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Bama Basketball Breakdown: Florida

The apprentice meets the master yet again, as Billy Donovan's Gators come to town

Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off of the chaotic, yet jubilant win over the Auburn Tigers on Saturday night, Anthony Grant must get his squad prepared for a quick turn-around, as the Florida Gators (10-9, 3-3 SEC) come to town. Billy Donovan's team has been the biggest disappointment in the SEC thus far this season, as they are barely over .500 overall and currently riding a three game losing streak after losing a heart-breaker in Oxford Saturday night. The Gators, who had won 24 SEC games in a row prior to the current downward trend, are suddenly looking like a long-shot to make the NCAA Tournament. To be fair, Florida lost a ton of experience and production from last season's Final Four team, but considering where this program has been under Donovan, it has been perplexing to see them look so mediocre at times. However, this team was picked to finish 2nd in the SEC in the preseason for a reason, as they have plenty of talent to go along with one of the best coaches in the country. These guys could turn it around at any point.

The Starting Five

  • PG Kasey Hill (7.7 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 4.5 APG, 0.9 SPG)
  • OG Eli Carter (7.3 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 2.1 APG, 0.9 SPG)
  • SG Michael Frazier II (13.8 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.2 SPG)
  • PF Dorian Finney-Smith (13.7 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.2 SPG)
  • C Jon Horford (6.9 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 0.9 BPG)

The starting five for the Gators has been solid this season, but each starter has underwhelmed a bit individually. At the point, Hill has shown his strong ability to make accurate passes, and his two-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio shows that he's doing much more good than bad with the ball, but he just hasn't been much of a scoring threat (39.6% FG%, 36.4% 3P%, 65.5% FT%). He's an average defender, but he doesn't create as many good defensive plays as a guy like Scottie Wilbekin used to. Carter, the transfer from Rutgers, has been solid off-guard for Florida, but he too has struggled to score from the field (39.5% FG%, 31.4% 3P%). He's actually been pretty darn good inside the arc (51.4% 2P%, 85.7% FT%), but he settles for way too many long-balls, dialing up about 3.5 3PAs per game. Carter has also been average defensively, and with both him and Hill lacking in size (both are listed below 6'3), the Gators haven't gotten much in the way of rebounds from either, averaging 4.1 RPG despite averaging about 50 MPG combined.

Frazier and Finney-Smith, the two major contributors from previous seasons who did actually return this year, have played well. However, neither has been able to really take over in their expanded roles, and with the other guys not stepping up offensively, Florida's not been a tough team to defend. With that being said, Frazier is still a pure shooter, connecting on 44.3% from the field, 41.2% from long-range, and 84.3% from the line. He's been heating up as of late, going for 27 points against Ole Miss the other night, so Alabama needs to find him and close out on him. Finney-Smith, last season's Sixth Man of the Year in the SEC, has been the Gator's best player thus far. He has shot well (48.4% FG%, 41.7% 3P%), plays strong defense (92.2 DRtg to go along with the 1.2 SPG), and is the team's leading rebounder. However, he has really struggled from the line, shooting just 56.3% on the year. Lastly, the younger Horford (yes, the brother of the former Gator and current Atlanta Hawk, Al) rounds out the starting five at center. He, much like Frazier and Finney-Smith, hasn't been able to succeed in his newly expanded role as much as many had hoped. The Michigan transfer played a nice part in the back-to-back Elite Eight Wolverines from the previous two seasons. Horford thrived, much like the other two, as a role player for the team. A back-up post player, he was able to come in and play a lot of quality minutes for Michigan, but he has really struggled offensively and on the glass as the starter for the Gators. Horford is shooting 48.4% from the field and 23.5% from three, but he has been very good from the line (87.0%). He plays really solid defense, as evidenced by his 91.5 DRtg, but he doesn't create many turnovers.

