It’s been six years since Florida beat Florida State in men’s basketball.
But it’s really only been three since the Seminoles started beating up on the Gators — and that’s the trend Mike White’s team will look to reverse on Saturday in Tallahassee (11 a.m., ESPNU or WatchESPN).
In those first three losses of the six-game slide, Florida was entirely in the games until the final whistle. Jacob Kurtz’s errant own-goal tip-in gave the Seminoles a two-point win in 2014; a furious late rally fell just two points short in 2015; and another rally in 2016 still left FSU with a five-point win.
The last three years? FSU by 17, 21, and a very deceptive 12, all in games that saw Florida trail by double digits throughout the second half.
And that has something to do with FSU ascending to the national power level in men’s basketball, with Leonard Hamilton finally getting enough skilled talent to augment his always-formidable defenses comprised entirely of 15 players that could be mistaken for trees, and with FSU being a bad matchup for typically undersized Florida lineups because of a significant height differential.
But it also has a lot to do with FSU simply imposing its will on the Gators in those games. Florida committed 16 or more turnovers in all three, with Chris Chiozza and Andrew Nembhard struggling with taller (Chiozza) and quicker (Nembhard) defenders; the Seminoles’ length has also stymied Florida’s shooting, as the Gators are just 16-for-71 from three in those three contests. Carelessness with the basketball plays right into the hands — literally — of FSU teams that rely on athleticism to generate their offense thanks largely to the lack of a true point guard who can guide them in the half court.
And this year’s team seems to be even more acutely in need of transition and semi-transition opportunities to score. FSU harassed North Florida into 24 turnovers and thrashed the Ospreys by 28 despite 11 made threes thanks to all of those transition opportunities, but needed overtime to edge Indiana — which shot poorly — thanks to just 14 turnovers.
This FSU team also seems vulnerable from deep. While the Hoosiers sank just four of 15 threes, they’re a poor-shooting team overall; North Florida is notoriously three-happy, and generated 27 threes against a Seminoles lineup that is still plenty long, which should be a good sign for Tre Mann and Noah Locke.
FSU is also yet to get anything in particular untracked on offense. Highly-touted freshman Scottie Barnes made the game-winning floated layup to beat Indiana, but is shooting 33 percent from the field this year; Raiquan Gray, a Draymond Green-style tweener, has been effective inside but also made just one of four threes. The fewer chances Florida concedes on the offensive glass to a team that cleans up its misses exceptionally well (FSU’s 42.9 percent Offensive Rebound Rate is third nationally), the better Florida’s chances of keeping the Seminoles from finding something consistently productive on the offensive end.
But this is, even with Florida’s talent seeming jelling and its offensive and defensive schemes cohering, a game that FSU is rightly favored in: The Donald Tucker Center has become a fortress for the Seminoles, and the bullies on the block stay in charge until someone knocks them off.
Florida will have a chance to do that — or let the same old stories be told — in this game.