Florida's already shut down one prolific scorer this week, holding Misissippi State's formidable power forward, Gavin Ware, to just five points in a foul-plagued loss to the Gators in Gainesville on Tuesday. Now, they'll try to do the same with Auburn's Kareem Canty, in the Tigers' trip (8 p.m., SEC Network or WatchESPN) to the O'Connell Center — and they'll have to guard the three-point line, not the tin.
Canty is arguably the nation's best three-point shooter, considering context: He's making 3.8 triples per game, second only to the absurd Buddy Hield of Oklahoma (4.1), fueling an line of 19.4 points per game that ranks tied for third in the SEC with LSU's Ben Simmons. He does it on an array of theoretically ill-advised shots that he has to get largely for himself as Auburn's point guard. And the Marshall transfer is making treys at a 40.8 percent clip with one of the greenest lights in America — just five players are shooting more threes per game than Canty's attempting, and all five of them are wings who aren't their teams' primary ballhandlers.
Couple that with an astounding 11 games with five or more made threes in 2015-16 — Michael Frazier II had 12 such outings in his Florida career — and his role in Auburn's massive upset of Kentucky last weekend, and one can see why Florida coach Mike White says Canty's film is all highlights. Assistant coach Jordan Mincy likens Canty to Gators tormentor Devan Downey of South Carolina, and, surely, Florida's hoping to avoid a repeat of the performances so many bombardiers have managed against the Gators in recent years.
Except: Auburn's not a very good team, and especially so away from home. The Tigers are just 9-8 this season, and just two of those wins — at Coastal Carolina and against New Mexico in the Diamond Head Classic — came outside of the confines of Auburn Arena. All of Auburn's eight losses have come by at least seven points, and all but one of the Tigers' losses away from home (a seven-point loss to Middle Tennessee State in Nashville) came by double figures.
And while Auburn's individual scoring numbers look good, with four Tigers, including Canty, scoring in double figures, Bruce Pearl's team is just eighth in the SEC in points per game, and sits 12th in the SEC in field goal percentage. (One guess as to who's last!) Florida's obviously not a great offensive team, though the Gators are improving, but the it still ranks seventh in the SEC in offensive efficiency; Auburn is 12th, and the difference is explained by the Gators crashing the offensive boards, making plenty of their twos, and throwing up only slightly more bricks at the free throw line than the Tigers do.
The secret to Auburn's success is a breakneck pace that ranks second only to LSU's in the SEC, one that has generated three games of more than 80 possessions and just four of fewer than 70, and strong shooting from distance by Canty and others, notably Bryce Brown and T.J. Lang. (Florida hasn't played an 80-possession game, and has played in six with fewer than 70.)
When the Tigers can run and shoot, they're going to take and make more threes than their opponents more often than not. When they get slowed down, bad things happen: They're 1-6 in games with fewer than 73 possessions this season, and have held just one opponent (Harvard) under a point per possession in games with 75 or fewer possessions.
Florida should be able to slow Auburn down, and I trust the Gators to stop the Tigers in the half court if Canty isn't set to scalding. If Florida's offense continues its recent run of good form (a point per possession in each of the last three games!), then this shouldn't be a stressful watch.
But, then, I said that about Florida's game against Mississippi State, didn't I? Certainly, I said that about Auburn's last trip to the O'Connell Center, which turned into one of the great nerve-wracking games of that season.
I've been known to be wrong.