The Bench

  • G Chris Chiozza (4.2 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.6 SPG)
  • F Jacob Kurtz (4.7 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 1.2 APG, 0.8 SPG)
  • F Devin Robinson (6.2 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 0.9 APG)
  • F Alex Murphy (5.1 PPG, 2.2 RPG)
  • F Chris Walker (5.3 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.1 BPG)

Florida runs a pretty deep rotation, with ten guys averaging over 13 MPG. They are also very tall off of the bench, with only one player who is under 6'6. However, that lone player, Chiozza, is also the only guard who can spell minutes for the starters. The true freshman has been extremely adept at creating turnovers and playing solid defense, but he hasn't been asked to do much offensively, and at 6'0, he just isn't a threat to crash the boards. Kurtz, the undersized 6'6 forward, has played admirably in his role, shooting 60.7% from the field, hitting the glass pretty well, and playing good defense. However, he lacks in pure talent, and teams have been able to exploit him when they devote enough attention to him. Robinson, another true freshman, hasn't been able to adjust to the college game as quickly as was hoped. He has struggled offensively and doesn't rebound as well as a 6'8 forward should (a developing theme here for Florida). Robinson's shooting 38.5% from the field and 64.5% from the line. The talent is there for him to become a very good player, he just needs to reach that potential.

Speaking of unfulfilled potential, Chris Walker has been a major disappointment for Gator fans. A five star coming out of high school, the 6'10 sophomore was expected to be the next great Florida post player, but he hasn't lived up to that hype. He is averaging only 15.9 MPG, shooting 50.0% overall and 40.0% from the free throw line. He has been very good defensively, leading the team in blocks and defensive rating, but his inability to buy into Donovan's schemes has kept him off the floor. Murphy is another solid post player, but yet another guy who doesn't do much offensively (47.1% FG%, 63.6% FT%) or in the rebounding department.

What to Watch For

  • Can the Student Finally Stump the Master? Anthony Grant has played quite a few games against his former boss Billy Donovan, and they have not gone well, to put it generously. Grant is 0-9 against Florida since taking over at Alabama, as Donovan just seems to know how to beat his former protege. This is arguably the most beatable team Donovan has put on the court against a Grant-led Tide team. Can the Alabama coach finally pull it off?
  • Energy. Alabama is playing in their third game in only six days. Both games preceding this one have been exhausting photo-finishes; will Alabama have the legs to play with the Gators for another full 40 minutes? This will definitely be something to look for when the Crimson Tide are on defense.
Three Keys to Victory
  1. Rebounding. Alabama out-rebounded Cinmeon Bowers and Auburn 31-29 on Saturday night, with the 31st rebound being the game-winning put-back courtesy of Rodney Cooper. With that performance, Alabama is now a perfect 8-0 when out-rebounding the opposition. Florida has struggled to rebound the ball this season. This is obvious, folks.
  2. Lock Down Frazier and Finney-Smith. As has been ascertained from the roster breakdown, the Gators have struggled to score this season. The only two exceptions to that have been Frazier and Finney-Smith. Alabama needs to swarm these two guys when the Gators have the ball. If the Crimson Tide are forcing Carter to shoot threes or Hill to attack the basket, the odds swing in Alabama's favor. But if Frazier and Finney-Smith are getting good looks at the goal, expect Florida to be a lot more effective offensively.
  3. Free Throws. Another game, another big edge for Alabama in the free points department. Florida has been miserable at getting to the line and knocking down shots, sitting at 311th in the country in free throw attempts and 281st in FT% (65.9%). Alabama is 33rd in the country at 73.7%. In what should be a physical, low-scoring and closely-contested game, a +8 free throw advantage would mean a world of difference.
As is life on the NCAA Tournament bubble, Alabama is once again going into this game knowing that a loss could be pretty detrimental to the season. Florida isn't the same team they have been under Billy Donovan, and Anthony Grant's group needs to take advantage of that. With the Gators losing three games straight, they will be desperate to end the skid and maybe turn their season around. With a team as well-coached and talented as Florida, that turn-around could start at any minute, even in Coleman Coliseum.

The game will tip-off at 8:00 PM CST and will be televised on ESPN.