two provide forces Florida’s opponents to shoot a minuscule 39.8% from the interior (2nd nationally). Unlike recent seasons, the Gators are turning opponents over at a high rate. As it currently stands, Florida has three players averaging over one steal per game, with three others hovering around that threshold. Because of this, they rank 33rd nationally in turnover percentage. Given Kentucky’s recent turnover woes, Florida’s activeness on defense may prove problematic.
It’s anyone’s guess as to which Kentucky team shows up tomorrow. Will it be the team who blasted Ole Miss, the team who went ice cold against Alabama, or some other variation? While tomorrow’s game is arguably the most difficult of the season, don’t forget that one of Florida’s best defenders, Will Yeguete, is out for the remainder of the regular season with a knee injury. The 6-foot-7 forward may have only averaged 6 points, but he pulled down 6.3 rebounds and forced over one steal per game. This was crutial to their interior defense. Even though the Gators are without Yeguete, they’re still an elite level team. Given this, it’s difficult to envision a scenario in which Kentucky can pull of the road upset over an 11-point favorite.