The Florida Gators men’s basketball team has a chance to move to 5-0 in SEC play on this Saturday (noon, ESPN2 or WatchESPN) against Georgia.
To do that, the Gators will probably need to contain Yante Maten.
The Bulldogs’ junior forward is not only Mark Fox’s best player, but arguably one of the most improved players in America — even though his scoring average has only ticked up from 16.5 to 19.9 points per game from last year to this one. That’s because his improvements are hard to see from raw numbers: Maten’s shooting percentage inside the arc has shot up 7.5 percent, though his overall shooting percentage is only up about five points, his offensive rebounding rate is marginally improved, and he’s become a consistent perimeter threat, firing about two threes per game after shooting only 15 in all of 2015-16.
And Maten’s had to be that good for Georgia to improve. Pesky point guard J.J. Frazier, who has forever been what Erving Walker would have been on a team with far fewer options than Walker had at Florida, is Maten’s best sidekick — but his scoring and assist numbers are slightly off his junior year’s output, and he’s been far less efficient from distance than usual, shooting just better than 30 percent from three, which is worse, even, than he did as a freshman. Slashing wing Juwan Parker averages more shots than points. Derek Ogbeide is the only other Georgia player putting up more than 5.5 points per game.
But offense isn’t Georgia’s forte: Defense, and specifically shot defense, is. Georgia is No. 31 in three-point percentage allowed, and No. 41 in two-point percentage allowed, and while the former stat is significantly helped by Georgia’s last three foes going an unfathomably poor 13-for-72 from range, the latter is not a fluke. Maten and Ogbeide both block more than five percent of the shots taken while they’re on the floor, too.
Florida should be able to turn the Dawgs over, and could have the sort of clean game that tends to make its sometimes disjointed half-court offense more efficient. And even if Maten may be the best player on the floor, Florida could have the second- through fifth-best players on the court at any given time.