The Florida Gators men’s basketball team has lost two straight games. One supposes the Gators might want to prevent that streak from growing to three straight losses.
It’s not that this LSU team lacks talent. Antonio Blakeney is still more or less the same gifted scorer he was when he left the Sunshine State as a five-star prospect, spurning Kentucky to sign with Johnny Jones. Duop Reath, a South Sudanian big man who came to basketball through Australia, has been a diamond for the Tigers since being excavated from the rough of a Texas JUCO. Brandon Sampson scores almost 11 points a game, giving Jones three double-digit scorers even without the dismissed Craig Victor.
It’s just that the talent has — in a recurring theme under Jones — lagged behind where it could be when molded into a team.
LSU scores nearly 60 percent of its points on twos, an inefficient use of rules that make one type of shot worth one point more than the other — but it may actually just be how this team has to play, as it shoots under 35 percent from three and a miserable 64 percent from the foul line. (Blakeney, Sampson, and Jalyn Patterson are all averaging more than three trey attempts per contest; none shoots better than Blakeney’s 36.2 percent from the arc.) Reath is a fine shot-blocker and a good offensive rebounder — his skills at both are most of why LSU’s only defensive strength is shot blocking, and its only offensive strength is offensive rebounding — but Patterson, nearly a foot shorter, is almost as proficient on the defensive glass.
LSU is 9-9 overall, but 1-6 in SEC play. (Its one SEC win is over an even more rudderless Missouri squad that has zero victories over the KenPom top 250 in 2016-17, a staggering feat for a power-conference program.) The Tigers beat a good Houston team, yes, but that win came with Victor in the fold, and turned on a spate of good shooting that allowed the high-octane Tigers to rev past Kelvin Sampson’s glaciated Cougars. Apart from that, LSU’s best win is probably one over Canyon Barry’s old school, College of Charleston — and that game featured Victor’s best performance of the year.
Without him, LSU has gone from a middling SEC team to a poor one, and there’s nothing like Vanderbilt’s three-point shooting to point to as a potential game-swinging threat for the Gators in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on this Wednesday night.
What Florida will have to do in this game to avoid having its NCAA Tournament stock threatened is merely take care of business, and some too-tame Tigers.