The Florida Gators men’s basketball came team into last week tied atop the SEC standings. After lopsided losses to two of the three unbeatens left in the league, the Gators enter this week just trying to figure out what they are.
Their first chance to re-establish their identity comes against Ole Miss on Tuesday night (7 p.m., SEC Network or ESPN+).
The Rebels are 6-4 but just 1-2 in SEC play, and have just two wins since December 16, having largely larded their non-conference schedule with non-competitive foes — Dayton and Wichita State, the best of the seven teams Ole Miss saw before SEC play began in full, both handed Kermit Davis’s outfit close losses.
In league play, things have been worse: The Rebels suffered double-digit defeats at the hands of Alabama and LSU, and their lone win came over Auburn on a night when the Tigers shot a pitiful percentage from the field and the arc while also proffering 16 turnovers.
Those are numbers the attacking Gators of two weeks back might salivate over generating from the other team; last week’s were more likely to produce them in their own right. Florida shot under 40 percent on its twos against both Alabama and Kentucky, and coughed up 14 and 16 turnovers in the two games, fueling potent transition offenses in both cases.
And if Florida is going to truly commit to being the pressing, pugnacious team that Mike White would like it to be, renewed commitment to making other offenses work for every bucket and care for the ball would go a long way.
So would getting its inside game going again. Colin Castleton was marvelous in Florida’s first two SEC games, getting Co-Player of the Week honors from the conference as a result, but has been merely mediocre since, struggling to assert himself against tougher defenders. He’ll have another test against the Rebels’ Romello White, a bruising Arizona State transfer who will give up height but not strength to the wiry Castleton.
Still, outside of White bullying Castleton and/or Omar Payne down low, it’s hard to see an obvious advantage for Ole Miss on this night. Star guard Devontae Shuler has become a bit of a chucker this season, deprived of longtime backcourt mate Breein Tyree, and he’s been a clanger from range: Shuler is just 1-for-16 from three in SEC play, and 9-for-37 in games against the KenPom top 100. While he’s improved as a playmaker, he’s also produced some ghastly stat lines — 0-for-9 for two points against LSU, 4-for-16 in a 12-point outing against Dayton — that reflect poorly on his ability to shoulder the load for the Rebels.
A surprising night from big man Khadim Sy or tweener K.J. Buffen could help considerably, but if Florida keeps one or both of Shuler and White in check, it should find itself back in the win column.
If the Gators can’t do that at home against a middling-at-best SEC team, their problems are probably going to prove very difficult to solve.