College Gameday is in town and Lexington has been filled with a basketball buzz that hasn’t really been felt so far this season. The Florida Gators have been hot as a pistol lately, having won seven of their last eight games. Second to only the great Duke-North Carolina rivalry, these Kentucky vs Florida match ups are one of the most popular choices for College Gameday.
Sitting at 13-5, as well as 5-1 in the Southeastern Conference, the Gators looked like a team with Final Four potential in the first part of the season. However, losing a double-digit lead late in the game to Duke, followed by two more losses in a row to Florida State and Loyola-Chicago, have knocked Florida out of the top 25 rankings. Head Coach Mike White has been without starting center John Egbunu for all but 1 minute of this season. Due to that injury, the Gators have turned into a small-ball team that lives and dies with quick possessions and the three point shot.
Let’s take a look at the potential starting lineup for Florida today. But one thing to keep in mind is that sixth man, Jalen Hudson is actually the leading scorer and one of the best players on this Gator squad, despite starting less than half the games this season. He’s averaging 16.5 points and 4 rebounds, while shooting 42.6% from three point land.
#4 Egor Koulechov, Senior Guard, 6’5″
Egor Koulechov utilized the graduate transfer rule to transfer from Rice to Florida for one final season of eligibility. One of the best scorers in the conference last year at 18.2 points per game, he was named to the 2017 First-Team All-Conference USA. He’s one of three guards in the starting lineup for the Gators.
The Volgograd, Russia native has been a fantastic addition for Coach White, and is the most valuable player thus far for Florida. He’s scoring 15.1 points per game and pulling down a team high 7.1 rebounds per game. He’s continued his hot shooting from his time at Rice, shooting 41.5% from three this season, as well as 94.1% from the free throw line.
In Florida’s three-guard starting lineup, Koulechov actually most closely resembles the small forward position, pitting him in a match up with Kevin Knox. Knox’s struggles on the defensive end are evident, and he’ll have to be on top of his game to not let Koulechov get hot early. Koulechov brings the experience that Knox lacks, but Knox will have a large size advantage of 4 inches that should be utilized to get the ball near the lane and shoot over the smaller defender.
#11 Chris Chiozza, Senior Guard, 6’0″
Chris Chiozza is probably most famous for hitting the running, buzzer beating three to knock off Wisconsin in last season’s NCAA Tournament to send the Gators to the Elite 8. On top of that, he was the leader in the SEC with the best assist to turnover ratio last year. Despite not starting a single game last season, Chiozza has started a total of 26 games over his career entering this season.
The senior from Memphis, Tennessee is the quarterback of the offense for Florida, with experience as the primary ball handler. He’s leading the team and is only one total assist from being tied for the lead in the SEC for assists per game at 5.9. He’s scoring 12.3 points and pulling down 4.2 boards as well. A solid all-around player, Chiozza leads the team on the defensive end with 2.1 steals per game, while shooting 40.7% from three and 89.1% from the charity stripe.
Starting at the point, Chiozza will match up with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in another tough match up for Kentucky’s new starting guard. With Quade Green only available for limited minutes tonight, Gilgeous-Alexander is in for another long night of being hounded by a good defender and playing most of the game. Hopefully SGA can get back on track after a rough outing at South Carolina.
#5 KeVaughn Allen, Junior Guard, 6’2″
KeVaughn Allen returns for Mike White this season and is now a three-year starter in this Florida program. He’s been a solid contributor in all three seasons for the Gators, starting in his freshman year when he was the fourth highest scoring freshman in Florida basketball history. He’s been solid against the Cats in the past, scoring 24 points with 5 made threes in one of the games last year.
Allen is an explosive athlete who can fill it up, as evidenced by his 28 points with 6 made threes in Florida’s most recent win over Arkansas. Currently, he’s scoring 11.3 points, grabbing 2.4 boards, and dishing out 2.3 assists per game. His three point percentage has actually dropped from last season, but he’s still shooting 33.3% from deep and hitting 90.9% of his free throws.
At the shooting guard position, Allen draws a match up with Hamidou Diallo. For Cats fans, frustration with Diallo’s play has been mounting. He’s either trying to do too much on offense or getting blown by on defense lately, not to mention doing some chirping back at Coach Cal while he’s being coached. If Diallo doesn’t get his act together today, Allen could reap the benefits with a big day.
#25 Keith Stone, Sophomore Forward, 6’8″
Keith Stone has made a big jump from his first season in Gainesville to his sophomore season this year. Down the stretch last season, Stone wasn’t playing big minutes for Mike White, but script has been flipped this year, as he’s started 16 of 18 games thus far. The Florida native was ranked as a four-star prospect coming out of high school.
The sophomore has the ability to stretch the floor, despite being one of the bigger players in the starting lineup for the Gators. He’s currently giving Florida 8.1 points, 4 rebounds, and 0.7 blocks per contest. Like the first three starters, Stone can knock down shots on the perimeter, hitting 48.8% of his threes on the year.
Stone plays the stretch four position at 6’8″ and 245 pound. He’ll be defended by Kentucky’ PJ Washington for the most part tonight. Washington showed flashes of his potential over the last two to three weeks, but didn’t play great at South Carolina, so today may be a bounce back effort. His toughness and leadership is something Kentucky needs to be a better overall team.
#13 Kevarrius Hayes, Junior Forward, 6’9″
Kevarrius Hayes is another Florida native in the starting lineup for Mike White. He’s been the person to step into the starting lineup both this year and last year when John Egbunu has been down with injuries. Hayes is one of only four Gator players ever to block 60 shots in a season.
A little break for the Cats here, as Hayes isn’t an outside threat like the rest of the starting lineup. He’s the post presence for the Gators, scoring 5.2 points, pulling down 5.2 rebounds, and blocking a team high 2.3 shots per game, good enough for fourth in the SEC. Hayes struggles with shooting, as he’s hit just 59% from the free throw line this year.
At only 6’9″ and 225 pounds, Hayes is the largest starter for the Gators this season. Kentucky center Nick Richards has 2 inches and 20 pounds on the junior forward. Richards played well for most of Kentucky’s loss at South Carolina, but his big missed dunk is what sticks out in everyone’s mind in that game.
Go Cats. Beat Gators.