Florida's road trip to Jacksonville for an NIT first round game against North Florida on Monday night (9 p.m., ESPNU or WatchESPN) could be a series of lessons in the importance of distance in basketball.
For one, UNF's proximity to UF probably means that the tiny UNF Arena is going to be packed with fans who want to see the Ospreys give beating the mighty Gators their best shot — though it also means the Gators were able to take a bus to Duuuuuuvaaaaal to play what would have been a home game with a functional O'Connell Center.
On another note, Florida and North Florida are almost certainly going to decide this game by how well they defend and utilize the three-point line, respectively. The Gators had been terrible at preventing opponents from taking and making threes for more than a month prior to the SEC Tournament, where they promptly limited sweet-shooting Arkansas and Texas A&M to a combined 6-for-28 performance from beyond the arc.
That sudden improvement is a big deal, given that the Ospreys are second nationally in percentage of points from threes and seventh in three-point percentage. North Florida bombs away so much — with seven different players having taken 43 or more threes this year, three topping 140 attemps, and two cresting 200 — that it's taken "Birds of Trey" as a fitting moniker.
The Gators will have to close out on essentially every Osprey: Three connect at a clip of 42 percent or better, forward Aaron Bodger leads the nation in Offensive Rating almost solely because he makes 49 percent of his threes, and none of the players in the traditional seven-man UNF rotation shoots worse than 32.6 percent from three.
Florida, meanwhile, has just three players shooting better than that mark (Dorian Finney-Smith, Devin Robinson, and Justin Leon) from deep, and ought to rely on its size advantage down low, where even Finney-Smith should have inches and pounds on Ospreys center Beau Beech. And if the Gators can even sort of slow that perimeter assault? Good things are bound to happen: UNF is 3-7 when shooting under 37.5 percent from three, with five losses by double digits, and 19-4 when it is at or above that level.
If Florida can win the perimeter, it will earn itself another lesson in the importance of distance — by which I mean another road trip.