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Florida vs. USF, Game Thread: Gators to battle low-scoring Bulls

Florida should be ready to grind it out in Sunrise. If the Gators aren’t, they might need to hit shots to win.

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NCAA Basketball: Florida at Maryland Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Gators men’s basketball team takes on their third in-state foe of the 2021-22 season on Saturday in the form of South Florida — USF, if you’re feeling nice — in their nearly yearly pilgrimage south for the Orange Bowl Classic (1 p.m., Bally Sports or streaming) in Sunrise.

In an event that has had more than a few offensive — not literal — performances, the Gators taking the floor against the muck-it-up Bulls feels like it might be a rock fight.

USF is, after all, one of the nation’s best teams when it comes to point prevention — both for their opponents and themselves. The Bulls scored 75 in a season-opening win over Bethune-Cookman, but haven’t topped 64 since, and that 64 came in a game against South Carolina State that the Bulldogs, previously winless against Division 1 competition, stole by a single point.

USF ranks No. 330 in offensive efficiency, No. 87 in defensive efficiency, and No. 343 in tempo, per KenPom, all of which is reflective of poor shooting when the Bulls are on the floor, and possibly predictive of more of it.

But digging a little deeper also makes one wonder how much of this futility is really of USF’s creation. The Bulls have played an uninspiring non-conference slate to date, at least outside of games against Auburn and Boston College, and their defensive numbers are surely helped some by playing six games against teams outside the top 200 of KenPom, including four HBCUs running the same sort of guarantee-game gauntlet that Texas Southern was on when it shocked Florida at the beginning of last week.

But Auburn is an excellent offensive team, and bookended its mere 58 points against the Bulls with 93 and 109 points (the latter in a double-overtime loss to UConn). And only Boston College has managed to score more than a point per trip against the Bulls this year.

Florida is capable of joining the Eagles, but also capable of the sort of poor shooting and offensive stagnation that could make this a too-close-for-comfort affair. The Bulls do virtually nothing on offense well outside of boarding — sound like any team that has staged an upset of Florida? — but also don’t bleed turnovers, which have been manna from heaven for the Gators’ offense. And Russel Tchewa is tall and strong enough to make Colin Castleton’s day a long one, though USF’s rim protection actually comes from bouncy forwards Jamir Chaplin and Jake Boggs.

If Florida makes shots like it did once it got going against Maryland, the Gators should win this one going away; USF hasn’t shown any ability to win a game in which it allows an opponent to score efficiently or in the 70s. But teams simply haven’t done that against the Bulls, either — and while those teams haven’t had Florida’s talent, more often than not, Florida’s talent alone has not always translated to tickling the twine.